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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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When pressed if he’s worried that the tactics used against Chastine might incite some other “loon like Roeder” to shoot someone, he’s dismissive. “I’m concerned about getting shot by gangbangers in this YMCA,” he quips.

Newman has clearly devoted a huge amount of effort to preventing South Wind from succeeding: filing a nuisance complaint with the city questioning the compliance of the handicap parking spaces; complaining to the Kansas Board of Healing Arts within the week the clinic opened that it was illegally practicing medicine; and coordinating with Scheidler to pressure Chastine into quitting. Yet he still feigns an air of disinterest. He calls South Wind “just another firsttrimester abortion clinic” and says there are other clinics he’s focused on.

In fact, since the murder of Dr. Tiller, Newman and Operation Rescue have relentlessly targeted Tiller’s former colleagues who continue to provide laterterm abortions: Dr. LeRoy Carhart, who now travels between Nebraska and Maryland to practice, and Drs. Shelley Sella and Susan Robinson, who now practice in Albuquerque, N.M. All three, like Tiller before them, are subjects of intensive campaigns. Operation Rescue files medical-board complaints, posts news about the doctors on blogs and social media and publicizes their addresses and photos on its website, Abortiondocs.org.

Anti-abortion followers around the country are encouraged to help gather data to add to profiles of these and other abortion providers on the site’s searchable database, which also includes medical license numbers and doctors’ home addresses and phone numbers. In some cases, doctors have been photographed going about their daily lives in what appear to be surreptitously taken pictures.

“The Abortiondocs.org site is a one-stop resource for extremist targeting and stalking of abortion-clinic personnel,” says duVergne Gaines, legal coordinator for the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Clinic Access Project. Gaines, who has been to Wichita repeatedly and worked closely with the South Wind staff, is assisting the clinic in responding tothreats. “What alarms us is that the network of extremists targeting Julie Burkhart and Dr. Chastine is the same network that targeted Dr. Tiller— Army of God adherents, Operation Rescue and OR/OSA,” she says.

Two of the project’s law associates work out of the South Wind clinic to assist it in dealing with its many legal challenges. Gaines has also helped recruit and work with community volunteers to assist the clinic—from going to zoning meetings to escorting patients to documenting on-site interference by anti-abortion protesters. Among the regular protesters is Jennifer McCoy, a known follower of the Army of God, which advocates “justifiable homicide” of abortion doctors.

Putting the extremists’ tactics into perspective, Gaines explains, “The deadly attacks on doctors and clinics have not been the acts of some ‘loon’ or ‘lone wolves,’ but part of an orchestrated campaign of terror. And until this network is prosecuted and dismantled, we fear we are only buying time until the next murder.”

The terror campaign has clearly left its mark. Kerry Jacob, a board member of South Wind, says her mother is frightened every time her daughter talks publicly about the clinic.

“We used to be the Midwest, now we’re Alabama,” says Jacob, who grew up in Wichita. Kansas also used to have a pro-choice governor, Kathleen Sebelius, from 2003 until just a month before Dr. Tiller was murderedin 2009. Now the state is led by an extreme abortion foe, Gov. Sam Brownback.

But Burkhart still maintains optimism about the support for South Wind in the Wichita community.

“Our current governor and legislature don’t reflect the people’s overall beliefs in Kansas. People in this state are pro-choice. When you ask them if they think abortion care should be outlawed, you only find 15 percent of people who seem to be for no abortion period.”

 
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