Wichita Protests Impact Abortion Access Nationwide

U.S. Newswire/July 18, 2001

Wichita, Kansas -- Anti-abortion protesters converged on Wichita, Kansas this week, where several hundred are participating in daily rallies. Monday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the only clinic that provides abortions was burned to the ground in a suspicious fire. The same day, a man shot and killed a clinic security guard in Melbourne, Australia at a clinic that provides a full range of reproductive health services including treatment for infertility. Anti-abortion protesters were picketing outside at the time.

These seemingly unconnected events are indeed linked. The rhetoric of mainstream anti-choice leaders incites extremists and propels them to attempted martyrdom. In Melbourne the head of Right to Life disassociated her group from the killing, but added, "Unborn children are being killed there. When you know that, it is not surprising that somebody might want to take the law into their own hands."

Paul DeParrie and Joseph O'Hara, two signers of a public declaration supporting the killing of doctors who perform abortions, were spotted among the prayerful Wichita group this week. Their declaration states in part that "lethal force was justifiable provided it was carried out for the purpose of defending the lives of unborn children."

According to Sara Miller, a member of the NNAF Board of Directors who is in Wichita this week, the prayerful exterior covers a more menacing tone. "Some of the people defending the clinic and escorting patients have been threatened by individual protesters who said they should expect injury and a violent death. It is clear that a lot of the protesters support violent means to accomplish their ends. They just won't say that within earshot of the media."

For over a decade, Operation Save America and its predecessor, Operation Rescue, have targeted Wichita's Women's Health Care Services and its doctor, George Tiller. Dr. Tiller's home and clinic have been threatened, blockaded and bombed. In 1993 he was shot outside the clinic. Dr. Tiller is an outspoken women's rights advocate and one of the few physicians in the United States who performs late abortions.

Dr. Tiller has asked the National Network of Abortion Funds, an association of 84 community-based abortion funds, to use the OSA action as an opportunity to raise money for low-income women's abortions. NNAF organized a nationwide Pledge-A-Picketer Campaign from its website, www.nnaf.org/pledge.html.

As anti-choice protesters descend on Wichita, Kansas this week for the tenth anniversary of Operation Rescue's violent 1991 "Summer of Mercy," the National Network of Abortion Funds is counting them. NNAF is lining up supporters willing to give money -- usually $1 a head -- for each person who tries to harass a patient or block Women's Health Care Services or any other family planning clinic or target. Thousands of dollars have already been pledged.

Access to abortion has already been eroded nationally. Threats and intimidation, combined with destruction of property, have driven some providers out of business. As abortion providers become more concentrated in a few metropolitan areas, more women must travel long distances.

Access is most restricted for young and poor women who do not have the money and means to travel. Since 1977, the Federal government and most of the states have denied Medicaid coverage for nearly all abortions.

Twenty-seven years after Roe v. Wade, an estimated 60,000 US women are forced to carry to term each year because they are too poor to obtain a safe, legal abortion. In response, NNAF and its member funds raise money from concerned individuals and foundations to provide direct assistance for low-income women and girls who want to terminate a pregnancy but cannot afford to.

"Every dollar raised in this campaign will be used for direct assistance to a low-income woman or girl seeking an abortion," said Sara Miller. "We need to support the most vulnerable women -- those who are poor, young, and women of color.

Here in Wichita the majority supports the anti-abortion people's right to their opinion, but not their right to protest and parade at the clinic. They see the real impact of the violence and harassment on their community. There are very few locals involved in the anti-choice actions.

On the other hand, the clinic defenders feel very welcomed here, and are being supported by lots of local individuals and churches. We have broad support for opposing the protesters and for every woman's right to make her own reproductive decisions."

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