Tag Archives: Wichita

Bracing for the return of ‘Summer of Mercy’ anti-abortion protests

Twenty-five years after tumultuous mass protests led to nearly 2,700 arrests outside local abortion clinics, Wichita is bracing for a Summer of Mercy.

The Wichita Police Department has spent months putting together a 60-page operational plan that aims at ensuring that everyone is safe.

“I don’t think that we are anticipating an event like 1991,” said Police Capt. Brian White. “However, we have to be prepared for all possibilities and we want to ensure protesters have the ability to exercise their rights to protest, and we also want to make sure that we balance that with the legal right for the businesses to operate.”

The return of the Summer of Mercy, slated for July 16-23, is being organized by Operation Save America, a Dallas-based Christian fundamentalist group led by Rusty Thomas. Group leaders say they hope to complete in 2016 what activists started in 1991.

About 100 to 150 police officers have been assigned to the protests.

“While we have had good lines of communications with protesters, we have to be prepared for the unexpected and that is what we are doing,” White said.

Donna Lippoldt of Operation Save America’s Wichita affiliate did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Pastor Rob Rotola, whose Word of Life Church is hosting the Summer of Mercy, also did not return a call from the Associated Press.

Abortion provider George Tiller and the clinic where he performed abortions had been a target for decades. His clinic was bombed in 1985 and Tiller was shot in both arms in 1992. He was murdred in 2009 at his Wichita church by an abortion opponent. For years afterward, no abortion services were available. Then, in April 2013, the group Trust Women opened the South Wind Women’s Center in Tiller’s former facility.

Director Julie Burkhart said the clinic plans to stay open during this year’s protest, but a decision was made not to do any counter protesting.

“It is a new approach,” Burkhart said. “That our work is here inside and it is out talking to people who would like to have meaningful conversations in the community and not standing out basically wasting energy on folks that will never be able to understand that sometimes some people need or want to access abortion care.”

Instead, abortion rights supporters put together other events, including a rally and reception as part of what they’ve dubbed the #ShowSomeMercy Celebration.

‘Pro-life’ woman will stand trial for threatening to kill doctor

A Kansas abortion opponent must stand trial over a letter she sent to a Wichita doctor saying someone might place an explosive under the doctor’s car, a federal appeals court ruled.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s summary decision that anti-abortion activist Angel Dillard’s letter was constitutionally protected speech. The ruling comes in a civil lawsuit brought against Dillard by the Justice Department under a federal law aimed at protecting access to abortion services. A split three-judge appeals panel said the decision about whether the letter constituted a “true threat” should be left for a jury to decide.

The appeals court also rejected Dillard’s argument that the government violated her free speech rights by suing her.

Emails were sent to Dillard’s attorney and a Justice Department spokesman seeking comment.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division sued Dillard in 2011 under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act after the Valley Center woman wrote a letter to Dr. Mila Means, who was training to offer abortion services at her Wichita clinic. At the time, no doctor was doing abortions in Wichita in the wake of Dr. George Tiller’s 2009 murder by an abortion opponent as Tiller ushered at his church.

In a 2-1 ruling, the appeals panel said a jury could reasonably find that the letter conveyed a true threat of violence.

“The context in this case includes Wichita’s past history of violence against abortion providers, the culmination of this violence in Dr. Tiller’s murder less than two years before Defendant mailed her letter, Defendant’s publicized friendship with Dr. Tiller’s killer, and her reported admiration of his convictions,” the appeals court wrote in its decision.

Dillard wrote in her 2011 letter that thousands of people from across the nation were scrutinizing Means’ background and would know her “habits and routines.”

“They know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live,” the letter said. “You will be checking under your car every day — because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.”

Means has testified that her fears upon getting that letter were heightened after reading a news story by The Associated Press that quoted Dillard saying in a July 2009 interview that she had developed a friendship with Scott Roeder while he was in jail awaiting trial for Tiller’s murder.

“With one move, (Roeder) was able … to accomplish what we had not been able to do,” Dillard said. “So he followed his convictions and I admire that.”

Dillard also told AP she had no plans to do anything violence to anyone.

The appeals court panel wrote that reading the AP story did nothing to allay Dr. Means’ concerns: “She believed that Defendant’s admiration of Mr. Roeder suggested a likelihood that she too would go ‘from protester to murderer,’ and she remained very anxious that Defendant or her associates would indeed place an explosive under her car as suggested by the letter.”

Roeder is serving a life sentence for gunning down Tiller. Means eventually decided not to offer abortion services at her medical practice.

Tiller’s clinic remained shuttered for four years following his death until his widow sold it to an abortion rights group that had raised money from across the country to reopen it.

Kansas high school editorial blasted as anti-gay hate speech

Activists are demanding that officials of a Wichita, Kans., high school retract an editorial that appeared in a student newspaper condemning same-sex dating and citing biblical scripture that calls for the execution of gays and lesbians.

“(Same-sex) relationships just are not normal,” the editorial says. “One thing to notice is that there is legislation against homosexual marriage. However, there are no legislative restrictions to same sex dating. Dating does often lead to marriage, so same-sex dating should be frowned upon. … It is a social disruption in many cases, and should be kept out of school to ensure our educational mission with as little of a distraction as possible.”

Gay rights activists called on East High School’s leaders to “undo the damage and hurt” caused by the piece, which ran in the editorial section of The Messenger.

Calling the editorial “hate speech,” The Center for Human Rights, an LGBT organization in Wichita, joined with First Metropolitan Community Church and other local groups to schedule a press conference to address the incident.

The school district responded with a statement saying the school maintains the right of student journalists to publish controversial opinions. School officials emphasized their commitment to “a safe and nurturing environment for all students.”

“East High Principal Ken Thiessen met with members of his school’s student organization representing students with alternative lifestyles, explained the circumstances leading to publication of this student opinion, and invited students with a different viewpoint to respond with their own opinion piece,” the statement said.

Following the release of the statement, the organizations canceled the press conference to “give the school adequate and appropriate time to follow through on those responses.”