The building at the corner of Kellogg and Bleckley is pretty unremarkable as far as offices go. It doesn’t stand out on the busy service road that people take from the flyover to get to car dealerships and other businesses..
But while not architecturally significant, the building is a cornerstone of the nation’s turbulent abortion debate.
On Wednesday, Trust Women allowed The Eagle inside to get a look at the future home of South Wind Women’s Center, located where George Tiller performed abortions until he was killed at his church by an anti-abortion activist in May 2009.
Cassie Tinsmon, chairwoman of the Trust Women Foundation board of directors, led the tour and said the center will open this spring. Julie Burkhart, founder of Trust Women, told The Eagle recently that South Wind will offer comprehensive women’s health care services such as well-woman exams, family planning services, infertility evaluations and pre- and post-natal care.
What will set South Wind apart from other doctor’s offices that offer Pap smears and treatment for endometriosis is that it will offer women abortions up to 14 weeks and referrals for those beyond 14 weeks.
The building, with its security cameras and gated parking lot, has been empty since Scott Roeder shot Tiller. Trust Women bought the building from Tiller’s family, hoping to provide what it says is a needed medical service for women.
It sits next door to the Choices Medical Clinic, which urges women to consider alternatives to abortion.
Walk into South Wind, and there’s a reception area like that of any doctor’s office. There’s a waiting room like that of any doctor’s office.
The three doctors who will work at the clinic — two OB/GYNs and one family practice physician — will work in exam rooms like that of any doctor’s office.
“Structurally, it’s pretty much the same” as when Tiller practiced there, Tinsmon said of the building.
Trust Women began working on the building at the beginning of the year, Tinsmon said. Burkhart said in an earlier interview that opening the clinic is about a $1 million project, funded by the Trust Women Foundation.
Although the building had been empty for more than three years, “it was in good shape,” Tinsmon said.
Trust Women considered other locations for South Wind, but Tiller’s former clinic emerged as the best option, Burkhart said.
As Kansans for Life, a group that opposes abortion, collects signatures for a petition urging a rezoning of the building, workers are busy painting walls and replacing floors. There are rooms for counseling and group education classes. The basement is a storage area.
An open recovery room has space for 10 patients.
Tinsmon said women who have been under anesthesia for any reason, including an abortion, will recover in that room.
At clinics where she has volunteered, the rooms have been open so that women could talk to each other. Talking to each other helps them, Tinsmon said.
Two procedure rooms sit behind stainless steel doors that swing open and close.
There, women will end pregnancies for many reasons. Some may not want to have a baby. Some will do so because a doctor has told them there’s something wrong with their baby. Some will do so for their own health.
Tinsmon said she hopes women will be able to exercise their reproductive rights “without intimidation or threats.”
Already, protesters are showing up. None have made too much of a fuss, Tinsmon said. They’ve been quiet.
Tinsmon and Burkhart say groups such as Kansans for Life cause the problems such as traffic and police calls, not the women or the doctors. David Gittrich, state development director of Kansans for Life, has said the group will continue to protest because it can’t stand by and do nothing.
A room at South Wind will document Wichita’s role in the abortion debate, going back to the Summer of Mercy in 1991. The archives will offer information about the history of Tiller’s clinic.
“A big focus will be on him,” Tinsmon said.
Trust Women, however, doesn’t want South Wind to only be known as an abortion clinic.
Tinsmon said she never understood why there were abortion clinics separate from offices that provided women’s health care.
“Abortion is so stigmatized in this society,” she said.
Women at South Wind, she said, will receive “continuity” of care.
Trust Women has not specified when South Wind will open. It also hasn’t released the names of the doctors, two of whom will fly into Wichita as needed.
“We’re inching closer to a date,” Burkhart said.