Will Terrorism End Up Working in Wichita?
The way that the anti abortion zealots work in Wichita is pure terrorism. Nobody would hesitate to call it such if they read about these actions in South Waziristan, and people should call it what it is when it happens in Wichita, a city in Kansas.
In the past, if her patients with unwanted pregnancies asked where to get an abortion, she sent them to Tiller. After his death, women seeking the procedure increasingly turned to her for advice, often with panicked eyes and voices, asking what to do and where to go.
“I didn’t have an answer,” she said. “I kept thinking one of the OB-GYN doctors would start, but slowly it became apparent no one was going to step up.”
Kansas is a land of great distances. Women who wanted abortions drove hundreds of miles to Kansas City, Tulsa, Denver, even Illinois.
If not her, Means thought, who?
In summer 2010, Means began going each weekend to Kansas City, Kan., to learn first trimester abortion procedure. She approached Jeanne Tiller about buying her late husband’s equipment. It cost $20,000, which cut deeply into her practice’s meager budget. She remembers how creepy it felt to walk through Tiller’s boarded up clinic shadowed by his widow’s bodyguard.
The decision marked a full circle for Means, who grew up in Wichita with parents who supported abortion rights. In her 20s, though, she joined a fundamentalist church with a rigid antiabortion stance. Her own beliefs were more ambivalent.
She once applied as medical director of a pregnancy crisis center that talked women out of abortion but said she did not get the job because she could not agree that abortion was never justified. She now sees that time in her life as a passing phase before her politics drifted left.
As 2010 ended, Means told her office landlord of her plans. Word leaked and protesters materialized quickly. Posters circulated with her picture on one side scrawled with the words “child abuser”; the other side urged protesters to “reach out” to her at her home and office.
A letter arrived from an antiabortion activist who befriended Scott Roeder, the man convicted of killing Tiller, after he went to prison. That letter, now in federal hands, warned Means to check under her yellow Mini Cooper for explosives before turning the key.
“I anticipated the normal protest, but I didn’t anticipate the intensity of those in the movement to keep Wichita abortion-free. They saw Dr. Tiller’s murder as a victory,” Means said.
Roeder has said killing Tiller was justified to protect unborn babies.
Cheryl Sullenger of the antiabortion group Operation Rescue denied finding triumph in Tiller’s death but acknowledged starting the protest against Means. “The people of Wichita don’t want abortion in our community,” she said.
The pressure on Means was unrelenting. Her business manager quit, patients fled. A feminist group offered her a bulletproof vest. Law enforcement officials briefed her staff on how to spot a bomb.
Her landlord slapped her with a nuisance lawsuit, saying the protests disrupted other tenants. When Means tried to find another office, she said, no one would rent to her. She stayed put, settling the lawsuit with a promise not to perform abortions at that location, all the while quietly working toward creating a nonprofit organization so she could buy her own building.
But 150 miles away in the state capital, other forces were gathering.