Analysis Abortion

Hard Road Ahead Before New Wichita Abortion Clinic Becomes a Reality

Kari Ann Rinker

Trust Women’s purchase of the building that housed Dr. George Tiller’s former health care facility is welcome news, but it must be viewed within the context of the on-the-ground reality that is Kansas abortion policy, politics, and history.

While the recent headline, “Kansas Abortion Clinic is Back” may invite women across the nation to break into their pro-choice happy dances, the women of Wichita would be wise to leave their dancing shoes on the closet floor for a little while longer. Trust Women’s purchase of the building that housed Dr. George Tiller’s former health care facility is welcome news, but it must be viewed within the context of the on-the-ground reality that is Kansas abortion policy, politics, and history.

Bringing abortion care back to Wichita is a valiant endeavor, but it is also an enormous undertaking. There are ramifications both told and untold. The fetus fanatics of America’s heartland have a lustful craving and a creative capacity for generating abortion drama, controversy, and tragedy. Their work over the years culminated with Dr. Tiller’s murder and they have since whiled away their time searching for the next “big thing.” The terrorist wing of this movement has seemed somewhat lost, floundering for their next target, and the Trust Women clinic and the physicians it could bring might well provide them with the spark that’s been missing from a movement that declared triumph with Dr. Tiller’s murder and then didn’t quite know what to do with itself, post “victory.”

Local physician Dr. Mila Means was a short-term distraction.  She was “outed” as an abortion doctor in training and as such, once again provided the displaced Wichita fanatics with a local target for their woman-hating energy. Their fetus signs were dusted off, comfortable picketing shoes donned, miniature white crosses found a new lawn to adorn, and threatening intimidation commenced. Their harassment succeeded in putting an end to Dr. Means plans of expanding her primary care practice into a place where abortion care was also accessible. The journey of Dr. Means shows what a successful campaign of terror looks like in Wichita, Kansas.

The leader of one infamous and terroristic, anti-choice group lays out his organization’s intentions regarding a new Wichita clinic pretty succinctly in the following quote…

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“The abortion group may have bought Tiller’s old building, but that is still a far cry from resuming abortions in Wichita. If Trust Women wants to provide abortions then Operation Rescue will make sure the business is neither profitable nor sustainable,” said Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue.

If that language sounds like a threat, that’s because it is… Newman’s use of the words “profitable nor sustainable” is telling. His word choice indicates that Operation Rescue plans on bringing more of what the group has been known for… frivolous lawsuits as a means to harass physicians in an effort to “make them pay” by tarnishing their reputations and forcing them to spend money on defense attorneys.

Laura Shaneyfelt was part of a team who represented Dr. Tiller in two grand jury proceedings, a criminal jury trial, and state mandamus proceedings.  Ms. Shaneyfelt struck a cautious tone when asked about her perceptions of a new abortion clinic in Wichita.

“As a long-time supporter of reproductive rights, I would be thrilled if abortion services were again available in Wichita. It is unbelievable that women must travel so far to obtain the medical services to which they are constitutionally entitled.  My enthusiasm, though, is tempered by the knowledge that while purchasing a building is a good start, it’s just that: a start. The heart and soul of the services Dr. Tiller provided were the profound commitment, compassion and experience that he and his staff showed their patients. Dr. Tiller was also absolutely dedicated to fighting the constant political and legal challenges lodged by far-right activists, including going to extraordinary legal lengths to protect the the safety and privacy interests of his patients. The news of the clinic purchase is exciting and encouraging; I hope it is soon followed by news of committed physicians, staff and supporters who are realistically prepared for the certain challenges that will go along with providing abortion services in Wichita.”

Dr. Tiller wasn’t the only abortion provider who was pulled into court in defense against baseless charges. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri was just recently vindicated, when charges against them were dropped in a case that they have been entrenched since 2007.

Legal actions aren’t just the tool of the anti-choice crowd. Kansas abortion providers have also been forced into the position of bringing suit themselves in order to keep their services available and their doors open to the women who need them. The lawsuit abortion tango in Kansas can seem virtually never ending, a dance-a-thon of epic proportions with nary an end in sight. Trust Women’s clinic is going to require a sizable litigation fund to keep its doors open.

Meanwhile, the anti-choice group, Kansans for Life hints at continued use of the anti-choice Kansas legislature to make things difficult, perhaps impossible, for forward motion toward increased Kansas abortion access. Kansans for Life blogger, Ms. Ostrowski focuses in on the residency of the rumored physicians:

If in fact Burkhart does open a business with itinerant abortionists, women will be in much jeopardy. Out-of-state physicians do not have

  • a stake in the community with family ties,
  • a medical reputation to maintain,
  • a permanent real estate investment.

She continues along this vein with the following quote:

“It is tragic Burkhart appears poised to re-engage in destroying unborn children and exploiting women for money, again using out-of-state abortionists who can escape discipline from the Kansas Board of Healing Arts, and not yet subject to our new licensure law due to litigation.”

Ostrowski seems eager to continue the use of the anti-choice Kansas Board of Healing Arts to continue their harassment of abortion practitioners. Meanwhile, Dr. Neuhaus continues her fight to regain her medical license.

The Kansas political landscape should also be considered when factoring the success of a new Wichita abortion clinic. The political road ahead will likely be even more formidable than what Dr. Tiller faced, as he did not practice under Governor Sam Brownback, an anti-choice radical. Brownback successfully worked with the Koch Brothers and others to exact near complete annihilation of moderates within the state. The Kansas Democratic Party is not strong enough to put up much of a political fight, all but guaranteeing that perhaps some of the most extreme anti-choice legislation will sail through and become law in Kansas’ foreseeable future.

In spite of this doom and gloom, in spite of the inhospitable landscape for abortion access in Wichita, the reality does not make this clinic a futile pursuit. Should this clinic successfully proceed, it would have a huge impact on Wichita women who have felt beat down by reality and an even larger impact upon women who seek abortions in Kansas.  Abortions are needed. Abortions are legal. Abortions should not be allowed to be terrorized out of existence, anywhere… even in the reddest of red states.

Stephen Singular, author of the Wichita Divide, a book about the murder of Dr. George Tiller, sums it up well:

Wichita has always been on the front lines in the struggle for women’s reproductive rights and it’s important for the city to play that role again and be a symbol for pro-choice.  I think Dr. Tiller would be very proud of the women he worked with and trained for the mission they are now undertaking. The anti-choice movement will no doubt fight back against re-opening the clinic, but Dr. Tiller never quit and I don’t think his followers will either. The disturbing thing is that those who so strongly oppose women’s rights don’t realize that they can inspire a Scott Roeder to violence. Maybe they should think about it before opposing abortion services in Wichita again.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

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A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.