On Friday, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) traveled outside of the district he represents to join a protest against the South Wind Women’s Center, an abortion clinic located in Wichita. The clinic housed former Dr. George Tiller’s practice until Tiller was gunned down by an anti-abortion activist four years ago, and finally re-opened to the public this past April.
Huelskamp, who made headlines earlier this year for proposing to cut food stamps, wasn’t the only one who traveled far from home to get to the South Wind Women’s Center today. The protest was organized by a high school senior and her religion teacher, both from a Catholic school more than three hours outside of Wichita. About 10 students from that school made the trip to the clinic to participate in the “Catholic School Life Rally 2013.” Students from two other Catholic schools in the state were also bussed in for the event.
In an interview with LifeNews, the students who participated explained that they made the long trip because South Wind is the closest abortion clinic to their small town. Considering the state’s reproductive landscape, that makes sense. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that 97 percent of Kansas counties didn’t have an abortion provider in 2008. And particularly since Tiller’s murder, there’s been a culture of fear in the state that makes it difficult to convince abortion doctors to work there.
The staff at the South Wind Women’s Center sent an email to their supporters this week pointing out that Huelskamp should return to his own district, accusing him of “grandstanding amid a backdrop of kids pulled from school to be used as political props.”
Wichita is arguably ground zero in the war over abortion rights, and the anti-choice community did everything in its power to try and prevent South Wind from opening. Now that it’s up and running, abortion opponents have persisted — one activist even suggested that it would be a “blessing to the babies” if someone shot the new clinic owner. In August, anti-choice groups cited their own disruptive demonstrations against South Wind as a reason that the city should shut it down, saying that it may be “inappropriate” for schoolchildren to see graphic signs and protests affiliated with the clinic.
Huelskamp told the Wichita Eagle that he was “encouraged” to see young people speaking out against abortion. He joined their prayer vigil outside of the clinic and posed for a photo with the group of kids.
The clinic staff promised to provide coffee and hot chocolate to the protesters standing outside for hours in freezing temperatures, but aren’t pleased with what they perceive to be an intrusion into their patients’ privacy. “We do have patients today and it is UNFAIR for them to have to see this to get the care they need,” South Wind tweeted on Friday morning.
Protests against abortion clinics frequently rely on young activists who have been bussed in from other areas. For instance, groups responsible for the recent effort to try to force a late-term abortion clinic in Albuquerque to close its doors bussed in out-of-state teenagers to join the cause. Those teens protested outside of a Holocaust museum, saying they represented the survivors of the “abortion holocaust.”