Wichita — An anti-abortion group has evicted a Wichita clinic that provided abortions and was a focal point of the massive 1991 demonstrations known as the "Summer of Mercy."
Operation Rescue announced Thursday that it has purchased the building that had been leased since 1983 by Central Women's Services.
The anti-abortion group has evicted the clinic and plans to renovate the building for use as its headquarters and a memorial display, said Cheryl Sullenger, Operation Rescue spokeswoman.
"We're going to convert that building from a place of death to a place where life is protected," Sullenger said. "We feel like there's going to be a little less human misery in the world."
Operation Rescue previously had bought a vacant lot by the building as the site of a billboard used to carry anti-abortion messages.
The group has donated that land to expand parking for A Better Choice, an organization offering alternatives to abortion.
The number listed in the phone book for Central Women's Services now rings at Choices Medical Clinic, another abortion-alternative organization.
Central Women's Services had been affiliated with Aid for Women, an abortion provider in Kansas City, Kan. On Thursday, a receptionist there said that the only person who could discuss the building sale was traveling and could not be reached for comment until next week.
Also traveling and unavailable for comment was Julie Burkhart, executive director of Pro Kan Do, an organization that lobbies for abortion rights.
Although it was one of only two clinics offering abortion in Wichita, the closure of Central Women's Services will probably not have much effect on access to the procedure, said Peter Brownlie, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.
"The number of abortions they were able to perform has been pretty small in recent years," Brownlie said.
He said Women's Health Care Services, operated by physician George Tiller, has been the primary abortion provider in Wichita for years.
Both Brownlie and Sullenger said Central Women's Services recently has offered abortions only a couple of days a month.
That's a substantial decline since the early 1990s, when the clinic was a center of anti-abortion fervor.
Activists blockaded and at one point stormed the clinic during the 1991 protests, which drew thousands of protesters and national attention to Wichita.
At least 13 people were arrested on charges ranging from trespassing to assault in connection with protests at the facility, which was then known as Wichita Family Planning.
But while the clinic had been less active lately, closing it is an important milestone for Operation Rescue, Sullenger said.
"When life is protected, that is really a thrill for us," she said.
She said the building cost the group $112,000, which it borrowed on a six-month loan. "We'll be raising money to pay that off," she said.
In addition, the group will try to raise about $30,000 to clean and remodel the building for its headquarters and a memorial to "the preborn victims of abortion," Sullenger said.
She said the interior of the building is dirty, there's a mold problem, and the plumbing and electrical systems are not up to code.
"We're going to have some serious prayer services over that building," Sullenger said. "We're going to need God's grace on that."
Photos from a real estate agent's walk-through before the sale show a clutter of medical equipment, supplies and boxes of records, but all those items were removed before Operation Rescue took possession, Sullenger said.
The Kansas Legislature passed a bill in 2005 to require strict cleanliness and safety standards specifically for abortion providers.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed the measure.
She has said she would support a bill if the standards applied equally to all outpatient surgical facilities.
A bill to do that passed the House this year but was blocked in the Senate.