AP: Abortion clinic remodeling to meet new regulations
WICHITA (AP) — The former Wichita clinic of slain abortion provider George Tiller is being remodeled to meet strict Kansas regulations as the abortion-rights group that bought the building prepares to open it for the first time since the doctor was gunned down in 2009.
The work is taking place amid growing public opposition by anti-abortion activists who mounted a petition drive Tuesday seeking to rezone the area in a desperate effort to block the opening of a family and women's health center that will offer abortions, among other services. The Wichita-based nonprofit Trust Women Foundation Inc. purchased the building in late August.
"This effort is yet another attempt to limit access to reproductive healthcare for the women of Wichita and Kansas," Julie Burkhart, founder of Trust Women, said in an emailed statement Tuesday. "Regardless of their actions, we will continue to bring quality and comprehensive obstetrics and gynecological services to Wichita."
Anti-abortion activists held a news conference Tuesday to announce their petition drive to the Wichita City Council and the local planning commission. The event organized by Kansans for Life drew about 50 abortion opponents, including several state lawmakers who signed the petition.
"As Wichitans we know that when an abortion clinic opens in a neighborhood everything changes," said David Gittrich, an anti-abortion leader in Wichita. "Abortions means taxis and traffic, police cars and ambulances, barricades and signs. People who support abortion — and people who believe every abortion kills an innocent baby — come to demonstrate."
Robert Eye, the Topeka attorney representing Trust Women, said Tuesday that independent contractors are now modifying the building to make sure hallways and interior spaces are big enough to comply with the new requirements of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. He said once the work is complete and the building is inspected and licensed, the new clinic will open for services.
"If you start using the zoning process to do social engineering such as this, that is a very slippery slope and I hope that the zoning and land use process is sufficiently disciplined in Sedgwick County that it wouldn't be essentially misused by those who are opposed to the operation of a women's health clinic," Eye said.
Gittrich described the clinic location as a residential area, although it is adjacent to another medical facility that offers women alternatives to abortion. But Gittrich contended it is the abortion industry that attracts huge crowds.
Tiller was one of the few remaining late-term abortion providers in the nation when he was murdered and his clinic shuttered. When Tiller operated the clinic, it was the site of regular protests by abortion opponents, including large "Summer of Mercy" demonstrations in 1991 and 2001 that led to mass arrests.
Burkhart, the Trust Women founder, was a clinic employee and from 2002 to 2009 ran ProKanDo, a PAC formed by Tiller.