On one side of the driveway were students from Catholic schools in Beloit and Wichita. On the other were supporters of South Wind Women’s Center.
Both sides held signs and sang in the 15-degree weather – roughly 100 people opposing abortion and a couple dozen supporting choice. Neither side was likely to change the other’s mind about abortion.
This they knew.
But more than four years after Wichita physician George Tiller was killed, here they were at one of the most prominent sites of the nation’s debate over abortion.
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Katie Greenwood, a senior from St. John’s Catholic School in Beloit, organized her school’s trip to Wichita on Friday morning. She said she has 13 siblings, three lost to miscarriages.
Life, and children, she said, are “what I know.”
She said she wanted to show that young people recognize the importance of life.
Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, from Kansas’ 1st District, joined the students and said he was encouraged to see young people speaking out against abortion.
Responding to criticism that he should be doing business in Washington, D.C., Huelskamp said, “I can’t think of a better place to be than standing for life.”
South Wind supporters accused him of political grandstanding.
“In our secular state, everyone has the right to religious liberty, but no one’s personal religious dogma can restrict a woman’s health care decisions without making a mockery of our democratic principles,” said Vickie Sandell Stangl, president of the Great Plains Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Liz Carson, president of the Wichita chapter of the National Organization for Women, said when Scott Roeder shot and killed Tiller at church in 2009, “it felt like a personal attack on my own liberties.”
“We want everyone to know that reproductive rights are human rights,” she said before the students showed up at South Wind.
South Wind, which offers women’s health care, including abortion, opened in April in the building that once housed Tiller’s Women’s Health Care Services off of Kellogg near Oliver. Julie Burkhart, the founder of Trust Women Inc. who worked for Tiller, opened the clinic.
Rabbi Michael Davis of Congregation Emanu-El, said he had counseled women and couples facing excruciating decisions about difficult pregnancies, including those involving fetal anomalies. So did the Rev. Kent Little, senior pastor at College Hill United Methodist Church.
“I support women’s choice and trust women,” Little said, drawing applause from supporters.
Burkhart told clinic supporters that Huelskamp was “terribly misguided.” She encouraged him to “go back to Washington” and work on passing a farm bill, an immigration bill and a workable budget for the nation.
“Being here harassing people is not the work of the people,” she said.
Huelskamp said he came to Wichita at the invitation of the students.
“We’re winning,” he said of the abortion debate, adding “clearly the message is getting through to young people.”
At various times during the rally, the Catholic students sang religious holiday songs while South Wind supporters sang more secular holiday ditties. While the students sang “Silent Night,” South Wind supporters used noisemakers to drown them out.
Greenwood, 17, said about 40 students from Beloit came to Wichita and were joined by students from Wichita’s Kapaun Mount Carmel Catholic High School and Bishop Carroll Catholic High School. The appearance at South Wind was part of a Catholic School for Life Rally. Students prayed the Rosary on their knees, their breath forming frost in the air.