Outbreak leads to push to close Wichita abortion clinic; proposal called ‘unconscionable’

photo by: AP File Photo

In this photo taken Thursday, May 19, 2016, crosses placed by anti-abortion protesters stand in the lawn outside the South Wind Women's Center, now named the Trust Women Wichita Clinic, in Wichita, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Story updated at 1:03 p.m. Tuesday

WICHITA — A Wichita-area official wants to temporarily close an abortion clinic to curb the spread of the coronavirus that has sickened residents and staff at another Kansas nursing home.

Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell said Monday that he’ll ask the commission to strip abortion clinics from the list of “essential” businesses that can stay open during the pandemic, thus shuttering the Trust Women Wichita Clinic, The Wichita Eagle reported.

Julie Burkhart, founder and CEO of the clinic, called the proposal “unethical” and “unconscionable.” The clinic replaced the practice of late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller who was fatally shot by an anti-abortion activist in 2009.

“This is nothing more than a political tool they are using in order to shut down abortion,” Burkhart said.

O’Donnell presented the proposal even as federal judges temporarily blocked similar efforts in other states. He said women have been traveling to the Wichita clinic from out of state after the governor in neighboring Oklahoma issued a stay-at-home order last week that effectively bans most abortions.

“We should not be having women, and men, travel from other states, potentially bringing the coronavirus into Wichita,” O’Donnell said.

The Kansas Supreme Court last year declared access to abortion a “fundamental” right under the state constitution.

Meanwhile, nursing home operator Life Care Centers of America said Monday that 11 residents and seven workers at the home in Burlington have COVID-19, the Kansas City Star reported. Burlington is about 60 miles (95 kilometers) south of Topeka.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees long-term care facilities, rated the Burlington home overall as ” much below average” and gave it similar ratings for health inspections and quality measures, while rating the facility’s staffing as average.

The Burlington nursing home hasn’t responded to telephone messages seeking comment.

A resident at the Life Care Center in Kansas City, Kansas, was the first COVID-19-related fatality reported in the state on March 12. The company also runs a Washington state nursing home where 22 people died from the virus.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

At last count Monday, state health officials said Kansas has 368 cases, up from 319 on Sunday. Commissioners in Johnson County, which leads the state with 116 confirmed cases, on Monday unanimously approved $400,000 for up to 5,000 random tests to track the spread of COVID-19. The Kansas City area county also reported a third death Tuesday, pushing the state’s COVID-19 fatalities to 10.

Separately, an active-duty airman has been confirmed with the first infection at McConnell Air Force Base near Wichita. He is being treated in isolation at an off-base home.

The president of Wichita’s machinists union is urging some of Kansas’ largest employers to stop building planes and start making medical supplies. Cornell Beard, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 70, said in a letter that “this is not a time to be distracted with production schedules and profit.”

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