Oklahoma to open first abortion clinic in 30 years following attempt to outlaw procedure

There are only two abortion clinics in all of Oklahoma; now there will be three 

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Monday 27 June 2016 19:33 BST
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Julie Burkhart's former boss was shot and killed as he served as an usher in church
Julie Burkhart's former boss was shot and killed as he served as an usher in church (AP)

Julie Burkhart was at a meeting in Washington DC when her boss was shot dead in church - assassinated because of his work which included providing abortions to women.

Stunned, she flew back to Kansas to offer support the other employees and to continue a service they considered vital. Now, seven years later, Ms Burkhart is poised to open the first abortion clinic in the neighboring state of Oklahoma for 30 years.

She is doing to despite laws in many heartland states have made it more difficult for women to access abortion. She has also endured death threats and vitriol.

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled to protect abortion rights
On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled to protect abortion rights

“I do think it’s important work. It affects the well being-being of those people who walk through our door,” she told The Independent, speaking from Wichita. “That is why we keep working and moving forward.”

Ms Burkhart had worked for Dr George Tiller, who was long a target of anti-abortion activists. In the 1980s his clinic was bombed, in 1993 he was shot in both arms, and in 2009 he was killed when an anti-abortion extremist shot him while in church.

The killer, Scott Roeder, was later sentenced to life imprisonment. Meanwhile, Ms Burkhart told Mr Tiller’s widow that she would ensure his work would continue.

Julie Burkhart's clinic in Kansas has been the target of threats and protests
Julie Burkhart's clinic in Kansas has been the target of threats and protests (AP)

Repeated surveys suggest that a majority of Americans believe women should have access to safe and legal abortion, even if they personally would not wish to avail themselves of the service. Yes, across a swathe of the US, states have introduced laws that limit and restricts women’s access to abortion services.

In Oklahoma earlier this year, the state legislature passed a bill that would have criminalise abortion procedures in the state. Senate Bill 1552 said that anyone who was found to have performed an abortion - except in instances to save the life of the mother - could face up to three years in jail.

The bill was ultimately vetoed by Republican Governor Mary Fallin, not because she wanted to defend abortion rights but because she suspected it was unconstitutional.

“While I consistently have and continue to support a re-examination of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v Wade, this legislation cannot accomplish that re-examination,” she said.

Abortion protest in Derry

Ms Burkhart’s comments came as the US Supreme Court issued a landmark decision that upheld access to abortion. It did so in overturning controversial Texas law in a 5–3 ruling.

Ms Burkhart, who heads the South Wind Women’s Centre, said: “Our elected officials are motivated by fear. They are afraid to stand up for the right of women, because they fear they will be unseated.”

She said the clinic in Wichita had frequently been the target of threats from those opposed to abortion. There was a flurry of such threats following the attack last November on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

A police officer and two civilians were killed. The attacker, Robert Lewis Dear, was this year deemed mentally unfit to stand trial and ordered to be held in a Colorado state mental hospital.

“As director, I felt helpless that I could not protect my staff against those threats,” she said.

Ms Burkhart’s group is set to open next month Oklahoma City, the largest metropolitan area in the United States without an abortion provider. The entire state currently just two clinics and often women are obliged to undertake journeys of up to eight hours, according to Newsok.com.

“I think what we do is vital,” she said. “And I think time is on our side. I think that in the future, people will realise this is the right path.”

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