How does a bill as obviously unconstitutional as the “heartbeat” abortion ban in Ohio have a chance to bring down the standing law of the land that is Roe V. Wade? Bill author Janet Folger Porter explains in a conservative movement conference at Liberty University.
Every community has its own unique history shaped its people, its geography, and its circumstance. Wichita, Kansas, has been home to such notable people as Carrie Nation and Wyatt Earp. Its geography has made it home to Indian settlements, cattle drives, and the aircraft manufacturing industry. It was the home to the first civil rights sit-in. It also earned notoriety as the home of the serial killer BTK. But another undeniable part of Wichita’s history is its place as the epicenter of the “abortion wars.” The 1991 “Summer of Mercy” (SOM), when thousands of anti-choice activists flooded into Wichita to protest Dr. George Tiller, marked the beginning of the use of extreme anti-choice tactics like harassing doctors, clinic staff, and women seeking abortions. As reproductive rights supporters in this community celebrate the recent opening of Southwind Women’s Care Center and the access to abortion care that it brings, they also brace themselves for a new wave of SOM-style tactics and a new round of anti-choice terrorist actions.
Nearly four years after Dr. Tiller’s assassination, anti-choice violence continues to percolate in Wichita. It started up again two years ago, with the harassment of Dr. Mila Means. Anti-choice terrorist Angel Dillard penned a letter threatening violence against the doctor, who sought to include abortion care in her private practice. That letter has resulted in federal charges against Dillard brought under the FACE Act. In addition to the letter, it was reported this week by Rewire that the U.S. Department of Justice filed papers in court revealing that a Kansas county jail inmate said Dillard asked him last year to firebomb the home of Dr. Means.
The opening of the new abortion clinic has brought yet another round of frightening behavior from local anti-choice forces. The clinic’s executive director, Julie Burkhart, has been harassed at her home and has had to file a temporary restraining order against local terrorist Mark Hollick after he pointed a sign saying “Where is Your Church?” at her home (an obvious reference to the place of Dr. Tiller’s assassination). Meanwhile, Troy Newman, of Operation Rescue infamy, is already posting pictures and audio of a person who he claims is a new physician at the clinic.
A recent YouTube video posted by David Leach from the anti-choice group Army of God should cause local law enforcement officials to raise their local terrorist alert to red. The video is a recording of a recent jailhouse conversation with Scott Roeder, the convicted murderer of Dr. Tiller. What follows is the an excerpt of the recorded conversation and a partial transcript.
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Leach: If someone would shoot the new abortionist like Scott shot George Tiller back in the Operation Rescue days, people called him Tiller the Killer, hardly anyone would appreciate it, but the babies. It will be a blessing to the babies, everyone else will panic. Of all places to open up a killing office, to reopen the one office in the United States more notorious for decades than any other is an act of defiance against God and the last remaining remnants of reverence for human life. It is what the Supreme Court classifies as “fighting words,” like throwing lard in a Mosque, burning a cross in a Black neighborhood, or immersing a cross in urine at taxpayers’ expense. It is a reckless act. It is not the act of someone who values their own safety. It is a gauntlet thrown down, by someone who wants a fight. Of course, I don’t know if anyone will pick up the gauntlet. I didn’t know Scott would act, before he did.
Roeder: It is a little bit death-defying for someone to walk back in there. For Julie “Darkheart” to walk back in there and reopen a murder mill where a man was stopped. It’s almost like putting a target on your back, saying, “Well, let’s see if you can shoot ME! I have to go back to what Pastor Mike Bray said: If 100 abortionists were shot, they [surviving abortionists] would probably go out of business. I think eight have been shot, so we’ve got 92 to go. Maybe she’ll be number nine. I don’t know, but she’s kind of painting a target on her.
The video is obviously a message to abortion terrorists near and far. Scott Roeder even bestows Burkhart with a sinister name, “Julie Darkheart,” a la “Tiller the Killer.”
Dr. Tiller was a particularly popular anti-choice target because he provided later abortions. The Southwind Women’s Clinic will not be providing these medically necessary procedures. The clinic’s staff have instead chosen to provide abortion care up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. But the transcript above reveals that this fight is no longer about the “type” of abortion that is performed in Wichita. Rather, it is the geographical location that holds great significance to these terrorists. They hold their “victory” via murder in Wichita as a highly prized feather in their cap. National anti-choicers strive for an “abortion-free state,” and they view Wichita as a local accomplishment toward that larger goal. They have laid claim to this city. It is a claim baptized in the blood of our beloved physician, Dr. Tiller, and it is clear that these people are openly inviting a repeat performance from anyone who will pick up the “gauntlet.”
That’s why the City of Wichita would be wise to take these people very seriously. But if the city’s recent reaction to Kansans for Life’s zoning request is any indicator, this community has adequate cause for concern. While the planning committee voted to deny the rezoning request, the vote count was 6-to-4—just one vote away from having the support of half the legislative body, on a vote that logically shouldn’t have been close.
These anti-choice groups are heavily invested in elections at every level, and city council candidates proudly tout their endorsements on campaign materials. So when push comes to shove on issues of importance regarding safety measures for this clinic, such as a possible buffer zone, enforcement of no-parking signs, and other city laws and regulations, whose interests will the city council support? Will it do what is necessary to prevent another tragedy? Or will it be anti-choice business as usual in Wichita, as it was prior to the murder of Dr. Tiller?
Today, here at the BEMFAM clinic in Cachoeirinha Favela in Rio de Janeiro, youth were having a very animated discussion about how they viewed sexuality, reproductive health, being young, and their feelings and emotions about this period in their life.
This morning I ventured the opposite direction from Rio Centro where the UN Rio+20 negotiations are taking place, and travelled with colleagues to the Cachoeirinha (I was told it means “waterfall”) Favela in Rio de Janeiro. These shantytowns are quite common in Rio, well over one million strong, located within and around the city limits. This particular one has 37,000 residents. We made the trip to visit the BEMFAM reproductive health and family planning clinic there, and were treated to a gathering of youth already discussing the facts of life, and more, with a BEMFAM counselor. This is especially poignant because youth in Brazil, similar to youth worldwide, are key to the issues we are debating here at the UN Rio+20 meetings just a few miles away. The Brazilian youth demographic, and the world’s, is the largest ever in history—it’s called the “youth bulge”—and from favelas, to cities, suburbs and rural areas everywhere, they represent the decision makers for the world’s future at all levels.
Here at the BEMFAM clinic, an affiliate of the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s array of family planning clinics worldwide, youth have weekly meetings and can come in daily if needed for their reproductive health needs. We entered to find about 25 adolescents sitting in a circle in very animated discussion about how they viewed sexuality, reproductive health, being young, their feelings and emotions about this period in their life. Through translators we learned so much from these adolescents and young adults, and once revealed I can’t help but feel how similar they are to our own youth. They cared about their friends, family, (how much their parents don’t know), going to college, getting jobs, raising families, school, and having fun. One glaring difference that emerged however is accessibility to many of their hopes and dreams—resources to come by any of their plans are scarce, and few will likely see college or even jobs from what they told us. This however did not make them dour or negative; they were bright, committed, compelling, cheerful, very well-spoken and passionate about all they relayed to us.
Snippets of their dialogue in the discussion today centered on the importance, but lack of education about, reproductive health issues for most favela dwellers. Many of them are “Youth Peer Counselors”, trained to provide information to their friends and adolescent family members. Asked what motivated them to be involved in the BEMFAM youth program, they replied it made them feel privileged not only because they were well informed about RH and healthcare in general through the clinic, but also because it made them very popular at school, they were most sought after as the ones in the “know”—able to impart knowledge about RH and other health issues to their peers.
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One of the main challenges they said they faced on these topics was the taboo around speaking about sexuality and reproductive health. (Sound familiar?) The Brazilian youth depend on peer advisors especially because their parents and other adults are understandably working or busy, so not very available to advise on these topics. They said there is no separation of church and state in practice (there is in principle) and it is not condoned in church circles, and schools don’t allow SRH education. This heightened the need for the youth peer educators’ involvement. Some of the youth added that they have good RH services but that the education around it was most lacking, particularly from authority figures.
On a different tack relating more broadly to Rio+20, when asked about the opposition some countries are demonstrating during these Rio+20 deliberations to gender equality and reproductive health and rights, they were quite clear and adamant: “Tell them to send their own daughters to live in our favela for one month, without any access to RH as they suggest, then when they get pregnant the leaders will see for themselves what it is really like, and maybe they will change their mind.”
Other messages from the favela youth:
“Gender equality starts with access to contraception, which then gives us choices about what we can do with our life.”
“If I can have one child and give them a better future with education, healthcare, and plenty of food, than I’d rather do that than have many children and not be able to provide for them”.
When asked about the main challenges they face, their responses centered on lack of opportunities and finances for college, jobs, and healthcare (they have public health services but they are only available during the weekdays/daytime, and they wait for days for “emergency” services, so most just go without).
Once the discussion came back to the Rio+20 conference and what they would say to the world leaders, they were full of ideas: make water available to everyone equally (there is scarcity in many parts of Rio), clean up the water in the Rio canals and air pollution in Brazil, and in particular the garbage and waste they see in their favelas. And, to include RH, because it was all connected. One youth favela resident has travelled to New York to the UN to relay her message about population and development topics through the eyes of a young Brazilian, she sees the need for youth to be more included in national and international dialogues not as a sideline but with the weight of adults from other nations.
Back at the Rio Centro complex I understand nations are still debating about language on women and reproductive health. The Women’s Major Group organized a silent protest, and advocates are mobilizing to fend off the conservative governments. My advice to them after seeing the favela youth—send your daughter to stay for a month, then maybe you will change your mind!
Tomorrow I will blog about our side-event on “Rio+20 and Women’s Lives: A Cross-Generational Dialogue” which will feature grassroots women and youth’s personal stories from Uganda, Nigeria, Pacific Cook Islands, Philippines and Miscopy, US.