The late Dr. George Tiller’s women’s health clinic in Witchita, Kansas has been purchased by a non-profit group and is set to re-open as a family and women’s health center by January 2013. Julie Burkhart, a former employee of Dr. Tiller’s clinic, said the Trust Women Foundation purchased the clinic in late August. This is a huge victory, considering almost all of Kansas is without a women’s health clinic. The clinic, much like Dr. Tiller’s, will offer a whole host of services related to obstetrical and family care – yes, including abortion.
Unfortunately, the clinic will not open without controversy. The Trust Women Foundation has not even had the chance to assemble a staff and already the media and anti-choice groups are set on characterizing this clinic as The Witchita Abortion Clinic, completely ignoring the essential women’s health services that will be provided. Abortion is just one piece of that care, but many are willing to try prevent women from accessing the all of the services. The way this story is currently being presented is disappointing, but it’s also dangerous: disgusting, violent rhetoric helped inspire Dr. Tiller’s assassination in 2009. It seems as though nothing was learned from that senseless tragedy.
The stories printed about the purchase of the clinic make it a point to refer to Dr. Tiller’s Women’s Health Care Services as an “abortion clinic” and generally do the same for the new clinic, although sometimes it is called a “family and women’s health clinic that will offer abortions.” This is no accident, and it’s certainly not harmless: similar mischaracterizations were used against Dr. Tiller before his death. Bill O’Reilly famously referred to him as “Dr. Tiller the Baby Killer” repeatedly on his television show and named him as a late term abortion provider, but failed to mention that these procedures were performed when the fetus was found to have severe or fatal birth defects or when carrying to term would compromise the mother’s health. Anti-choice groups like Operation Rescue made it their goal to make Dr. George Tiller a household name, and O’Reilly definitely helped make that happen. Dr. Tiller’s clinic offered other women’s health services including prenatal care and contraception. However, anti-choice groups made sure the focus was on the late term abortions performed at the clinic and nothing else.
It’s true that the Trust Women Foundation’s new clinic will offer first and early second trimester abortions, but it will offer so much more. Burkhart wants people to know that “It’s about more than abortion. We’re about serving the needs of women.” She also pointed out that women in Witchita currently have to travel over three hours for medical services. Calling this center an “abortion clinic” only begins the dangerous cycle of rhetoric over again. The new clinic will not offer late term abortions (thanks to tighter restrictions on the procedure), but anti-choice groups have been “watching for signs” that the clinic would re-open. Mary Kay Culp, executive director for Kansans for Life, said that it was “tragic” that Burkhart would “re-engage in destroying unborn children.” Sounds familiar.
Hopefully more will be done to protect the employees of the new clinic. It is vital for the women of Witchita to have a place to go to seek reproductive healthcare. It should be known for what it is: a women’s health center. Burkhart has an important goal for the clinic: ”We want to work to take the abortion piece of health care out of the corner and normalize it. Women should not be ashamed. Women should not be intimidated.” Truer words were never spoken.