Last week, pro-choice advocates celebrated the opening of the South Wind Women’s Clinic in Wichita, Kansas, giving thanks for increased access to a full spectrum of women’s health care, including pre-natal care, adoption services, and abortion care. The clinic is the first to offer abortion care in Wichita since the murder of Dr. George Tiller in 2009, and it stands as a pillar of hope for choice in red-state America. Unfortunately, the clinic is also a magnet for anti-choice terrorists, as evidenced by a recent video first reported on first here at RH Reality Check.
This week will be another pivotal week for clinic and staff safety: A court will hear a request by South Wind’s director, Julie Burkhart, to have her temporary protection-from-stalking order against anti-choice activist Mark Holick made permanent. Holick was said to have picketed outside Burkhart’s house with a sign reading “Where’s Your Church?”—a direct reference to Dr. Tiller’s murder. Holick will be represented by known anti-choice activist Don McKinney, who has ties to radical anti-choice groups.
This isn’t just a case of a lawyer believing that all persons deserve equal representation under the law. McKinney has had long-standing and public affiliations with radical anti-choice zealots. He took part in the 1991 Summer of Mercy in Wichita, when thousands of anti-choicers swarmed the city to protest Dr. Tiller. He has close connections with radical anti-choice groups Operation Rescue and the Army of God and outgoing Attorney General of Kansas Phill Kline.
Representing Mark Holick and Angel Dillard is just another item on his anti-choice resume, appearing right below his temporary appointment as special prosecutor of Dr. George Tiller. Kline, who was known for his continued harassment of Dr. Tiller, appointed McKinney during his last few days in office after losing a bid for re-election. McKinney was soon removed from that position by incoming Attorney General Paul Morrison.
When commenting on Burkhart’s protection request, McKinney said recently, “The sidewalk around Tiller’s clinic has been an established public forum for years.” (South Wind is located in the building that once housed Dr. Tiller’s clinic.) McKinney should know; he is familiar with that particular stretch of sidewalk from when he took part in the Summer of Mercy protests.
McKinney also said that Burkhart’s stalking petition is “clearly an effort to use the anti-stalking statute to restrict abortion protest activities,” and he is well-versed in the anti-choice free speech defense. He spoke about it with his friend, Paul DeParrie, a now-deceased member of the Army of God. DeParrie successfully used this defense in an appeal to a protection order placed on him in Oregon.
Simply put, McKinney, has a keen interest in befriending and protecting individuals who advocate and conspire in favor of murdering abortion providers, and he will stand in court this week to represent Mark Holick. So it’s not exactly a leap to assume that Holick’s “Where’s Your Church?” stunt was a threatening act. But will the judge see it that way?
Kansas’ stalking law seems to support the order. Under state statute, stalking is defined as “[t]hreatening the safety of the targeted person or a member of such person’s immediate family” and “[a]ppearing in close proximity to, or entering the targeted person’s residence, place of employment, school or other place where such person can be found, or the residence, place of employment or school of a member of such person’s immediate family.” Burkhart’s petition shows that Holick has easily met both of those defined requirements. Similar anti-stalking statutes have been successful in other states.
The New York Times editorial board recently wrote the following:
Local law enforcement needs to be on alert, as does the F.B.I. and Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., who should assess the situation and determine whether federal marshals need to be deployed to protect Ms. Burkhart, clinic personnel and the facility itself.
Dangerous and unconstitutional legislative restrictions, unceasing harassment, threats of violence and fearful doctors having to hide their identities for self-protection: this is what it means to be on the front line of trying to deliver legal and necessary reproductive health care to women in Wichita and other parts of the country where zealous right-wing politicians and activists on the political fringe currently hold sway.
The Wichita judicial system has proven itself to be a place for justice in the past. Here’s hoping that the evidence will hold sway with the judge this week, and that this first test of protecting clinic staff will be appropriately addressed.