Dr. Tiller’s Abortion Clinic Re-Opens This Week, But Opponents Will Still Keep Trying To Close It

South Wind Women's Center

Women living in the largest city in Kansas haven’t had access to a nearby abortion clinic for the past four years, ever since Dr. George Tiller was gunned down by an anti-abortion activist in 2009. But that’s about to change this week, as the building that housed Dr. Tiller’s former clinic re-opens its doors as the South Wind Women’s Center.

Getting to this point has been a long battle. Dr. Tiller’s murder is perhaps the most prominent illustration of anti-abortion harassment, and that type of conflict between women’s health advocates and abortion opponents certainly hasn’t been totally diffused since his death. As clinic owner Julie Burkhart has prepared to begin operating the South Wind Women’s Center, anti-choice activists have attempted to block her at every turn — contesting the building’s zoning permits, attempting to persuade contractors not to work on the construction, and even protesting outside of Burkhart’s home.

And they show no signs of letting up. Even though abortion opponents haven’t been able to successfully block the clinic from opening, they still intend to focus their efforts on forcing it close its doors:

“They can try to pretend it’s a full-service women’s center, but it’s just an abortion clinic,” said Troy Newman, the president of Operation Rescue, a national anti-abortion group based in Wichita. “And they’re going to go out of business, because we’re going to make sure that it’s not economically feasible to run it.” […]

Newman was unapologetic for the tactics, saying that they were legal and that they would continue. But Burkhart and other abortion-rights supporters say they go too far. Burkhart said that she had been stalked and that demeaning fliers containing her picture and address had been distributed in her neighborhood.

Protesters have demonstrated outside Burkhart’s house, and a pastor recently put a sign in her yard depicting an aborted fetus and the words, “Where’s your church?”

After initially struggling to find abortion doctors willing to practice in a city that carries the legacy of Dr. Tiller’s murder, Burkhart has recruited three doctors who will provide abortion services up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. The new clinic will differ from Tiller’s because it will also provide a range of other types of reproductive care — including family planning services, cancer screenings, STD treatment, pregnancy and lactation consultations, miscarriage counseling, and adoption referrals.

But Burkhart is fully aware that the anti-abortion activism directly targeted at her clinic may undermine her work. With so much controversy drummed up around the abortion services at the clinic, some potential patients may be reluctant to patronize the South Wind Women’s Center for other types of health care. “The $10 million question for us is whether women, if they see protesters out there, will come in for their Pap smear,” she explained to the Kansas City Star.

Tightening the security around the clinic has been a top priority for Burkhart, and other abortion rights groups will also be closely monitoring the unfolding situation in Wichita. Over the past several months, women have started calling the clinic to see when they can schedule appointments, and Burkhart is committed to making sure they receive the health care they need.