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Four anti-abortion speakers again ask Wichita council to rezone area near women’s center

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, August 13, 2013, at 10:15 a.m.

Four anti-abortion speakers approached the podium at Tuesday’s Wichita City Council meeting, trying to revive their failed February attempt to get the city to rezone the late George Tiller’s clinic so abortions can’t be performed there.

But the council didn’t bend, showing no inclination to revive a rezoning request that the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission refused to hear in February.

The message from the speakers was the same: The clinic is inappropriate for a residential area because of the potential for violence – especially gun violence. Speakers complained that staffers at the South Wind Women’s Center, which now operates out of the former Tiller clinic building at 5107 E. Kellogg, have been antagonistic toward anti-abortion protesters there – although the speakers presented no evidence in support of those allegations.

And several of the anti-abortion speakers said that the neighborhood shouldn’t be exposed to the anti-abortion signs they employ at the clinic site.

“We need those (signs) to change people’s minds,” said Mark Gietzen, chairman of the Kansas Coalition for Life and one of Tuesday’s speakers.

“We thought we had a bad situation before … but by comparison we have a much worse situation today.”

Rob Rotola, a local pastor, told the council that anti-abortion protesters are taking guns to the clinic to protect themselves.

“These types of things, it just shouldn’t be in a residential area,” Rotola said.

David Gittrich, state development director of Kansans for Life, was the most animated speaker before the council, warning it that inaction on the group’s rezoning request makes the city liable for any violence on the clinic site.

He said the MAPC’s refusal to hear the rezoning case needed to be overturned by the City Council.

Council members routinely refuse to discuss items brought up during the weekly public agenda. But Tuesday morning was an exception.

Council member Lavonta Williams asked Gittrich, “How many of you who spoke today live in that area?”

“Well, we spend a lot of time out there,” Gittrich responded.

Council member Jeff Longwell sought some clarification on what the council can do in response to the request. The council is required to send the issue back to the planning commission, which refused to hear it in February, for another public hearing and a recommendation.

Any move by the council to overturn the recommendation would require a supermajority vote by the council.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @bwilsoneagle.

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