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Meet the Wichita Women Standing Up to Anti-Abortion Extremists

“There is an attitude that if you provide abortion care then you should have to put up with harassment and intimidation, and I’m not sure we would say that to anyone else in any other profession.”

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“Troy [Newman] and I are friends and colleagues and we frequently communicate about what’s going on on the ground here [in Illinois] and there [in Kansas],” says the younger Scheidler. The Pro-Life Action League has tried to sully Dr. Chastine’s ratings on physician websites and has distributed flyers and mailed letters to other tenants in her office building, to surrounding businesses and to her landlord. “Our goal is to get [Dr. Chastine] to quit flying into Kansas by making sure her reputation is harmed here in Oak Park. We want abortion to be a stain on her career.

Despite the stresses surrounding her Illinois practice, Chastine remains determined.

“These people are bullies. They are terrorists, and I will not quit and let them get away with this behavior,” she says. “It’s why there is a shortage of providers and a lack of access. If more doctors stood up to the bullying then there wouldn’t be the stigma or the shortage.”

Chastine’s predicament has obvious ripples in Wichita. Burkhart admits it’s been difficult to recruit physicians. But like Chastine, Burkhart is immovable.

“There is an attitude that if you provide abortion care then you should have to put up with harassment and intimidation, and I’m not sure we would say that to anyone else in any other profession.”

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Before anyone enters south wind women's center, an armed guard wearing a bulletproof vest checks purses and backpacks. Visitors must walk through a metal detector (to detect concealed weapons); phones, computers, cameras and other electronic devices are prohibited. Once inside, the warm light of lamps illuminates colorful paintings of flowers, and a gurgling water feature provides a soothing soundtrack. For the children who sometimes accompany patients, there are bookcases filled with games and books.

Burkhart’s staff is composed of young women, many of whom graduated college with gender or women’s studies degrees. Just outside her office are photographs of Dr. Tiller from his days in the Navy, and inside it are more pictures of Tiller and a bin of “Trust Women” pins—the pin Tiller wore every day to show his belief that women can be trusted to make their own health-care choices.

“After Dr. Tiller’s murder, I really became so disillusioned with the political process,” Burkhart says of her previous efforts as a pro-choice advocate. In a political climate in which a number of GOP-dominated state legislatures and governors have pushed forth bills to undermine abortion clinics’ sustainability, Burkhart chose a new path she felt would have a more direct impact on women’s lives.

“To go out and recruit more pro-choice candidates and try to defeat antiabortion legislation, even if we were lucky enough to pass good legislation, it all just seemed useless if we didn’t have the providers,” she says. “I thought, ‘What does the movement need now, and how can I play a part?’ I just began to feel the thing I had to do was reestablish a clinic here in Wichita.&rdquo

Her challenges were vast. Wichita’s pro-choice community was suffering from a kind of group PTSD. “Everyone was shell-shocked,” Burkhart recalls.

“People feared there would be more violence and just didn’t really feel that [starting the clinic] could be done.”

Raising money wasn’t easy, but eventually she secured contributions nationally and locally until she had enough to not only run the new clinic but also buy the building that had housed Tiller’s clinic. There were other barriers, too: architects who turned down the remodeling job because they didn’t want to work for an abortion clinic; the printer who declined to print South Wind materials; the difficulty securing trash pickup; even the taxi company that won’t service the clinic.

 
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