Back in April, women’s health advocates re-opened slain Dr. George Tiller’s former clinic. Thanks to the new South Wind Women’s Center, women in Kansas’ largest city have regained the access to reproductive health care that was compromised after Tiller was gunned down by an anti-abortion activist in 2009. But it’s been an uphill battle as abortion opponents continue to do everything in their power to block the clinic from operating.
Now, anti-abortion groups in the state have come up with a new argument for closing South Wind Women’s Center: They’re claiming it’s a disruption to the community because it attracts too much noise. On Tuesday, several anti-choice groups submitted a petition asking city officials to rezone the area as “non business” so South Wind isn’t allowed to perform abortions anymore.
According to the Wichita Eagle, abortion opponents are citing several reasons that the clinic shouldn’t be allowed to operate in the community: several gun incidents that occurred when Tiller practiced there, the lack of communication between the clinic’s security staff and the anti-abortion activists to “defuse violence” before it occurs, the level of “antagonism” between the the clinic’s escorts and the anti-choice protesters, and the fact that it may be “inappropriate” for school children to see graphic signs and protests affiliated with the clinic.
“The anti-choice protesters’ claim that the clinic is the cause of the disruption is ludicrous,” Diane Wahto, who sometimes volunteers at the clinic, told ThinkProgress. “They have been the ones who, in the past, have yelled, often through megaphones, who sing loudly and preach. They get in the way of those trying to drive into the clinics. At times, parents told their small children to lie in the driveway in front of incoming cars.”
Even though the area surrounding South Wind is residential, there are several other nearby businesses. A previous attempt to target the clinic by convincing the city to rezone the neighborhood was rejected in February.
Wahto explained to ThinkProgress that when she has volunteered at the clinic, it has been quiet and peaceful — despite a few anti-choice protesters at the gate. She said the clinic’s owner, Julie Burkhart, is simply trying to keep the peace. “The anti-choice crowd is causing all the chaos in Wichita,” Wahto noted. “Pro-choice people want to keep things peaceful, for the patients and for Wichita citizens.”
On the other hand, Burkhart herself has been the subject of intense harassment since she decided to re-open the clinic. Protesters have demonstrated outside of her home, and fliers have referred to her as a “killer.” In April, during a conversation with the man who murdered Dr. Tiller, an anti-abortion activist was recorded as saying it would be a “blessing to the babies” if someone shot Burkhart, too. She tightened the security at South Wind before it officially opened to the public.
Across the country, persistent anti-abortion harassment continues to threaten women’s access to health services. The violence and harassment leveled against abortion providers often drives doctors out of the business — or, as in the case of the late Dr. Tiller, threatens their lives. The tactics of emotional manipulation and intimidation used against women who visit clinics can make them feel too unsafe to walk in on their own. And the harassment can have a negative effect on the surrounding neighborhood — in Maine, a deli located on the same street as a Planned Parenthood clinic will close shop next week because the anti-abortion harassment on the block has become too much for the owner to bear.
But if Kansas’ abortion opponents have their way, they’ll be able to blame all of that upheaval on the South Wind clinic. Instead of working to re-zone neighborhoods or lobby for additional abortion restrictions to keep clinics out, anti-choice activists will attempt to make the case that clinics themselves are bad for neighborhoods and bad for business.