June 24, 2011

Wichita forum on abortion rights draws supporters, protesters

Abortion protesters gathered outside a Wichita church Friday as a doctor who hopes to return abortion services to the city took part in a panel discussion sponsored by the National Organization for Women.

Physician Mila Means told more than 150 people inside the College Hill United Methodist Church at 2930 E. First St. that without financial help, she would be unable to open a clinic.

"We need a safe and secure place to do abortions here," she said.

The church was the site of the funeral of abortion provider George Tiller, who was fatally shot in May 2009 by Scott Roeder. The city has been without abortion services since then.

Among the 15 to 20 protesters outside was Mark Gietzen of the Kansas Coalition for Life.

He said he expects a "heartbeat bill," which would prohibit aborting a fetus after the heartbeat begins, to be introduced in the Kansas Legislature next year.

That would essentially limit legal abortions to the first seven to 10 weeks of pregnancy, Gietzen said.

The panel discussion was held as the state is starting to see the effects of four new abortion laws enacted by the Republican-dominated Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback. The laws include:

* A clinic-licensing bill that imposes a host of new regulations on abortion providers.

* A requirement that minors get permission from both parents for an abortion.

* A prohibition barring insurance companies from offering abortion coverage as part of medical plans.

* The outlaw of most abortions after 21 weeks of pregnancy, based on disputed research that fetuses can feel pain at that point.

Among those on the panel was Wichita attorney Lee Thompson, who represented Tiller. He said he expected some of the laws to be challenged in court.

"These regulations are clearly designed to put abortion clinics about of business," he said.

Thompson said he's often asked why a church-going Republican like him supports NOW.

"Well, let me tell you, there are tons of church-going Republicans who support women's rights," he said.

Also on the panel was Stephen Singular, the author of the book "The Wichita Divide: The Murder of Dr. George Tiller and the Battle Over Abortion."

"It's time to start pushing back," he said. "I think it's the only thing the other side will understand."

Police were stationed inside and outside and attendees were screened for weapons at the door.

Outside, protesters set up a loudspeaker where two ministers berated and cajoled people walking into the meeting.

"Don't go inside," implored the Rev. Rob Rotola of Word of Life Church. "We're looking for men, men that will protect little baby boys and little baby girls."

During his turn at the microphone, the Rev. Mark Holick of Spirit One Christian Center denounced the church for allowing the meeting.

"Christians have been kicked out of this place," Holick said. "No Christians allowed in College Hill United Methodist Church."

The protest — especially the graphic posters of aborted fetuses — did not go down well with neighbors Robin Dodds and Rhonda Rogers.

"My granddaughter was supposed to be here tonight. I'm glad she wasn't," Rogers said.

"Pictures of fetuses on a public street in front of my father's (God's) house, that is just uncalled-for," Dodds said.

Gietzen acknowledged that the pictures were among the most graphic that abortion protesters have displayed.

"I'm as nauseated and upset by these pictures as that lady is," he said. "And it's because I'm nauseated and upset that I oppose abortion."

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