by Missouri State Rep. Stacey Newman – August 16, 2017
Sunday I had the opportunity of taking an insider tour of Dr. George Tiller’s former clinic, now the Trust Women South Wind Women’s Center in Wichita. Kansas has only 2 abortion clinics, the other is the Planned Parenthood Comprehensive Health Center in Overland Park, a suburb of Kansas City.
It was a “no patient day” so Julie Burkhart, Trust Women CEO walked me through every room as she paused here & there to tidy up, add supplies to the shopping list, etc. Seeing Dr. Tiller’s former office was emotional, knowing that his clinic survived bombings, shootings and chilling threats before he was murdered at his Sunday morning church service in 2009. His photo hangs in his former office, memorialized with 3 other dedicated providers who are still practicing in New Mexico and Maryland.
Dr. Tiller’s father was an abortion provider before him, one of the very few in the country. While Dr. Tiller was serving as a flight surgeon in the Navy, his parents, sister & brother-in-law were all killed in an airplane accident. Originally planning to become a dermatologist, he went back to Wichita to raise his sister’s one year old son and take over his father’s practice. After hearing stories of women dying from illegal abortions, he was soon committed to reproductive care.
Julie worked closely with Dr. Tiller and had little hesitation about continuing his work after his assassination. Trust Women just bought their 3rd clinic in Seattle, keeping abortion care available to women in a blue state too.
I was struck by the similar mandated notice hanging in the clinic, as instructed by Kansas law. It was also fascinating that Kansas requires the counseling staff to be certified in ministry (easily done online so you can marry people too).
However in both KS & OK clinics this is posted throughout: “The mission of Trust Women Foundation: To open clinics that provide abortion care in underserved communities so that all woman can make their own decisions about their health care.”
The Wichita clinic has 4 rotating abortion providers, all OB-GYNS’s who regularly fly in from out of state. What struck me is that the clinic must be divided with the health clinic on one side and the abortion clinic on the other. Women and their partners must be escorted outside through a patio on the other side with security video cameras everywhere and a tall wooden fence with secure parking surrounds the building. At least 15 protestors are out front every day, often with a van as a mobile sign.
Right next door, visible over the fence —you guessed it —-is the fake pregnancy care clinic, all fancy and inviting, named “Choices Medical Clinic, pregnancy care & perinatal hospice services”.
Most interesting were regular comments from patients at both clinics: “The clinic isn’t dirty?” Abortion is legal?” Do you take small bills?” Not surprising is that women come from all income levels, all professions, many having to drive several hours just to get to the clinic – even from another state, take off work, arrange child care, find a supportive partner. 70% have at least one child already. Every kind of woman.
I cannot emphasize the extraordinary compassionate care the staff give women every day. Their warmth and caring extends beyond normal office hours.
Often they are dispatched to pick up a patient even hours away who has no transportation for her 2nd day procedure or needs to be seen at one clinic faster than the other. Often women, because of Kansas and Oklahoma punitive laws, have to be driven from one clinic to the other three hours away. The staff & doctor doesn’t blink if the doctor becomes ill or the clock is ticking with counseling mandates. Every single staffer goes the extra mile —for women. Kansas has a 24 hour waiting period after counseling while Oklahoma has a 72 hour waiting period. Both have a 22 gestational week ban which does not allow for critical genetic or fetal anomalies routinely discovered between 18-24 weeks. Staff is very concerned about routine followup visits which some women are unable to make, due to work, families and distance and the treating physician remains on 24 hour call for any questions or followup.
Trying to describe my 3.5 day journey to my husband when I returned was almost impossible. But the word “humanity” kept popping up.
Humanity at it’s core vulnerability with basic compassionate love.
The thank you notes that women leave for each other makes you want to cry for days.
Trust Women, it’s that simple.