The Metropolitan Area Planning Commission is expected to consider a request Thursday to rezone the clinic that formerly belonged to assassinated doctor, George Tiller. He performed abortions at the facility in east Wichita.
A representative from Kansans for Life and the new owner of the medical clinic are expected to address the commission.
THE QUEST TO REZONE
During the Feb. 5 Wichita City Council meeting, David Gittrich of Kansans for Life presented thousands of signatures of residents who oppose the clinic. He said his petition campaign could be the largest ever in the Wichita metropolitan area.
"We want to keep the peace and safety for our family friendly city," he said.
The citizens who signed the petition are requesting that the city of Wichita and the Planning Commission take a long hard look at the zoning of the business at 5107 E. Kellogg.
"It should be noted," said Gittrich, "that even though the business has a Kellogg address the only entrances for cars and pedestrians are a half a block down on Bleckley, a residential neighborhood."
Julie Burkhart is the owner of the new clinic called South Wind Women's Center, she says that when she bought the building it was listed as a medical facility and it has been used as a medical facility in the past.
"That is the way that property is zoned and there are several examples within our neighborhood of other types of medical facilities," she says.
Therefore, says Burkhart, they are not out of line in terms of the zoning for the property.
Burkhart thinks the reason that more than 14,000 people signed the petition is because of the problem in the neighborhood when the clinic is open. When the clinic was open previously, there was often crowding and noise, primarily from people protesting abortion.
Gittrich says the city council and planning commission should study the situation in depth to see what's proper zoning for that neighborhood.
"The business should not be allowed to open until this request for a zoning change is resolved," he says.
Burkhart says the request for rezoning goes beyond the neighborhood concerns.
"We cannot dictate what women choose on a personal basis and within their family dynamic what is going to be right for them," she says.
Burkhart thinks everyone should be entitled to their own opinion, but, she says, they are zoned as a medical facility.
"And we are going to open up a full spectrum OB/GYN clinic where we can serve women's needs in this community."
A DIFFERENT MODEL
Burkhart has three physicians who are working to help start up the clinic, which is scheduled to open this spring. They will fly into Wichita as needed, eliminating some of the safety concerns for doctors who perform abortions in Wichita.
"We want women who are pregnant who want to continue their pregnancies to be able to come and see us. We want to be able to provide women with resources if they would like to adopt their babies out," she says. "And then also if a woman is not able to continue her pregnancy, we will offer abortion services."
A LONG HISTORY
Gittrich told the council the clinic has a history that goes back along way to Wichita's Summer of Mercy in 1991.
"Literally nearly thousands and thousands of people were in that neighborhood for days and weeks on end," he said.
Gittrich said hundreds of police were involved and the whole world came to refer to Wichita as the abortion capitol of the world.
Gittrich believes the controversy over abortion in Wichita is so great, it places a great strain on the neighborhood that houses the clinic.
"Over the years there have been hundreds of prayer vigils," he said. "Every day there were people in front of the business offering materials and assistance to potential patients. There were problems with parking for several blocks around the neighborhood, there were problems with noise and even graphic images were displayed in the neighborhood."
But, he said, in 2009 when the business closed after Dr. Tiller's murder, the neighborhood changed significantly.
A NUISANCE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Burkhart says she knows opponents think they are going to be a nuisance to the neighborhood.
"We are going to be inside the medical facility providing medical services to women," she says, "it is the people outside who wish to prohibit and deny access to women who might need certain medical services."
It is the people outside, not the medical providers who jam up the streets, she says.
"We're not the ones on bullhorns yelling at women as they come in, we are wanting to be inside providing good, quality medical care."
Gittrich says the protection of public health and safety and welfare is the base of their zoning request.
"Normally, businesses of this high level of vehicular and pedestrian traffic are zoned commercial so that there is reduced threat to public safety and welfare," he says.
But, says Burkhart, if the city rezones her small area, it would start a trend of "spot zoning."
"Then who's next?" she says.
THE HEART OF THE ISSUE
Gittrich ended his plea to the Wichita City Council on Feb. 5 with a more personal plea, indicating the concern for the neighborhood wasn't his only motivation for the rezoning.
"We believe that every person is precious from the moment of conception till natural death," he said, "the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person."
"We ask you to do all you can and to protect the lives of those who are most vulnerable to the unborn."
City Council members have requested city staff provide more information about the rezoning issue before weighing their options.
The Planning Commission could decide whether to initiate rezoning the property during a scheduled meeting at city hall Thursday.