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2013-05-31

Four Years After Murder of Dr. George Tiller, His Wichita Abortion Clinic Reopens Despite Threats

Guests

Julie Burkhart, worked for eight years with Dr. George Tiller before he was assassinated in 2009. She is the director and founder of the Trust Women Foundation, which reopened Dr. Tiller’s clinic last month. She’s joining us from the South Wind Women’s Center in Wichita, Kansas.

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Today marks the fourth anniversary of the murder of Dr. George Tiller, a 67-year-old abortion provider who was shot point-blank in the forehead as he attended church services in Wichita, Kansas. Tiller’s clinic was one of a handful in the nation that performed abortions after the 24th week of pregnancy. He faced constant threats and incidents of violence and vandalism in the decades leading up to his death. The man who assassinated him, anti-choice extremist Scott Roeder, is serving a life sentence and was recently reprimanded in prison for making intimidating remarks against other abortion providers. The four years since Tiller was murdered have seen a wave of new abortion restrictions. Eight states now ban abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization. Meanwhile, clinics across the country have been threatened by laws aimed at shutting them down. After working with Tiller for eight years, our guest Julie Burkhart joins us from South Wind Women’s Center, the newly reopened abortion clinic where Tiller worked. She is director and founder of the Trust Women Foundation. "We have had approximately 200 patient visits in just the two short months that we’ve been open. We are just so happy to be back in this community," Burkhart says. On threats made against the clinic and her life she says, "These threats are definitely to be taken seriously, and they are chilling. However, women still need abortion care. ... I don’t think that the rights of women in this part of the country should be curtailed just because we have extremists."

Transcript

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Four years ago today, Dr. George Tiller was murdered. The 67-year-old abortion provider was shot point-blank in the forehead as he attended services in his Wichita, Kansas, church. Dr. Tiller’s clinic was one of a handful in the nation that performed abortions after the 24th week of pregnancy. He faced constant threats and incidents of violence and vandalism in the decades leading up to his death. His clinic was bombed in 1985. In 1993, he survived an assassination attempt with gunshot wounds to both arms.

This is a clip from a 2001 interview with Dr. Tiller. It’s an outtake from a film made by Physicians for Reproductive Health called Voices of Choice. Here, Tiller talks about how he took over his father’s family medical practice and discovered that his father had provided abortions for women in the years before it became legal.

DR. GEORGE TILLER: A young woman, for whom Dad had already delivered two babies, came to him pregnant again right away. And she said something to the effect that "I can’t take it. Can you help me?" And those are the two common denominators. That is apparently the way you ask for an abortion from your regular doctor before abortion was legal. At least that’s my impression. You know, the common denominator: "I can’t take it. Can you help me?" Dad said, "No." Big families were in vogue. "By the time the baby gets here, everything will be all right." She went out, had a non-healthcare-provider abortion, and came back 10 days to two weeks later and died.

Now, I have had the unique experience of delivering two and three babies for Tiller Kansas—for Tiller family practice patients, second- and third-generation babies. I know what that neat relationship is between a physician and the woman for whom he delivers two or three babies. I’ve had a relationship. It’s a neat relationship. Having had that relationship, I can understand how upset my father was. I do not know whether he did a hundred abortions or 200 abortions or 300 abortions. I think it may have been something like 200 over a period of about 20 years. But I don’t know for sure.

I am a woman-educated physician. I don’t know who many abortions he did, but the women in my father’s practice for whom he did abortions educated me and taught me that abortion is not about babies, it’s not about families; abortion is about women’s hopes and dreams, potential, the rest of their lives. Abortion is a matter of survival for women.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Dr. George Tiller speaking in 2001. He was murdered four years ago today. The man who assassinated him, eight years after he spoke in that clip, anti-choice extremist Scott Roeder, is serving a life sentence. The four years since Tiller was murdered have seen a wave of new abortion restrictions. Eight states now ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Arizona Congressmember Trent Franks recently announced his intention to seek such a ban nationwide. Meanwhile, clinics across the country have been threatened by laws aimed at shutting them down.

For more, we go now to Julie Burkhart, director and founder of the Trust Women Foundation. She worked for eight years with Dr. Tiller before he was assassinated. Last month she reopened Tiller’s clinic, which had been closed for the four years since his death. She’s joining us from the newly opened South Wind Women’s Center in Wichita.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Dr. Burkhart. Can you talk about the opening of your clinic and what this means to you, Julie Burkhart, four years after he was murdered?

JULIE BURKHART: Well, thank you, Amy. And it’s wonderful to be with you today.

We are just delighted. And I think we’re still in a bit of awe that we have been able to finally reopen the clinic here in Wichita for women in this community and beyond. We have had approximately 200 patient visits in just the two short months that we’ve been open. And we are just so happy to be back in this community.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Julie Burkhart, I want ask you about some of the threats that have been made against you. David Leach from the extremist anti-choice group Army of God recently posted audio from a jailhouse conversation with Dr. Tiller’s murderer, Scott Roeder, where Roeder referred to you as "Julie Darkheart" and says you are, quote, "kind of painting a target on [yourself]" by reopening Dr. Tiller’s clinic. This is Scott Roeder.

SCOTT ROEDER: To walk in there and reopen a clinic, a murder mill, where—where a man was stopped, you know, it’s almost like putting a target on your back saying, "Well, let’s see if you can shoot me." You know? But, you know, I have to go back to what Mike—Pastor Mike Bray said: you know, if 100 abortionists were shot, they’d probably go out of business. So, I think eight have been shot, so we’ve got 92 to go. And maybe she’ll be—maybe she’ll be number nine.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Scott Roeder, who murdered Dr. Tiller four years ago today. Your response? And what has been the problems that you’ve been confronting in attempts to prevent your clinic from reopening?

JULIE BURKHART: Well, and, yes, these—this rhetoric is definitely to be taken seriously, as it incites people to violence, as we’ve seen across this country. We have had anti-choice groups here in the community who have tried to rezone our property. They’ve tried to slow us—well, they tried to slow us down during renovations by complaining that we didn’t have proper permits when we were doing renovations. You know, then, of course, they’re trying at the state level to pass legislation to shut us down, as well. But these threats are definitely to be taken seriously, and they are chilling. However, women still need abortion care. And there have to be, you know, people in this country who are willing to provide that to women.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, Julie Burkhart, the Kansas Department of Corrections has filed an administrative charge against Roeder under a prison regulation banning threats and intimidation because of his comments about you. People have stood outside your house with signs that say, "Where is your church?" Of course, Dr. Tiller was murdered in church. What gives you the courage to continue?

JULIE BURKHART: Well, I don’t think that the rights of women in this part of the country should be curtailed just because we have more—well, we have extremists here in this part of the country, as well as other parts of the country, but it’s more of a hotbed here. And we have a more conservative mindset here. But that does not mean that women should be denied their constitutional rights. And so, that, you know—and I am from this part of the country, so that that’s what gives me the courage and determination.

AMY GOODMAN: Julie Burkhart, I want to thank you for being with us. She’s the director of the clinic that George Tiller ran until his murder four years ago today.

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