Abortion opponents present nearly 14,000 signatures on petitions seeking to rezone former Tiller clinic

02/05/2013 5:45 PM

08/05/2014 11:29 PM

Officials from Kansans for Life presented almost 14,000 signatures to the Wichita City Council on Tuesday, asking that Dr. George Tiller’s former abortion clinic in east Wichita be rezoned to prevent reopening as the South Wind Women’s Center.

David Gittrich, the development director for Kansans for Life, presented 13,937 signatures to the council and promised hundreds more before his group takes the issue to the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission on Feb. 21.

The goal of the group is a city-initiated rezoning that would prevent the reopening of the clinic at 5107 E. Kellogg, this time under the management of Trust Women, as South Wind Women’s Center. That group plans to offer health care services to women, including abortions up to 14 weeks. A clinic official has said it would not perform late-term abortions.

Council members were noncommittal about the petitions, asking city staff to clarify what the council’s options are on rezonings not initiated by property owners.

After the meeting Vice Mayor Janet Miller said that city legal counsel believes the city or the planning commission can unilaterally initiate rezoning cases. But she doubted whether a politically motivated rezoning could stand up in court.

Miller also said that city legal counsel has warned of a Kansas statute prohibiting municipalities from “making laws pertaining to abortion.”

“It is shaping up as quite the legal dilemma,” Miller said.

Gittrich contended the clinic isn’t suitable for a residential neighborhood.

“We do not want a new abortion clinic in our neighborhoods,” he said. “We want to keep the peace.”

Gittrich outlined the neighborhood’s history with police calls, saying calls dropped off to none the year after Tiller was murdered at Reformation Lutheran Church.

Council member James Clendenin asked city staff to check the neighborhood’s history of police calls to verify Gittrich’s claim.

Trust Women founder Julie Burkhart said last week that her group took the petition drive seriously, but she noted that the building is appropriately zoned to be a medical facility, and has other medical offices around it. She said increased traffic and police calls could be avoided if groups didn’t protest at the clinic.

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