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Meet the Abortion Provider Whose Wyoming Clinic Was Firebombed & Who Worked with Slain Dr. George Tiller

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As the Supreme Court weighs whether to keep mifepristone available nationwide, we speak with Julie Burkhart, who is on the frontlines of the fight for reproductive justice. Burkhart is president of Wellspring Health Access, the only full-service abortion clinic in Wyoming, that was firebombed by an anti-abortion activist last year, as well as co-owner of Hope Clinic in Granite City, Illinois. Burkhart previously worked for eight years with Dr. George Tiller before his assassination in 2009. She describes the difficulties of providing abortion services in two states with different political and legal landscapes. “People in every part of this country deserve to have access to reproductive healthcare and to make their own decisions and determinations about their bodies,” says Burkhart. We also continue our conversation with law professor Michele Goodwin.

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

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Julie Burkhart into this conversation. She is president of Wellspring Health Access and co-owner of Hope Clinic. She worked with Dr. George Tiller, as I said earlier, who was assassinated in church, well-known abortion provider in Wichita.

Julie, just respond. If you could start off by talking about the state of abortion access in this country and your concerns about what the Supreme Court will rule, and how it affects your practice and pregnant people all over the country?

JULIE BURKHART: Yes. Thank you. And good morning.

Well, we have seen, with my work, in both Illinois and in the state of Wyoming, which are two very different states — one where we have legal protections in Illinois, and in Wyoming, where we have been in litigation and battling the state so that people can maintain their bodily autonomy. We see, primarily in Illinois, we’ve had an uptick. We’re seeing over 800 patients monthly now. Our patient volume continues to increase, has been increasing after the fall of Roe in June of ’22. We see, primarily, our patients coming from states that have now banned abortion care, so Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi — any of the states that you see surrounding that sea of blue which is now Illinois.

We also see that 50% to more than 50% of our patients, which is in line with the national numbers that we see for medication abortion, those patients who are coming to us are requesting to terminate a pregnancy via mifespristone and misoprostol.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the clinics that you run? Can you talk about what happened in Wyoming and where you are, in Wichita, where George Tiller died?

JULIE BURKHART: Yes. Well, I will start off with Wyoming. We were set to open our doors in June, actually June 14th of '22, just 10 days before the court ruled. However, in late May of last year, we had an anti-choice arsonist set our clinic on fire. And so, we have spent these past months rebuilding the clinic, and we are hopeful that we'll be able to open our doors next week. It’s been quite a trek.

We have — law enforcement has apprehended the arsonist just a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, you know, it was a 22-year-old Casper, Wyoming, woman, Lorna Green, who decided that abortion was disturbing to her, she stated in an affidavit, and decided to set our clinic ablaze.

But we did not want to let that deter us. People in every part of this country deserve to have access to reproductive healthcare and to make their own decisions and determinations about their bodies. And so, we decided that we would dig our heels in even further in Wyoming and make sure that people have access to abortion care.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, my god, Julie Burkhart, you’re a certified nurse practitioner. Your Wyoming clinic was bombed, was set fire to. The clinic in Wichita, well, George Tiller, the man you worked with for years, was murdered. Explain your bravery, why you continue. This is extremely real to you, not to mention what happens to women who are under extreme duress and — or pregnant people who say they need to have an abortion.

JULIE BURKHART: Well, sometimes I just don’t know how to answer that question. I just have a very deep conviction and feel that if we are living in the United States, people deserve everywhere, and no matter who you are — deserve access to quality healthcare, amongst other things, and people must be able to make their own decisions about their own bodies. So, it doesn’t matter whether you’re living in New York or California or Wyoming or Oklahoma or Kentucky. People everywhere must have the ability to make decisions about their own lives; otherwise, I don’t feel that what we stand for in the United States then really exemplifies that intent of having true freedom for everyone in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you something. The woman who was charged in Wyoming, who set fire to your clinic, she wasn’t charged with domestic terrorism?

JULIE BURKHART: Well, she is being — and the case is still in process. There is supposed to be a grand jury hearing, I’ve been told, next month. I have not heard back yet from prosecutors. She is going to be charged under FACE, and I’m not sure what the other charges are at this time. I do know that the penalty carries five to 25 years, I believe, in prison.

AMY GOODMAN: Also, mifespristone is part of a two-drug regimen. The second is misoprostol. Now, if mifespristone, if people can’t get it, they can use the second drug. It’s not quite as effective, and it has more side effects. Is that right? So, people who are pregnant will be endangered by simply having the second drug, though — if you can talk about that, what this ruling means?

JULIE BURKHART: Well, and this is where it’s been such a — you know, we have just been in limbo. It’s been a ping-pong effect. You know, regimens regarding medication abortion were changed after Roe fell back in June, because of people coming from banned states over to legal states and not wanting to put patients or physicians in a precarious situation going back to a banned state.

So, here we are in a different situation with medication abortion, where we’re looking at potentially providing a misoprostol-only regimen for our patients. And it’s concerning, because we want to continue to ensure that patients, if they need abortion care and they’re coming from banned states, if they can get to a clinic in a state where it’s legal, that they are not going to go back to their home state and being prosecuted by overzealous attorneys in those states.

So, we have protocols in place that we will use if we need to, but it is definitely going to put a burden and a hardship on those patients. And we suspect that more people might opt for procedural abortions than medication abortions at that point, but we will see. And, you know, this also makes it harder, especially for people who are getting medication abortion in the mail, who are in states where it is illegal, or going back to a state where it’s illegal — this makes it that much harder on those people who need access to good-quality healthcare.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to end with Michele Goodwin. You now have a situation, even without this ruling, where abortion is illegal, basically, in something like, well, more than a dozen states, in 13 states, following the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last year. Georgia also bans abortion at about six weeks of pregnancy, before many know that they’re pregnant; Florida now the same. We are talking about situations where — even in the case of rape and incest. If you can talk about what this means for people across this country? And take it back to Kacsmaryk’s decision, a well-known anti-abortion activist before he became a federal judge under Trump in Texas, and now turns out that he erased his name from a journal piece he had written against abortion, when he was being considered by the Senate. And the language he used in his decision both talked about “unborn humans” — and this is being repeated in further decisions — and referred to the Comstock Act. If you can summarize for us where this country is headed, in a legal direction, and then, when this is considered in referenda across the country, when people at the grassroots have a choice to decide, the direction they go in?

MICHELE GOODWIN: Well, it’s a dangerous decision. There’s so much that we could talk about with this, in that if you think about Roe v. Wade, a 7-to-2 opinion, five of those seven justices were Republican-appointed. Justice Blackmun, who wrote the opinion in Roe, was put on the court by Richard Nixon. Prescott Bush, the father of George H.W. Bush, was the treasurer of Planned Parenthood. This gives you some sense of just the wide gap and distance between where we began and where we are now.

In Roe v. Wade — to your point with regard to language, in Roe v. Wade, the court said that there is a potential life during a pregnancy. And that’s right, because not all pregnancies will end in birth. About 15 to 20% will end in miscarriage or stillbirth. And the language now that we see coming out of the Kacsmaryk ruling, using that language of “unborn human child” and then writing in footnotes the preference for using this, that this is the accurate terminology to be used in such cases, really stretches medicine and science, because it’s just simply not accurate to consistently what had been in American law, and also gives the perception that all pregnancies necessarily end in birth, which they simply do not.

That also has ramifications then when we think about civil punishments and criminal punishments, as well. We right now have in South Carolina lawmakers that are pushing forward a bill that would call for the death penalty against women who have abortions and people with the capacity for pregnancy who have abortions. There is this false sense that all pregnancies will necessarily end in a birth. And if that is interrupted in any way, then the state can criminally punish and also impose civil fines.

But when you mention that there are more than a dozen states that are now in this position, if we took a map and we looked at the map of the Confederacy, of American slavery, of Jim Crow, you would find that it fits quite well over the map that is now anti-abortion. And there’s something to be said about those states, that were never beacons of freedom for women or people of color, or Black people particularly. And they are not beacons of hope, of freedom now for Black women and for people with a capacity for pregnancy in those states. And we’ve paid far too little attention in drawing that line. And if we draw that line from history into the present, then there are certain things that we do know. And that is, save for federal interventions, either through the Supreme Court, Congress or executive order, these are places that have never tried to be accountable and to create remedy for the past horrors that were inflicted during slavery and during Jim Crow.

To bring it all back to Dobbs, that decision that shows great solicitude to the state of Mississippi, the state of Mississippi claimed that it needed this abortion ban in order to protect the health and safety of women. Nothing could be really further than the truth. But if we think about this, it wasn’t until 2013 that the state of Mississippi ratified the 13th Amendment, Amy. The 13th Amendment was that amendment which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, one that was ratified in 1865, but it took until 2013 for Mississippi to get there. Mississippi is still working, and many of these other states, on that long arc to freedom. They’re not quite there. And certainly, the backdrop of where they are with regard to abortion bans shows how far away they are from recognizing the human dignity and the personhood of people with the capacity for pregnancy in their states.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Michele Goodwin, we want to thank you for being with us. Of course, we will continue to cover this issue. The stay has been put in place until Friday, until tomorrow. Michele Goodwin is visiting professor of law at Harvard Law School, author of Policing the Womb: Invisible Women and the Criminalization of Motherhood. And thank you to Julie Burkhart in Wichita, Kansas, president of Wellspring Health Access, co-owner of Hope Clinic. She worked with Dr. George Tiller for years.

Coming up, Fox News has agreed to pay an historic settlement, $787.5 million, three-quarters of a billion dollars, to Dominion Voting Systems for spreading lies. Stay with us.

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