Stand Up for Women in Wichita, July 15-21

by Mary Lou Greenberg

Revolutionary Worker #1110, July 15, 2001, posted at

Anti-abortion forces plan to converge on Wichita, Kansas July 15-21 to shut down one of the few women’s clinics in the country which offers abortions in the later months of pregnancy. Women go to Dr. George Tiller’s Wichita clinic, Women’s Health Care Services, from all over the country and all over the world for abortions, especially in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, including where there are serious fetal abnormalities and/or health risks to the woman. They know Dr. Tiller will assist them with great compassion and medical skill. I have seen letters framed and displayed inside the clinic from women who have written to him after returning to their homes, thanking him for his care and for "giving me back my life."

Dr. Tiller was the main target of the same anti-woman forces 10 years ago. Called "Operation Rescue" (OR) at that time, these Christian fascists invaded Wichita for over a month with thousands blockading streets around the clinic. The police and anti-abortion city officials worked out a deal with OR, which initially said it was staying in town for a week. Instead, OR stayed for weeks, bolstered by the official support received and the lenient treatment by the cops—who would allow OR to mass in the streets and then, oh-so-slowly and gently, take people away one by one, fine them $25 and let them back out to blockade again and again.

OR chose Wichita deliberately to go after Dr. Tiller and also because of a generally conservative political climate, including a local base of rabid anti-abortionists and city and state officials who are overtly anti-choice. This is still the case, but pro-choice forces in Wichita—and around the country--are determined that the same thing is not going to happen this time around.

Ten years ago the pro-choice community in Wichita and nationwide failed to mobilize on the level needed to defeat OR. But as the Wichita siege wore on and on, the implications of what was happening hit home, and many people were determined not to let it happen again. When OR announced subsequent plans to shut down clinics in Buffalo, NY in the spring of 1992, people moved fast. In the face of an invitation from Buffalo’s mayor to OR to go to the city, a Buffalo pro-choice coalition called on progressive people from all over the country to join them in defeating OR. "You aren’t in Kansas anymore!" became a rallying cry.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) and the Feminist Majority sent organizers. And Refuse & Resist!--that unfortunately also had failed to call on people to go to Wichita--organized people from Hawaii to Atlanta to NYC to go to Buffalo. Hundreds of local residents, along with R&R! and other activists from elsewhere, were at the clinics daily. R&R! organized counter demonstrations at OR events and a protest at the mayor’s home.

I remember being on the clinic defense lines when news of the L.A. rebellion reached Buffalo. Some of us joined a march of Black students through the neighborhoods into downtown in protest of the outrageous not guilty verdict for the cops who beat Rodney King and in support of the rebellion. On the clinic defense lines the next day, we raised the chant: "From L.A. to Buffalo, this fascist shit has got to go!" And people took it up enthusiastically.

OR left Buffalo with a whimper.

But all this isn’t just some "glory days" reminiscing. The lessons of those days are still very relevant--and the situation today in terms of attacks on women’s reproductive freedom is shockingly similar. Since Buffalo, OR hasn’t been able to amass the bodies they did then. But in Dayton in 1997 a couple of hundred created chaos around the clinics and targeted a doctor’s home in nearby Cincinnati. And there and again in Buffalo in 1999 they tried to push out their lies about abortion being murder, and thus justifying attacks on clinics and murders of providers.

Since the first Wichita siege--and under the supposed pro-choice Clinton administration--four doctors, two clinic workers and one clinic guard have been murdered by anti-abortionists. There have been many more attempted murders and countless acts of harassment and assault directed at abortion providers and clients.

Dr. Tiller himself was shot by seasoned anti-abortion activist Shelley Shannon outside his Wichita clinic in August 1993. Fortunately, he was "only" hit in his arms. He defiantly returned to work the next day and stated his resolve to continue providing abortions.

Also since Wichita 1991 there have been dozens of restrictive abortion laws passed in most states and several Supreme Court decisions which, while not officially outlawing abortion, have chipped away at the right to abortion, limiting access especially for young women, women in rural areas (86 percent of all U.S. counties have no abortion provider), and poor women who can’t afford to travel long distances to reach a clinic or take off work or pay for the procedure. (Federal Medicaid funding was cut off for abortions shortly after abortion was made legal in 1973.)

In a vicious and cynical move, the current Bush administration has recently drafted a new policy that would allow states to fund prenatal care by calling a fetus "an unborn child" in order to qualify for coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Like the so-called "Unborn Victims of Violence Act" passed by the House in 1999 and also last April, this is a not-so-subtle assault on legal abortion. By equating fetuses with children, the door is opened for outlawing all abortion.

This health proposal is especially vicious because the qualifying beneficiary is the fetus, not the pregnant woman. So now poor women are denied federal Medicaid funds for abortions, and those ineligible for Medicaid but too poor for private health insurance cannot get prenatal care unless the fetus gets coverage as an "unborn child!"

It is telling that Operation Rescue changed its name recently to Operation Save America. These Christian fascists are direct products of--and representative of--the history of this country, a history of the most intense oppression and exploitation: genocide of Native peoples, enslavement of African peoples, theft of Mexican lands, continued national oppression and vicious racist attacks, and male supremacy and domination of women throughout all of society. As far as I’m concerned, the Christian fascists and this America are made for each other!

But for the rest of us, the vast majority of women and men of all races and nationalities, this whole situation is intolerable and cries out for revolution!

As the Draft Programme of the RCP states:

"Upon coming to power, the proletariat will carry forward the struggle to break the chains which hold women back from a full role in society. There will be an immediate ban on discrimination of any kind against women, including in work and pay as well as in every other sphere of society.

"At the same time, special measures will be taken to deal with particular problems and needs of working women--such as pregnancy. Birth control will be encouraged so that women can avoid unwanted pregnancy, but birth control will not be the sole responsibility of women. Attention will be paid to developing methods of birth control that do not endanger women. The right to abortion will be guaranteed, and the capitalist policy of forced sterilization, directed against poor women and women of the oppressed nationalities, will be ended." (page 104)


The situation in Wichita calls for a mass outpouring of resistance at the clinics, especially Dr. Tiller’s, and strong pro-choice opposition wherever the antis go. Refuse & Resist! is calling on people to go to Wichita, and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights also is mobilizing people nationally. The Wichita Choice Alliance, a coalition of many organizations, is organizing clinic defense training. The Alliance also held a rally July 6 at which Emily Lyons spoke. Lyons is the nurse who was massively injured in the anti-abortion bombing of a Birmingham, Alabama abortion clinic in 1998. In the wake of the bombing and despite injuries which left her almost totally blind with a ruptured eardrum and major damage to her legs and torso, she has become a strong spokesperson for abortion rights.

"Not only have I been in a war, but gone to hell and come back," she told the Wichita rally. There are heroes in every war, she continued, "and Dr. Tiller is one of mine. Many would not have the courage to do what he has accomplished." Like Tiller, Emily’s name is on an internet "hit list" of abortion providers and supporters.

"Keep in mind what you’re fighting for, and don’t let fear and intimidation overwhelm you," Lyons said. "Let this upcoming attack on Wichita be your wake-up call."

For more information, see Information is also available on the Wichita Choice Alliance website

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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