The XX Factor

The Anti-Choice Intimidation Machine Winds Back Up in Kansas

Flowers were placed outside of Wichita’s sole abortion clinic after owner Dr. George Tiller was murdered in May 2009. Now, four years later, the clinic is opening back up and the threats and intimidation tactics are starting all over again.

Photo by Kelly Glasscock/Getty Images

Anti-abortion militants in Wichita believed they had ended abortion in the small Kansas city for good. For two decades, they targeted Women’s Health Care Services, owned and operated by Dr. George Tiller, with threats, protests, clinic blockades and highly unethical legal harassment. Abortion clinic employees were stalked at their homes, and Dr. Tiller was shot once in the arms in 1993. The multi-year efforts culminated in Dr. Tiller’s murder in 2009, which led the doctor’s beleagured family to shut down the clinic. But the hope that they had finally run legal abortion out of Wichita was short-lived for obsessed anti-choicers who have made the town their spiritual home base. The clinic has been reopened by Julie Burkhart, a former colleague of Dr. Tiller’s. Militant anti-choicers in the area have responded in an upsetting, if predictable way: by making the people who work there fear for their safety. 

Kari Ann Rinker, a reproductive rights activist living in Wichita, reports at RH Reality Check on the efforts to initimidate Burkhart. One activist has a restraining order filed against him for picketing her home with a sign that says, “Where is your church?,” a reference to Tiller’s assassination in a church. David Leach of the group Army of God spoke to Dr. Tiller’s murderer, Scott Roeder, and posted the audio of the conversation. He read his statement on the new clinic to Roeder:

If someone would shoot the new abortionist like Scott shot George Tiller back in the Operation Rescue days, people called him Tiller the Killer, hardly anyone would appreciate it, but the babies. It will be a blessing to the babies, everyone else will panic. Of all places to open up a killing office, to reopen the one office in the United States more notorious for decades than any other is an act of defiance against God and the last remaining remnants of reverence for human life. It is what the Supreme Court classifies as “fighting words,” like throwing lard in a Mosque, burning a cross in a Black neighborhood, or immersing a cross in urine at taxpayers’ expense. It is a reckless act. It is not the act of someone who values their own safety. It is a gauntlet thrown down, by someone who wants a fight. Of course, I don’t know if anyone will pick up the gauntlet. I didn’t know Scott would act, before he did.

Roeder loved it and responded:

It is a little bit death-defying for someone to walk back in there. For Julie “Darkheart” to walk back in there and reopen a murder mill where a man was stopped. It’s almost like putting a target on your back, saying, “Well, let’s see if you can shoot ME! I have to go back to what Pastor Mike Bray said: If 100 abortionists were shot, they [surviving abortionists] would probably go out of business. I think eight have been shot, so we’ve got 92 to go. Maybe she’ll be number nine. I don’t know, but she’s kind of painting a target on her.

Troy Newman of Operation Rescue is also doing his part by trying to dig up the identity of the doctor who works for the clinic, to make it easier to harass and stalk him/her. While these barely-veiled threats are being made, the Kansas legislature is eagerly working to do the bidding of these militant groups, passing a bunch of unnecessary regulations in hopes they can use them to close clinics down, including a bill that defines life as beginning “at fertilization.” The governor of Kansas is rigid lady-hater Sam Brownback, so odds are high he will sign it. This is what Kansas politics have come to in the 21st century: terrorist-minded organizations working in concert with Bible-thumping politicians to make sure that if women want to decline to be pregnant right now, they have to go to the next state over.