Wichita An abortion rights advocate who once worked for the late Dr. George Tiller said Friday that she hopes to open a clinic in his hometown of Wichita in 2012 but acknowledged that an ongoing legal dispute over state regulations is complicating the effort.
Julie Burkhart, founder of the Trust Women political action committee, said the group has found a medical director for the clinic and is making progress in identifying a potential site and raising the roughly $500,000 it will need to start operations.
Wichita has had no abortion clinic since Tiller was shot to death at his church in May 2009 by a man professing strong anti-abortion views. The state's three providers are in the Kansas City area, about 200 miles away. Two of those have been unable to obtain licenses to perform abortions under regulations set in June dictating which drugs and equipment providers must stock and setting minimum sizes and acceptable temperatures for procedure and recovery rooms.
The two unlicensed providers are challenging the new rules in federal court, and a judge has blocked their enforcement. Burkhart told The Associated Press that the uncertainty over which rules will apply — and how the state would treat a new clinic if the regulations are enforced — are major issues.
"We don't feel like we have answers to these questions. It's a waiting game," she said. "Part of the fear with clinic regulations is: How hard are we going to have to fight to open the doors?"
Appraisals of Burkhart's efforts from anti-abortion leaders have been mixed since she first disclosed her plans publicly in July. Trust Women, formed in 2009, lobbies in several states, including Kansas. Burkhart previously was chairwoman of ProKanDo, a PAC formed by Tiller that became a significant force in Kansas politics.
Kansans for Life considers the effort serious because of Burkhart's contacts within the national abortion rights movements. Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, called her group "a lot of show," though he added, "She's credible enough to be a threat, so we'll keep tabs on her."
Mary Kay Culp, Kansans for Life's executive director, said it's hypocritical for Burkhart to cite the legal dispute over clinic regulations as a hurdle because the rules wouldn't be an issue if the new clinic were to comply with them. Among other things, the regulations would require providers to do procedures in rooms with at least 150 square feet of space, excluding cabinets.
"They don't want to spend one penny more than they have to on medical safety," Culp said.
Critics contend the regulations, from the state health department, were designed to be burdensome and aren't necessary to protect patients.
Newman said another hurdle for would-be clinic operators is that fewer doctors want to perform abortions because of strong opposition from groups like his.
"Except for the old bra-burning hacks from the NOW (National Organization for Women) crowd, the trend is moving away from abortion," Newman said. "They think they can make a quick buck, and we're going to make sure that they don't."
Burkhart declined to identify the proposed clinic's medical director, fearing that the person would immediately become the subject of anti-abortion protests or worse. She wouldn't discuss specific sites, anticipating that abortion opponents would try to scuttle any agreements.
Trust Women has been based in St. Louis, but Burkhart now has a Wichita office. The PAC previously listed a Washington address in filings with the Federal Election Commission but changed Aug. 1 to a Wichita post-office box, records show.
"We've looked at a number of properties and have some good options," Burkhart said of a clinic. "We're looking at an opening date of sometime in 2012."
Culp and Newman said if they knew the identity of Burkhart's medical director, their groups would start researching and publicizing information about that person's career. As for a site, Newman said he'd approach potential neighbors or the potential landlord.
"I've already got my feelers out to the real estate companies," he said. "We'll find out. I've got informants everywhere. You can't keep a secret in Wichita."