"The frustrations and dangers are real, and sometimes it’s scary. But just because we happen to be in a more conservative area in the Midwest doesn’t mean women don’t need good, safe, medical care."
Julie Burkhart was tormented over the decision of whether or not to return to work. Julia Burkhart was not a mother considering whether or not it was too soon to leave her child however. She was not someone who hated their boss and daydreamed about them being fired. Julia Burkhart had a much different problem with her boss, namely that he was dead. Instead, Julia was a co-worker of Dr. George Tiller. For those who don’t know, Dr. Tiller was a doctor in Kansas who controversially provided late term abortions (it was one of three places in the nation to do so at the time). Unfortunately, it is not this controversial fact that has made Dr. Tiller’s name familiar. On May 31, 2009, George Tiller was murdered by a shotgun to the face at his local church by an anti-abortion activist who was later given the maximum sentence allowed under Kansas law.
Since that terrible murder of Dr. Tiller, his clinic’s doors have remained shut. Having been the only abortion provider in the area, this has left the women of Wichita in a bad situation with no nearby abortion services. The women of Wichita have been forced to go on far (and often expensive) trips to surrounding areas. This has been shown to greatly impact low income women who cannot afford to take off work for a journey to get a constitutionally protected service.
Recognizing the problem nearly four years after that horrible murder, the clinic is being reopened. The Trust Women Foundation decided that the building had the best layout for the needs of the practice, and set out to reopen the doors that once provided the necessary service to the women of Wichita. It was a difficult decision and one that the heavy implications of which are not lost on those involved.
The road to opening the doors has not been easy. Anti-abortion activists filed complaints with building inspectors to delay renovations and tried (unsuccessfully) to get the planning commission to rezone the area to prevent any medical services being provided in the area.
It wasn’t just the clinic that was hounded. For months, Julie Burkhart's home was picketed several times. The most frightening experience being one sign that read “Where’s your church?” This being an eery reference to the murder of Dr. Tiller, which was done at his own church. She eventually felt it necessary to get restraining orders filed against several of the more extreme protesters.
Because of the history, the identity of the three doctors providing abortions has been kept under wraps. None of the doctors are from Kansas and will instead be commuting to the area from outside states. This is in combination due to a shortage of doctors willing to perform abortions and also due to a fear of retribution in areas such as Kansas in which the sentiment is still hostile. One of the doctors has already received harassing calls from an activist. Phone calls were recorded and posted on a website along with the doctor’s personal information.
David Leach, a member of the activist group Army of God, recently called Scott Roeder (the man convicted of Dr. Tiller’s murder) and posted the conversation on YouTube. The chilling conversation includes references to how someone might go kill “Julia Darkheart” which is a derogatory nickname for Julia Burkhart.
Yet, through all this, Julia Burkhart remains firm on her mission to open the clinic doors, now named South Wind Women’s Center, and keep them open in Kansas. “The frustrations and dangers are real, and sometimes it’s scary,” she says. “But just because we happen to be in a more conservative area in the Midwest doesn’t mean women don’t need good, safe, medical care.”
This situation highlights the current struggle of abortion in America. A daunting struggle presented by right wing and religious zealots and the few people who put their life and well-being on the line to do what they feel is right. While abortion is currently still protected by the Constitution, the realities are much grimmer. The nation faces a shortage in doctors and those involved have constantly run into roadblocks and hurdles which are sometimes insurmountable. While abortion may not be made illegal, many states have done all that they could do to make it effectively impossible to receive one. In Kansas, the fight to provide this service continues on, and Julia Burkhart prepares herself for the long battle.