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2011-10-19

Colleagues of Slain Kansas Abortion Doctor George Tiller Continue His Fight for Reproductive Rights

Guests

Julie Burkhart, founder and director of the Trust Women Foundation and PAC, which focuses on protecting women’s access to reproductive healthcare, as well as the rights of the physicians who provide these services. She worked for eight years with Dr. George Tiller before he was murdered in 2009.

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A federal judge has blocked the impact of one of the laws aimed at defunding Planned Parenthood, ordering Kansas to restore federal family planning funds to a clinic that claims it suffered "collateral damage" from the law because it would be forced to close, leaving 650 mostly low-income patients without access to reproductive healthcare services. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, and the unaffiliated Dodge City clinic, are challenging a law requiring the state to first allocate Title X funds to public health departments and hospitals, which leaves no funds for specialty family planning clinics. This is just the latest development in Kansas, which saw the murder of one of its staunchest supporters of women’s access to abortion: Dr. George Tiller. For more, we are joined by Julie Burkhart, who worked for eight years with Tiller before he was killed in 2009. She is the founder and director of the Trust Women Foundation and PAC, which focuses on protecting women’s access to reproductive healthcare, as well as the rights of the physicians who provide these services. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Kansas City, right on the border between Kansas and Missouri, an area that is ground zero in the push to reduce women’s access to reproductive services, and specifically abortion.

The music you just heard was from Kansas City native, by the way, Charlie Parker.

After the passage of Roe v. Wade, Kansas had 27 abortion providers. Now it has three. All three of those clinics were targeted by a barrage of bills that passed during the last legislative session in Kansas. This was the session that saw the rise of Republican Governor Sam Brownback after Democrat Kathleen Sebelius left to become President Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Well, just yesterday, a federal judge blocked the impact of one of the laws aimed at defunding Planned Parenthood. He ordered Kansas to restore federal family planning funds to a clinic that claims it suffered "collateral damage" from the law because it would be forced to close, leaving 650 mostly low-income patients without access to reproductive healthcare services. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri and the unaffiliated Dodge City clinic are challenging a law requiring the state to first allocate Title X funds to public health departments and hospitals, which leaves no funds for specialty family planning clinics. They argue that under the Supremacy Clause, Kansas cannot impose further restrictions on a federal program. Congress created Title X of the Public Health Services Act to promote family planning services to low-income patients, because it found the lack of access to birth control services exacerbates poverty.

This is just the latest development in Kansas, which saw the assassination in 2009 of one of its staunchest supporters of women’s access to abortion: Dr. George Tiller. The 67-year-old doctor was shot as he attended services at his Wichita, Kansas, church. In a related development, an ethics panel recommended last week that former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline have his state law license suspended over his conduct during criminal investigations of abortion providers, including Dr. Tiller, saying he was "motivated by dishonesty and selfishness."

For more, we’re joined by Julie Burkhart. She worked for eight years with Dr. George Tiller before he was killed in 2009. She’s founder and director of the Trust Women Foundation and PAC, which focuses on protecting women’s access to reproductive healthcare, as well as the rights of the physicians who provide these services.

Even today, our condolences on losing your friend, Dr. Tiller. You were with him days before he was killed in 2009?

JULIE BURKHART: Well, I had not been with him days before, but we had talked on the phone.

AMY GOODMAN: And what were you talking about?

JULIE BURKHART: Well, we were talking about just what was going to happen next in the state of Kansas with our organization and how that was going to play out. I was in Washington, D.C., at the time when he was murdered. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Did he predict this is what would happen? Did he fear this?

JULIE BURKHART: I wouldn’t say that he feared this, but I would say that we were all extremely cognizant of this.

AMY GOODMAN: He had already been shot.

JULIE BURKHART: Yes, in August of 1993, Shelley Shannon from Oregon came to Wichita, Kansas, up through the state of Oklahoma, and attempted to assassinate him. Fortunately, he survived that assassination attempt. But as you know, in 2009, he didn’t survive that.

AMY GOODMAN: So talk about what has happened to women’s health clinics in Kansas.

JULIE BURKHART: Well, this last year, you know—and what I would like to point out is that we had what it seems like is this trifecta, in '09 and 2008, with President Obama being elected, the rise of the Tea Party, the assassination of Dr. George Tiller. This really worked to embolden and empower the right wing. And so, after those events occurred, we found ourselves trying to hold back this boulder coming down the hill. So this last legislative session in the state of Kansas, as well as other states across the nation, primarily in the Midwest and in Southern states, we saw just an avalanche of anti-choice bills. In Kansas, in particular, we saw a TRAP bill, which is Targeted Regulations against Abortion Providers. It's a prejudicial law that is meant to shut down providers, thus blocking access to women in need of healthcare services. We also saw an insurance ban. There’s now double parental consent.

AMY GOODMAN: What does that mean, "double"?

JULIE BURKHART: That means that if a teenager wants to have an abortion in the state of Kansas, she has to have both parents consent. If she can’t obtain that consent, she has to go before a judge.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you see is the problem with that?

JULIE BURKHART: Well, I see that that blocks access, once again, to teenagers who might decide that they don’t want to carry a pregnancy to term and have an abortion. And in the state of Kansas, as well as nationally, teenagers go to their parents, typically, when they’re pregnant. It’s only in cases of potentially incest, abuse, not having a good relationship with the parent, that would drive a teenager to get a judicial bypass. Very few teenagers don’t talk to their parents.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of insurance?

JULIE BURKHART: Well, the issue of insurance, this came up—there were actually a couple of bills in Kansas, and we saw this across the country, as well, that bans a woman from receiving abortion care through her insurance company. And I think this is rather ironic, because the same people who proposed this type of legislation, the right-wing Republicans, primarily, who stumped on—it was the mantra of "We want smaller government, no government intrusion. We’re going to work to stimulate the economy, put people back to work." They promptly introduced these bills, when they were elected, to meddle in the lives of women and their families.

AMY GOODMAN: What is happening with the number of clinics in Kansas today?

JULIE BURKHART: Well, right now, under—so the TRAP bill was passed this last May. It went into effect July 1st. And immediately, it was—there was an injunction put into place. Two of those three clinics would have been shut down if an injunction had not gone into place. So, that whole situation is rather tenuous at this time. The permanent rules and regulations are going to be published on October 27th in the Kansas Register, and they will go into effect on November 14th or 15th. So there’s potential that all the clinics will be shut down.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play a short excerpt of Dr. George Tiller in his own words. At an event organized by the Feminist Majority Foundation in 2008, Dr. Tiller discussed his vision for a just and more humane society.

DR. GEORGE TILLER: I personally see a society that respects the integrity of its citizens to struggle with complex health issues and make decisions that are appropriate for them and their personal lives. I see a society that respects the religious differences of its citizens. I see a society that rejects hate, rejects judgmental condemnation, and rejects prejudice and racism. I see a government that honors the privacy of its citizens without unwarranted surveillance. I see a society where war is not an option—thank you—and the negotiation with mutual respect is the hallmark, rather than mutual self-destruction. I see a society where the welfare of all—I see a society where the welfare of all is equally important as the riches of the few. I see a world that discusses solutions without demanding its own answers.

We have given war, pestilence, hate, greed, judgment, ego, self-sufficiency a good try. And it failed. We need a new paradigm that consists of kindness, courtesy, justice, love and respect in all our relationships.

Work hard. Be a leader. Your way of life depends on it. And just look at the rest of the world. That’s the way the anti-abortion segment of our population wants the U.S.A. to be. And how do we do that? We do it the way we have always done things: we fail our way forward. We consider defeat a temporary inconvenience. And we never, ever, ever take no for an answer. Never take no for an answer. Work hard. Be a leader. The rest of your life depends on it, and the life of your sisters and brothers throughout the world depend on it. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated May 31st, 2009. Thank you to Marc Bretzfelder for that videotape. Today, you, Julie, are attempting to reestablish a clinic, a women’s health clinic in Wichita.

JULIE BURKHART: That’s correct. There are thousands of women at this time in Wichita, Kansas, and in the region, who no longer have access to reproductive healthcare services, and it’s something that women of this region need and deserve. It is their right. And nationally, this also sends a message and tells those who would oppress us that we are not going to sit down quietly while our rights are taken away.

AMY GOODMAN: Are people afraid to do this?

JULIE BURKHART: Yes, people are afraid. People are afraid, and this process has required many, many, many conversations. So, through these conversations, I feel that we’re finally getting to a point where people are more willing to look forward to the possibilities.

AMY GOODMAN: Julie Burkhart, final comment on this development of an ethics panel recommending that former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline have his state law license suspended over his conduct during criminal investigations of abortion providers, including Dr. Tiller, saying he was motivated—that Phill Kline was "motivated by dishonesty and selfishness."

JULIE BURKHART: Yes. This is a battle that we’ve been fighting for eight years. It started in October of 2003. It was a witch hunt. This was—campaign came about by the Attorney General, Phill Kline, who we defeated in the general election of 2006. He—I want to remind you, he was given a national platform by Bill O’Reilly in 2006, and this is one of the charges that came up through this disciplinary panel. He also led members of—misled members of the court in his quest to shut down abortion providers.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, with people’s fear quite high in establishing this clinic in Wichita, and you having known Dr. Tiller so well, why are you persisting right now? Dr. Tiller was murdered for what he was trying to do.

JULIE BURKHART: Well, it’s just the right thing to do. It’s the right thing to do for the women and families of the United States of America. It is un-American that some women don’t have access to reproductive healthcare. Why should some women have access and other women not? So, we will persevere and hopefully open the doors in 2012.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, Julie Burkhart, worked for eight years with Dr. George Tiller before he was killed in 2009. She’s founder and director of the Trust Women Foundation and PAC, which focuses on protecting women’s access to reproductive healthcare, as well as the rights of the physicians who provide these services.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, well, on the heels of the dedication of the Dr. Martin Luther King Monument in Washington, D.C., where do we stand since the civil rights leader was slain in April of 1968? This is Democracy Now! We’ll speak with Lewis Diuguid. He is a reporter, columnist with the Kansas City Star. We’re broadcasting from Kansas City. Stay with us.

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