The shuttered abortion clinic once operated by the late Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas has been purchased by an abortion rights group with plans to open a new clinic at the site and resume abortion services there. The sale was first reported by the Wichita Eagle. There has been no known abortion provider in Wichita since Dr. Tiller was assassinated in 2009.
The new owner is the Trust Women Foundation. Director Julie Burkhart confirmed reports of the purchase. Burkhart is a former Tiller employee. After his death she founded the Trust Women PAC to address access to abortion in under-served states. "Trust Women" was a favorite motto of Tiller's -- he is said to have worn a "Trust Women" button every day.
Burkhart says her goal for the new clinic is a health center that would provide first and early-second trimester abortions as well as a full range of OBGYN services. She'll need doctors who are both qualified and willing to provide those services in Wichita. Burkhart says she is talking to physicians both locally and from out-of-state. Under a Kansas law enacted last year, the clinic could be required to meet strict new architectural standards, and its doctors could be required to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. That law is currently tied up in court and would only apply if it's ultimately cleared. "Our strategy is whatever the law is, whatever they throw our way we will be able to abide by the letter of the law so women will be able to come in and get services," Burkhart says.
Burkhart hopes to open the new clinic in the first quarter of next year, but she's bracing herself for the opposition she expects to encounter as she tries to make that happen:
"I suspect that [the anti-abortion movement is] going to come out and protest. I suspect that they'll have some new bills up in Topeka. And I think that they'll be looking for any and every opportunity to hold us up, to close us up, and to slow us down."
Kari Ann Rinker, the Kansas state coordinator for the National Organization for Women, talks about the news with the same tone of cautious resolve. "Getting a building is a great accomplishment. We [in the abortion rights community] are all thrilled that [Burkhart] has been successful in this part of her journey. But there are still a lot of unknowns," she says, pointing to the clinic regulations that are tied up in court, pressure from anti-abortion groups like Operation Rescue, and new restrictions that may come out of what's expected to be a more conservative state legislature after November's elections. "We're happy, but we're all realistic and we know what happens here."
By "what happens" in Wichita, Rinker means what happened to local family doctor Mila Means after she announced, in 2010, her intention to begin providing abortion services in Wichita. There were protests at Means' family medical practice as well as her home, she received a letter warning that she'd need to check under her car for a bomb every day if she decided to provide abortions, and her landlord sued to block her from providing abortions at her existing medical practice.
Last year, when Dr. Means agreed not to provide abortions at her current practice, Operation Rescue declared victory and took credit for stopping her. When news of Burkhart's plans for Dr. Tiller’s old clinic broke this week, Troy Newman, the president of Operation Rescue said in a statement, "The abortion group may have bought Tiller’s old building, but that is still a far cry from resuming abortions in Wichita. If Trust Women wants to provide abortions then Operation Rescue will make sure the business is neither profitable nor sustainable."