Wednesday marks the beginning of this year’s “40 Days for Life” prayer campaign. It’s the 13th campaign of its kind that seeks to dissuade women from choosing to have an abortion by gathering protesters to pray outside of clinics for 40 days straight. Dr. Tiller’s former clinic, which re-opened to the public in April, is just hoping it will be peaceful.
The “40 Days for Life” vigil will be the biggest protest that the new South Wind Women’s Center has experienced in the six months since it opened. Anti-choice groups in Kansas are hoping to bring a few hundred people to South Wind throughout the course of the campaign, which will be coordinated across more than 300 different U.S. cities. Participants will pray and fast, and they say they won’t actually approach the patients visiting abortion clinics.
“All of our vigil participants are asked to sign a statement of peace, conduct themselves in a loving and Christ-like manner, stay in public right-of-ways and stay within the law,” Kara Shaw, a Wichita resident who’s organizing the vigil, explained to the Wichita Eagle.
Julie Burkhart, a former colleague of Dr. Tilller’s and the executive director of the South Wind Women’s Center, hopes that’s true. Burkhart told the Wichita Eagle that things at her facility have been quiet so far, and she wants to keep it that way. “We’re very pleased we’ve been able to operate,” Burkhart said. “We haven’t had any incidents at the clinic. Things are going very well.”
Although a few protesters have stepped onto clinic property to try to talk to patients, those incidents have been handled by a security guard on the premises. The police have had to settle a few disputes about where anti-choice protesters are allowed to stand, but nothing out of the ordinary. Neighbors haven’t complained.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the anti-choice community isn’t doing everything in its power to try to close Burkhart’s clinic. Before South Wind opened, they attempted to block the initial construction and convince contractors to avoid working with Burkhart. After it began operating, they asked the city to re-zone the neighborhood to force the clinic out of business, citing their own potential anti-abortion protests to justify barring the clinic from the residential area. And some right-wing activists have even suggested that Burkhart wants to provoke gun violence outside of her clinic so she can fundraise off of it.
Recently, there have been some creative protests outside the clinic, too. Burkhart noted that “a Shetland pony bearing anti-abortion signs” was paraded up and down the street outside South Wind last week.
Burkhart says she’s witnessed other “40 Days for Life” vigils, and they’ve all been peaceful. Still, she isn’t necessarily pleased about the message that the upcoming event will send to her patients.
“The thing we are not looking forward to is the fact that their presence outside our clinic serves to intimidate and shame women who are coming in for health care services,” Burkhart pointed out. “Just the fact people feel they have the moral authority to show up and try to dictate to women how they’re supposed to live their lives, that’s unsettling.”