RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening. Thanks for joining us this hour. Happy to have you with us.
So, we`ve been on the road. We sent producers across the country to pull together an important story tonight about something that is happening right now with historic implications.
The story here tonight begins with this guy. This is Harry Blackmon. He was from Minnesota, a conservative lawyer, a judge first appointed to the federal bench by Dwight Eisenhower. He became Richard Nixon`s second appointment to the United States Supreme Court.
But Blackmun was not Nixon`s first choice for the job. Nixon`s first two picks had pro-segregation records that got unearthed or dissected during the confirmation process. Both of them were ultimately rejected by the Senate which was a big and embarrassing blow for Nixon.
So, for his third try, Nixon chose Harry Blackmun because Blackmun was seen so uncontroversial that he would be hard for anybody to vote against.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Judge Blackman made a good first impression on the senators who will help decide his fate, and barring the unexpected, his nomination should sail through. Thus far, no one has even asked to testify against him. But the unexpected already has occurred twice. So, most senators still are not committing themselves.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: They find a super uncontroversial strategy worked for that nomination. Harry Blackmun`s nomination to the court was unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate. On June 9th, 1970, he was sworn in to the court.
And somewhat ironically, for a guy chosen because he was seen as the most middle-of-the-road, non-offensive, guaranteed, noncontroversial guy to stick in that spot, Justice Blackmun would go on just a couple of years later to write one of the most controversial U.S. Supreme Court opinions ever.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The court said in a 7-2 decision that in the first three months of pregnancy, only the woman and her physician may decide whether she may have an abortion. In the second three months, all the state may do is regulate abortion procedures. And only in the final three months of pregnancy can the state forbid abortion. All 50 states are effective, whatever their laws.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It wasn`t a close decision. It was decided by a big majority, right, 7-2. But it was Harry Blackmun who wrote the opinion for the seven- member majority, and for that reason, Harry Blackmun became the sort of face of that ruling, the face of Roe v. Wade.
Five years after his death, Justice Blackmun`s papers were released, and that`s when we the public learned that harry Blackmun saved everything, everything in that 1,500-plus boxes of documents he donated to the Library of Congress, you can find everything from hotel receipts to tennis scores to dance cards from childhood, private notes between the justices on the Supreme Court.
And it turns out when you are the guy who wrote the Roe v. Wade decision, and you`re also a guy who keeps everything, that means you`re a guy who has held on to a pile of hate mail and death wishes and threats.
Ten years after Roe in 1983, according to reporting by the "Associated press, the Supreme Court had received 45,000 letters about Roe v. Wade, most of them addressed to Justice Blackmun.
Justice Blackmun said at the time, quote: We still receive eight, nine, ten letters a day. Some are very supportive, very lovely messages, but most are very abusive. The more recent ones are as abusive as the initial ones.
Ignoring the advice of fellow justices against reading such mail, Justice Blackmun says, I want to know what the people who wrote are thinking.
Here what`s they were thinking, quote, they have called him a murderer, a butcher, even Pontius Pilate. They have compared him to the Nazi overseers of genocide.
In 1985, a bullet from a 9 millimeter pistol was shot through Justice Blackmun`s apartment window and into his living room, showering glass on to his wife, who happened to be in the room. It was never determined if that bullet was directly targeting Justice Blackmun or if it might have been a stray shot, just a coincidence.
But the shot through the window came on the heels of a series of death threats. Justice Blackmun`s daughter has said he always traveled with security after that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Blackmun, who used to go alone on walks has been under protection since receiving a letter last fall and another last week threatening him with death. Anti-abortion demonstrators have singled out Blackmun for his authorship of the court`s 1973 decision decriminalizing abortion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s how the modern-day abortion wars have been fought in this country from day one, from the Roe versus Wade decision onward, with violence and the threat of violence always hanging in the air.
MADDOW: When the Supreme Court cleared the way for legal abortion in every state, clinics sprang up all over the country to accommodate women who were coming out of the shadows to access this now legally protected procedure.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, an appointment for an abortion.
MADDOW: But as quickly as abortion clinics opened their doors, organized opponents gathered, trying to shut them down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After the Supreme Court legalized abortion, an abortion clinic opened in St. Louis. Anti-abortion groups have been picketing ever since. They also got the legislature to throw up various roadblocks to abortion.
MADDOW: By the 1980s and `90s, this is what it was like to be an abortion provider in America.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Already, many have bulletproof glass, and across the country, there are more than 30,000 escorts who have to use cloak and dagger measures to protect doctors, clients, and themselves.
MADDOW: A wave of clinic bombings that peaked in the 1980s was followed by a series of assassinations in the 1990s.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: An abortion facility was hit by a bomb blast.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bomb blasts at three abortion clinic clinics.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A propane gas bomb exploded last night in the Washington office of the National Abortion Federation. So far this year, 28 abortion clinics and information centers have been bombed or set afire.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dr. David Gunn was shot getting out of his car as he was getting to work at a Pensacola abortion clinic.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dr. Tiller, who performs third trimester abortions, had been shot twice outside his clinic.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gunman shot four people before escaping here. One woman, a clinic worker, died at the scene.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dr. John Britton (ph) and James Barrett (ph) were cut down with shotgun blasts.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Barnett Slepian, an Amherst, New York doctor well- known to anti-abortion protesters, was shot dead by a sniper last night while at home with his wife and four children.
MADDOW: You could not find an abortion provider in the `80s and `90s who would say they felt immune from the threat of terroristic violence. Everyone involved in abortion was vulnerable. But perhaps no one was targeted as relentlessly as one specific doctor in Wichita, Kansas, Dr. George Tiller.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For two months, anti-abortion protesters laid siege to clinics in Wichita, Kansas. But their main target was not the clinic. It was a doctor, Dr. George Tiller. They called him Tiller the killer.
Tiller still performs abortions, but hundreds of other doctors have stopped because of scenes like this and this.
MADDOW: Anti-abortion forces targeted Dr. Tiller in every way imaginable. In 1986, his clinic was bombed. Tiller hung a sign outside the bombed-out building that said: Hell no, we won`t go.
He reopened the next day at a secret location.
DR. GEORGE TILLER, ABORTION PROVIDER: We have had a major $100,000 bombing here in our organization, and one day later, we`re in business.
MADDOW: In 1991, the radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue called on thousands of anti-abortion activists from across the country to converge on Wichita, to physically shut down George Tiller`s clinic.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wichita is not used to guerrilla tactics, but it`s learning. People here have seen weeks of militant anti-abortion protests, barricading clinics, harassing patients, using children as human shields.
MADDOW: Eventually, the radical fringe of the anti-abortion movement turned to a chilling new tactic to isolate and target doctors. Wanted posters that cast abortion doctors as murderers and gave anyone who might wish them harm literal instructions on how to find those doctors.
There was a wanted poster targeting David Gunn before he was murdered. It showed his photo, the make and model and license plate number on his car. It showed the addresses of each of his offices.
There was a wanted poster targeting Dr. John Britton before he was murdered. The photo even shows him wearing a bulletproof vest. It lists information about his car and includes his home address.
Here is a wanted poster of Dr. George Tiller that we believe circulated in the early `90s. It compares him to Adolf Hitler. It shows his photo, the city where he lives, and his exact office address.
On August 19th, 1993, an anti-abortion activist named Shelley Shannon walked up to Dr. George tiller at the parking lot of the address on that poster and she shot him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For the second time this year, an abortion doctor has been shot, apparently by an anti-abortion activist. This time, the doctor survived the attack.
MADDOW: Dr. Tiller was taken to the hospital and treated. He returned to his clinic to work the next day.
TILLER: You know, I`m just like my patients, you know. Last night, I got shot and I was scared, but there was somebody there to take care of me.
MADDOW: Shelley Shannon shooting him did not stop Dr. George Tiller.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you want to do when you shot him?
SHELLY SHANNON, ABORTION ACTIVIST: Stop him from killing babies.
MADDOW: But getting caught and convicted and sentenced and thrown in prison did not stop Shelley Shannon from believing that she did the right thing, and that she was and could continue to be an important part of a movement that embraces violence as a means to end abortion in America.
There is a pro-violence wing of the anti-abortion movement. These people see themselves as soldiers in an actual war. They call themselves the Army of God, assassinating abortion doctors in their view is justifiable homicide. Going to jail for murdering an abortion doctor is seen as a noble sacrifice.
Before she shot Dr. Tiller, Shelley Shannon wrote warm approving letters to the man who killed Dr. Gunn in Florida. She wrote to him in jail as he awaited trial. When she went on to commit her own act of violence, that began the next chapter of her life as a hero soldier in the Army of God. Her prison term would stop her from personally carrying out any further violence, but it couldn`t stop her from inspiring the next would-be assassin.
Meanwhile, in Wichita, Dr. Tiller kept on with his work.
TILLER: You simply cannot retreat when you`re committed. There is no way that we are going to be forced out of this particular moral, correct, legal health care experience.
MADDOW: Outside of the Army of God manifestos from dark corners of the internet, some of the most radical language used against George Tiller was piped into millions of homes on a regular basis. Thanks to a television host on the Fox News Channel.
BILL O`REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: Killing babies in America, that`s a subject of this evening`s talking points memo. For $5,000, Tiller the baby killer, as some call him, will perform a late-term abortion for just about any reasons.
This man, Dr. George Tiller, known as Tiller the baby killer, is performing late-term abortions without defining the specific medical reasons why.
MADDOW: In 2002, an anti-abortion state legislator named Phil Kline was elected attorney general for the state of Kansas.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to first tell you who does not endorse Attorney General Kline? Abortionist Dr. George Tiller does not endorse Phil Kline.
MADDOW: In 2011, a producer from this show asked for his thoughts on abortion.
TRMS PRODUCER: Mr. Kline, do you yourself believe that abortion should be made illegal?
PHIL KLINE, KANSAS ATTORNEY GENERAL: Do I myself? Yes.
Oh, one other comment about that. I`m also anti-murder, and I put a lot of murderers away too. I follow the law.
MADDOW: Almost immediately upon taking office as Kansas state attorney general, Phil Kline started a secret investigation into George Tiller. He used subpoena power to get dozens of patient medical records.
In defiance of a judge`s order keeping the patients` identity secret, Kline`s staff staked out Dr. Tiller`s parking lot. They followed patients. They took down license plate numbers. They subpoenaed a nearby hotel for records that helped them unredact these patients` medical records to get the patients` names.
All of this was in pursuit of something to use against George Tiller, something to charge him with. But it also sent a message to women and girls in Kansas. If you try to get an abortion here, you could be the subject of an investigation by the state attorney general. This guy will get his hands on your personal medical records, all of them.
Kline ultimately got his license to practice law yanked by the state of Kansas for misconduct in his pursuit of Dr. Tiller. All of his efforts against Tiller ultimately yielded a misdemeanor case brought by Kline`s successor over how Tiller referred patients for a state-mandated second opinion in certain abortions.
On March 27th, 2009, following years of investigations, after four days of testimony, it took jurors all of 45 minutes to clear George Tiller of all charges. But two months later, Dr. Tiller was dead.
Tiller`s murderer had been sitting in that courtroom, watching that trial, watching the justice system exonerate George Tiller. You can see him here, sitting next to the president of Operation Rescue. Two months later, he would walk into the church George Tiller attended.
He walked in on a Sunday morning. He held up a gun to Tiller`s head and he executed him at point-blank range. According to the killer, Scott Roeder, he had been thinking about killing George Tiller for years, but it was the result of that trial, George Tiller`s acquittal of all those misdemeanor charges that motivated him to actually go through with it, to actually do it.
SCOTT ROEDER, KILLED DR. TILLER: It seemed like that was the last attempt by the state of Kansas to find if there was anything at all going on illegally in George Tiller`s clinic, and it seemed as though that was the last step, and now he was acquitted, now not guilty.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you decide it was incumbent upon you to do something?
ROEDER: There was nothing being done, and the legal process had been exhausted. And these babies were dying every day, and I felt that if someone did not do something, he was going to continue aborting children. And so, I felt that I needed to act and quickly for those children.
MADDOW: Scott Roeder did not get to this point of radicalization overnight. According to his ex-wife, he`d become involved in the anti- abortion movement in the 1990s. He protested at clinics, including Dr. Tiller`s. He tried to superglue the locks shut on another clinic. He also visited Shelley Shannon in prison.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get down on your knees!
MADDOW: On the day he murdered Dr. Tiller, when he was arrested that day after the shooting, a scrap of paper was found in his get away car. On that scrap of paper was a phone number of a top Rescue Operation official. He learned about Dr. Tiller`s security protocols from Operation Rescue.
Scott Roeder, the murderer of Dr. George Tiller, was not a lone wolf. He was the product of a violent, radical anti-abortion network.
FRANK SCHAEFFER, FORMER EVANGELICAL LEADER: Look, when I was in the pro- life movement, we knew who was gluing doors shut. We knew who was vandalizing property. We knew if people had throne firebombs. We knew of course people who were in jail.
Most of these pro-life groups have a group of people always on the fringe who are hanging around, nor extreme than others who they know have been involved in acts of vandalism, petty theft, maybe a fire bombing, this or that. It`s time to begin to blow the whistle on these guys. Had that happened with Scott Roeder, Dr. Tiller would not have been murdered.
MADDOW: When he was tried for the murder of Dr. Tiller, it took a jury all of 37 minutes to decide that they would convict Scott Roeder. And with that, the trial was over. The national media attention faded.
And Wichita was left to grab well the aftermath of this act of terrorism. Without George Tiller, there was no abortion provider left in this city. And that might have been it, but Tiller`s friends and family and supporters decided that they would do what they had seen George Tiller do time and again. They would overcome the fear and the intimidation and the violence and come back.
MADDOW: George Tiller`s father was also a doctor, a prominent Wichita family practice doctor. In 1970, Tiller`s father, along with his mother, his sister and his brother-in-law were all killed in a plane crash. After that crash, George Tiller left the Navy to head back to Wichita where he and his wife adopted his infant nephew and where he intended to wind down and eventually close up his father`s practice in Wichita.
But then something happened. Patients started asking the younger Dr. Tiller if he was going to take care of women the way his father had done. This was before Roe versus Wade. Abortion at the time was illegal in Kansas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TILLER: I was horrified because the only thing worse than a woman that would request an abortion was the physician that would do the abortion. So I was outraged. Why would these nice people that my dad had been provided quality health care for over an extended period of time say that he was a scumbag type physician?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Tiller had thought that his father had done one or two abortions over the course of his career, but after he took over his father`s family practice, he learned it was much more than one or two.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TILLER: Here`s what happened. In 1945, `46 or `47, a young woman for whom dad had already delivered two babies came to him pregnant again right away. And she said something to the effect that I can`t take it. Can you help me?
And those are the two common denominators. That is apparently the way you ask for an abortion from your regular doctor before abortion was legal. Dad said no. By the time the baby gets here, everything will be all right. She went out, had a non-health care abortion, came back ten days to two weeks later and died.
I don`t know how many abortions he did, but the women in my father`s practice for whom he did abortions educated me and taught me. Abortion is a matter of survival for women.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And so, George Tiller stayed in Wichita in his father`s practice in the same building. He expanded it. He rebuilt it after it was bombed in the 1980s.
In the 1990s, the Supreme Court decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey paved the way for hospital rights to push through onerous restrictions targeting abortion clinics. In response, Tiller added a new wing to the clinic with massive operating rooms designed to meet the specifications of an ambulatory surgery center, even though most abortions can be done safely in a doctor`s office.
After more than 30 years from more than everything from vandalism to blockades to threats and violence to the full force of the state government being leveraged against him, George Tiller was finally silenced when Scott Roeder shot him in the head on May 31st, 2009. Nine days later, Tiller`s family announced that they would not reopen the clinic.
Dr. Tiller was the city`s only abortion provider. So his death ended abortion access in Wichita, and that had a real practical and immediate affect on all the women who had come to rely on Tiller and this particular clinic for this kind of care. Anti-abortion forces in Wichita were adamant about keeping the clinic closed in the wake of Tiller`s murder, keeping Wichita abortion-free.
Late in 2010, more than a year after tiller`s death, and more than a year after the clinic had closed, the "Associated Press" reported that two doctors in Kansas were training to become abortion providers. Those doctors` names were leaked to the "A.P." by the anti-abortion movement, and the "A.P." decided to print their names. And the threats and intimidation and harassment began immediately.
One of those two doctors was Dr. Mila Means. She chose to share her story with us, among others, after she was outed by the "A.P." Her landlord sued her to stop her from adding abortion service to her primary care practice. He threatened to kick her out, to end her office lease if she did any abortions at her medical practice.
Dr. Means was picketed at her home and at her office. Even a perspective location she was considering to be relocating to, those were targeted too. Anti-abortion activists distributed a wanted style flyer with her photo and exact address, calling her a murderer and encouraging people to confront her at her office and at her home. She got a letter warning her that some day somebody was going to put a bomb under her car.
So, Mila Means and another doctor who were trying to bring abortion back as a medical center to Wichita after the murder of Dr. Tiller ended it, they weren`t successful. The threats and harassment worked a intended and Wichita remained without a provider. But then came Julie Burkhart.
Julie Burkhart had worked for Dr. Tiller for years. And up until his murder on legislative policy and as the clinic`s spokesperson. She like everyone in Dr. Tiller`s orbit was devastated by his murder, angry at what it meant for her city. She was also quietly determined to bring abortion back to Wichita.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JULIE BURKHART, TRUST WOMEN FOUNDER AND CEO: Women here need to be able to have access to OB/GYN care that includes abortion care. You know, why living in this part of the country should women be denied those services? The vast majority of the people who I work with here, we`re from this part of the country. So, you know, this is our -- our place as well.
I think it says a lot for our nation that we are not going to tolerate these extremists, and we will ensure that women have rights, no matter where we live.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: In 2012, three years after Dr. Tiller was assassinated, Julie Burkhart bought tiller`s old clinic. And right away, the anti-abortion activists who successfully fought back the other doctors who were trying to reinstate abortion access in Wichita, right away when Julie bought Tiller`s clinic, they came for her. They tried twice to get the land the clinic sits on rezoned so a medical facility couldn`t operate there. They held protests outside her house. And, of course, they distributed wanted-style posters with her photo and her personal information.
(BEGN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is this scary to you? To have this distributed and have your home address and your picture?
BURKHART: Well, it`s something that I take very seriously. We communicate regularly with law enforcement. So, it`s something that we take very seriously, but it will not deter us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It will not deter us.
Coming up next, this is what it looks like when your job makes you the target for a whole radical movement of people who are bent on stopping you, who see this as a war and you as their enemy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ANGELA MARCHIN, TRUST WOMEN WICHITA: I remember when Dr. Tiller was assassinated. I was in my first year of medical school. I was in a women`s health elective actually when I found out, and I don`t know if that just planted a seed in my head, but I will always remember that moment.
And I come here now as an abortion provider, and I see my patients who have been cared for in the past by Dr. Tiller. I see nurses and volunteers and so many people know him. And it`s inspiring.
But it`s also scary. I know -- I think about it all the time, especially when I`m sort of out and about. I`m flying or I`m pulling into clinic or I`m checking into hotel. I don`t want to tell my Uber driver what I`m doing here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: In January 2013, Julie Burkhart was camped out at the site of George Tiller`s shuttered clinic, surrounded by contractors and a crew of lawyers and activist, intent on bringing abortion access back to Wichita. Now, six years later, they`ve accomplished that, and then some. When she set out to reopen it, Julie Burkhart was not sure anyone would want to come to this clinic again, the place that for decades had been the epicenter of America`s often violent abortion wars.
But like George Tiller had always said, women need abortions and people did come to the clinic. In fact, so many people came that three years after she got Dr. Tiller`s clinic back up and running again in Wichita, Julie opened another clinic three hours south in Oklahoma City. It was a fight to get each clinic open. Most days, Julie says it still feels like a fight to keep them open.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BURKHART: Between these two states, you know, we have -- we have things coming at us all the time. Whether it`s protesters, what the state legislatures want to do, what we have going on, you know, running through the judiciary. There might be patient issues, funding issues, physician recruitment issues. People still don`t want to necessarily come to Wichita.
People still ten years after Dr. Tiller`s assassination still view Wichita as being this very violent, volatile community. And I get that. But it makes it difficult for us in terms of recruiting doctors. I still don`t have any physicians who live in Wichita or live in Oklahoma City. So all these years later, we still fly people in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: All these years later, we still fly people in. She has to fly doctors in to Wichita and Oklahoma City every week to see patients.
Angela Marchin is one of those doctors.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARCHIN: I`m from the Midwest, so I had thoughts of moving back to the Midwest. I don`t feel that it`s safe for me to go -- to live in a place where I would constantly be under threat of violence or harm.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you don`t -- you wouldn`t feel safe living in Wichita and working here?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This setup, where clinics do not have in-town doctors, this is very common in the states where abortion access is already most vulnerable. In at least half a dozen Republican-led states where there are very few or just one remaining clinic, the atmosphere is seen as so hostile to abortion providers, that clinics are not able to find any local doctors who will do the job. Just like Julie is doing, they fly doctors in from other states.
And that makes those clinics even more vulnerable to getting shut down by the very creative and aggressive anti-abortion forces working out of various Republican-controlled state legislatures. There is a whole class of laws known as TRAP laws, T-R-A-P -- Targeted Regulations Against Abortion Providers. These TRAP laws are increasingly baroque, deliberately onerous regulations that are designed for one purpose, to shut down abortion clinics, because clinics aren`t supposed to be able to comply with these requirements.
One of the more in fashion TRAP laws of the last several years is a rule requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital wherever they`re practicing. There is no medical reason for this. Abortion is a relatively safe, low-risk procedure that in most cases can be done in a doctor`s office. Complications that require hospitalization are very rare, and even if those very rare cases, the doctor who performs the procedure doesn`t needed admitting privileges to send a patient to the hospital.
In a place like Wichita or Oklahoma City where the doctors do not live in the states where they do abortion, it`s impossible for them to get admitting privileges at a local hospital. But that`s of course the point. The point is not that doctors should be able to get those privileges. The point of these laws is that doctor won`t get them.
And so that can be used as an excuse to legally ban that doctor from performing abortions or to shut down the clinics where they would have done so. We`ve seen this play out. In Texas, in 2013, the Republican state government there passed an admitting privileges TRAP law. As a result, half the clinics in that state were forced to shut down.
Three years later, the Supreme Court threw out that TRAP law in Texas. In a 5-3 decision, they ruled that it did nothing to protect women`s health, but it did put a substantial burden on women`s ability to access abortion. So is that law was overturned.
Since then, though, President Trump has made two new appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court, and now there is a big flashing red light warning sign that the new conservative majority Supreme Court wants to take another look at this particular brand of TRAP law. The court has now taken up a virtually identical TRAP law to the Texas one they threw out. This one`s from Louisiana. The case is set to be decided by the Supreme Court in June. The expectation is that this newly constituted court will change course on that TRAP law. The expectation is that they`re going to say that TRAP law is OK now, even if the result is the immediate wholesale shut down of clinics.
So when Julie Burkhart says she feels like there is opposition coming at her all the time, this is part of what she means. First, anti-abortion threats and terrorism and violence have made her city an unsafe place for local doctors to practice abortion. So her workaround is flying doctors in from out of state. But now, the new conservative majority on the Supreme Court looks poised to use that very fact that she can`t get local doctors at her clinics as a reason to shut her down, to end abortion in Wichita again.
More ahead tonight in this special report. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Carl Swinney has a desk job. Office hours are 8:00 to 5:00 most days. Some days are slower than others. But that`s about where Carl Swinney`s desk job stopped being a normal desk job, because while he does have a desk, his desk sits opposite a metal detector, and he wears a gun on his hip.
Carl Swinney works for Julie Burkhart at the Trust Women Clinic in Wichita, Kansas. He is the facilities coordinator there which means he is in charge of keeping the staff at that clinic safe, as well as the patients who go there for health care.
Carl worked for Dr. Tiller`s clinic too. He was the security guard at Dr. Tiller`s clinic up until the day tiller was shot at his church. Carl remembers seeing the man who killed his boss. He had come by the clinic when Dr. Tiller worked there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRODUCER: You`d seen Scott Roeder here.
CARL SWINNERY, TRUST WOMEN FACILITIES COORDINATOR: I`d seen him, yes. What got me is what he said in court, or so I heard it. He was asked why he didn`t try to shoot him here instead of in church, and he said well, the guard had a gun. I thought -- I wonder why.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: These days, Mr. Swinney still has his gun. He mans the lobby at the clinic. He signs in the patients. He keeps an eye on the protesters, making sure they don`t get too close.
There are fewer protesters than there were in the Tiller days, but they can still get aggressive sometimes. They stand in the parking lot. They drive by the entrance back and forth, back and forth. The threat they pose still feels like a very live one.
Because it`s hard to tell who is just a guy with a sign and who could be the next Scott Roeder, Carl says he keeps an eye out for what he calls the problem people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: In Kansas today, a woman who shot a doctor who performs abortions was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Rochelle Shannon was convicted in March of attempted murder in last summer`s attack on Dr. George Tiller.
MADDOW: Rochelle "Shelley" Shannon went to prison for trying to murder Dr. Tiller. A federal judge called her a terrorist and said she was even a threat behind bars. But that was 25 years ago. Shelley Shannon is not behind bars anymore. Right now she is out. Shelley Shannon was let out of prison last year on supervised release.
The assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted her case said, quote: She is completely unrehabilitated. She has the same mentality and goals that she had when he was convicted.
Abortion providers across the country expressed alarm when Shannon was let out of prison. Not just because she herself could cause more violence, but because she could inspire it too. So, Carl keeps a picture of Shelley Shannon on the wall next to his desk. Her head shot hangs behind reception so everyone on staff knows exactly what she looks like too. Because who knows if she might decide to come back.
Dr. Tiller, of course, will not be there if there is a next time. But the clinic is still a clarion symbol for the aggressive radical anti-abortion movement that has targeted his clinic. And the reason that clinic has remained a symbol, the reason that clinic is still there at all, still serving Kansas women is Julie Burkhart.
Julie is not just the face of abortion services in Wichita after that famous doctor was killed. She`s the reason abortion services exist in Wichita at all.
BURKHART: The summer of 1991, the Summer of Mercy was a defining moment in my life. The second real defining moment in my life was after my boss` murder. I didn`t know if we would succeed in reopening the clinic here. And yes, a lot of people thought that I would fail.
MADDOW: Were it not for Julie Burkhart, a man with a gun could have shut down abortion access in Wichita for good.
BURKHART: It felt like pushing this gigantic boulder up a very steep mountainside. That`s what it felt like. And I would come home every night and say, well, come hell or high water, come hell or high water. That because my mantra after a while. It was just -- I just couldn`t give up.
TRMS SENIOR PRODUCER: Do you feel like Julie is in the kind of danger that Dr. Tiller was?
SWINNEY: Yes, to a -- it`s littler, but yes, I do.
MADDOW: The threats started before Julie even got the clinic reopened. Once the news got out that abortion was coming back to Wichita, that Julie was bringing it back, she started getting stalked. A flyer with her photo and home address calling her a mass murderer, encouraging people to go to her house. That was distributed in her neighborhood.
Anti-abortion activists posted an audiotape on line of a man who murdered Dr. Tiller, but this time he was threatening Julie by name.
ROEDER: It is a little bit death-defying for someone to walk back in there. You know, I think that woman`s name is Julie Burkhart. It`s almost like putting a target on your back, saying, well, let`s see if you can shoot me.
MADDOW: Eventually, Julie says she was getting death threats not just from behind bars, but from her front lawn.
BURKHART: When the protesters came into my neighborhood, they were handing out these wanted style posters. And they asked people to bring me to eternal life. And I take that very seriously that, you know, the way we get to eternal life is through death.
MADDOW: At one point, this was the view from inside Julie`s house. Prepare to meet thy god. Where is your church?
That veiled threat was not lost on Julie that someone might come shoot her at church, just like Dr. Tiller. Julie asked a court for a protective order against the pastor who she said was targeting her at work and at home. The pastor then turned around and sued Julie for a bunch of different things -- for defamation, for abuse of process, for malicious prosecution. A piece of that legal fight spun on for years. The trial didn`t wrap up until October of this year.
Julie`s lawyer told the jury, quote: Violence toward abortion providers isn`t speculative. It is an abstract. This is real.
And the jury agreed. Julie won.
Not a surprise to Julie. She was confident that she would win. But sitting in court listening to the trial, she couldn`t stop herself from thinking about the time her old boss, Dr. George Tiller, was in a similar spot when he, too, got hauled into court, when he, too, had to defend himself in court from charges that wouldn`t have existed if not for a relentless campaign by anti-abortion activists bent on stopping him from doing his job. And how one of the spectators in that courtroom, Scott Roeder, would be so galvanized by watching that spectacle.
ROEDER: He was my only target.
MADDOW: And would get so furious when the law came down on Tiller`s side that he would murder him over it.
TRMS SENIOR PRODUCER: Do you worry that someone in that courtroom was going to be the next Scott Roeder?
BURKHART: Absolutely. Yes.
TRMS SENIOR PRODUCER: That`s a lot to carry around.
BURKHART: That`s why I -- as much as I wanted to win -- sorry -- sometimes I thought losing might be better.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Julie Burkhart told us she has tightened security at her home, that she is cautious, but she told us her work is what she loves to do. She told us this, specifically. She says, quote: I don`t think any of us should be bullied out of what we do or what we love to do.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: When Justice Harry Blackmun wrote the Supreme Court decision that gave women in all 50 states access to legal abortion, he knew it was a landmark ruling. But even though he was writing for a seven-member majority on that court, he knew it might not stand forever.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think that Roe V. Wade stands the chance of being overturned?
HARRY BLACKMUN, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: Well, I think any case always stands a chance of being overturned. I can`t forecast that one way or another. It may well be overruled. That will depend primarily on the personnel of the court.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It will depend on the personnel of the court.
You might have noticed there`s been some turnover in the personnel of the court lately with Donald Trump`s two picks, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. There is now a conservative anti-abortion majority on the court.
Because of that, America`s abortion providers have been planning for a post-Roe world, thinking and talking amongst themselves about which states will be the first to ban abortion, and how they might develop ways to get women from those states to what they`re calling haven states where abortion will remain legal. If Roe were overturned by the court tomorrow, these are states that have laws already in place so they could ban abortion right away. So, if Roe gets overturned at the court, legal abortion could be gone in all these states basically immediately.
That suddenly seems possible. It probably will not happen in the next year, but here`s what could happen next year. If the Supreme Court lets that Louisiana TRAP law stand, the one that`s basically identical to the trap law the court threw out in 2016 when it closed all those clinics in Texas, if the new conservative majority in the Supreme Court lets the Louisiana law stand, here are the places where that kind of law would likely shut down the last clinic in the state. That`s a reality we could be living next year.
Again, the court is set to hear the Louisiana case next year and rule by June. And that`s what Julie Burkhart is planning for right now. The mission that Julie created in Dr. Tiller`s honor in the clinics is trust women. That`s something Dr. Tiller used to always say. It`s how he became an abortion provider himself.
His quote on the wall says: Trust Women opens clinics that provide abortion care in underserved communities so that all women can make their own decision about their health care.
There are more underserved communities that Julie Burkhart has her eye on. She`s watching the court and watching the anti-abortion activists who she knows will try to stop her, but she`s also planning her next move.
That does it for us tonight. Thanks for being with us.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END