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Anti-abortion group launches petition drive against clinic plan

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, at 7:22 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, at 10:42 p.m.

The state’s most powerful anti-abortion group will be petitioning the city in an effort to prevent a women’s group from opening a clinic to provide abortions at the site of the former medical practice of murdered abortion provider George Tiller.

Kansans for Life will ask the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission and the Wichita City Council to rezone the property in an effort to thwart the reopening of the clinic by a group called the Trust Women (and Change the World) Foundation.

The foundation is planning to offer abortion services as part of a women’s clinic at 5107 E. Kellogg.

The site has been idle since June 2009, shortly after Tiller was shot to death at his church by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder. Roeder, a resident of the Kansas City area, was convicted of murder and is serving a life sentence.

The effort to reopen the clinic is being led by Julie Burkhart, a former Tiller employee who heads the women’s foundation. The group purchased the clinic building from Tiller’s widow in September and has indicated through its website that contractors are remodeling the interior.

In a written statement issued Tuesday night, Burkhart said: “This effort is yet another attempt to limit access to reproductive health care for the women of Wichita and Kansas. Regardless of their actions, we will continue to bring quality and comprehensive obstetrics and gynecological services to Wichita.”

Troy Newman, who heads the Wichita-based anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, has registered the name Trust Women Foundation Inc. with the Secretary of State’s office. Newman, who strongly opposes efforts to reopen the clinic, declined comment when asked why he had registered essentially the same name as the group that is planning to do that.

On Tuesday, Kansans for Life held a news conference and rally on the steps of the Sedgwick County Courthouse to publicize its petition drive.

In attendance were about 60 abortion opponents and several current and future state legislators who signed the petition, including Sen.-elect Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita.

“Kansans are going to be protected from conception until natural death, and that’s our No. 1 goal,” O’Donnell said.

“As a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Bible tells us not to abort children, we’re supposed to raise them and encourage them,” added Rep. Les Osterman, R-Wichita. “So we need to stop the killing of innocent babies. … There’s other ways that women can do and things they can do rather than have that happen.”

Resident Anna Myers said her grandparents came to Wichita as survivors of the Nazi Holocaust and that she considers herself a “survivor of the American Holocaust” of abortion.

She said the presence of the Tiller clinic had brought embarrassment instead of pride to the city of Wichita.

David Gittrich, development director for Kansans for Life, said the presence of the Tiller clinic had caused disruption for the neighborhood and that rezoning the new clinic out would protect the quiet atmosphere that has developed since the clinic closed.

After the news conference, he acknowledged that much of the disturbance had been a result of the actions of anti-abortion groups, including his.

But he said it was justifiable and inevitable that reopening the clinic would bring back the protests.

“There’s been people on both sides who have gotten out of line,” he said. “The main point is the abortion industry attracts a huge crowd of people opposed to it.”

He said Kansans for Life will continue to protest if the clinic opens.

“We like families and children, not places where they go to be killed,” Gittrich said.

Gittrich said the group will collect signatures through Jan. 22, the day of the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld women’s right to an abortion.

The signatures will be presented to the planning commission on Jan. 24 and to the City Council on Jan. 29, Gittrich said.

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