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Late-term abortions won’t be offered at new clinic in Wichita

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, at 7:20 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, August 28, 2013, at 10:12 a.m.

South Wind Women’s Center, the clinic that will open this spring at George Tiller’s former practice on East Kellogg, will offer comprehensive women’s health care services, including abortions, but will not provide late-term procedures.

“We will not be doing third-term abortions,” Trust Women founder Julie Burkhart said Monday. “That is such a highly specialized area.”

A flier says Trust Women created South Wind to “re-establish access to full-spectrum reproductive healthcare.” They will provide abortions up to 14 weeks and will refer patients to other doctors after that, Burkhart said.

Kansas law bans abortion starting at 22 weeks – with some limited exceptions.

The clinic will open where Tiller operated Women’s Health Care Services. Scott Roeder killed Tiller on May 31, 2009, while Tiller was attending church.

Burkhart, who worked for Tiller for several years, founded the Trust Women political action committee in July 2009 and the Trust Women Foundation in spring 2010. It is funding and opening South Wind.

Burkhart said she was ready to leave the reproductive rights movement after Tiller’s death.

“There was a moment in time when I was like, ‘I don’t want to have anything to do with this anymore,’ ” Burkhart said Monday. “A job in corporate America or gardening looked good.”

But as she grieved for Tiller, whom she met in 2001 and had worked for from 2002 to 2009, Burkhart said she realized that giving women a choice “ranks as one of the most important things in life.”

There’s a lot of emotional baggage associated with the building where Tiller worked, she said. But in the end, it was the best location for what Trust Women wanted to do, Burkhart said. The building best met the clinic’s needs, she said.

“We did not initially look at Dr. Tiller’s old building,” Burkhart said. “We looked at probably half a dozen other facilities, but they were either too big or too small. The question was, ‘What is the best facility?’ ”

There also was some thought that locating at Tiller’s clinic “could help with healing,” Burkhart said.

“Dr. Tiller built a beautiful facility and why not use it?” she said.

Trust Women bought the building from Tiller’s family, who closed his practice after his murder.

“We took it very seriously,” Burkhart said of the location. “There’s a lot of processing the emotions behind it. But was he someone who was beloved to us, who showed women compassion? Sure he was.”

Three doctors will work at South Wind. The clinic will have a full-time ob-gyn, a doctor who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology. Two other doctors — a family practice physician and another ob-gyn — will fly in to Wichita as needed.

Burkhart will not name the doctors yet, though the clinic will have to eventually.

The clinic will be able to refer patients for later abortions to doctors such as Warren Hern in Boulder, Colo., who was a close friend of Tiller’s, and others in New Mexico and Nebraska. Burkhart said she knows of four doctors providing late-term abortions in the United States.

Burkhart sees South Wind as a medical office that provides comprehensive services for women. A flier says the clinic will offer well-woman exams, family planning services, treatment for urinary incontinence, sonograms, prenatal care and adoption services, among other services.

She said she hopes the community will see South Wind as more than an “abortion clinic.”

It will cost about $1 million to open the clinic, Burkhart said. Funding is coming from Trust Women Foundation members and supporters.

South Wind will have around-the-clock security, she said.

Kansans for Life is gathering petitions to ask the city to rezone the building. David Gittrich, development director of the group, said that when Tiller operated his clinic, a lot of traffic, police calls and other problems plagued the neighborhood.

“It was not a quiet, peaceful neighborhood when that place was open,” he said.

Alissa Kirby, an office specialist for Kansans for Life in Wichita, said Tuesday that the group had gathered 10,554 signatures on petitions so far and hoped to have 20,000 to deliver to the Wichita City Council by Feb. 5. Petitions are due to the group by Feb. 4, Gittrich said.

A petition drive cannot force a rezoning, said John Schlegel, director of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Department.

He said zoning code provides that only the owner of the property, the City Council or the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission can initiate a rezoning of the property.

“My understanding is that they are conducting the petition drive to convince the City Council and/or the MAPC that there is support for rezoning the property,” Schlegel said in an e-mail.

Burkhart said Trust Women is taking the petition drive “very seriously.”

“But this building obviously has been a medical facility, and it is zoned appropriately to be a medical facility,” she said. “There are other medical practices around it. It’s not us who are the ones causing the problems. If they’re worried about there being a nuisance, they should refrain from showing up at our place of business.”

She also noted there are other medical offices in the area, including a chiropractor’s office and the Choices Medical Clinic. Choices’ website says it provides medical care for unplanned pregnancies and alternatives to abortion.

Gittrich said his group won’t stay away from South Wind.

“It’s never going to happen. Abortion is never going to be accepted in this country. We’re never going to be quiet and let it go on,” he said.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com.

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