I’ve made the three-hour drive south from Wichita, Ks. on I-135, which has been traveled by many of the women Burns sees. They make the trek because there is no doctor in the metro area of more than half a million people who performs abortions. The dearth results not from restrictive laws, but from the 2009 murder, in his church’s lobby, of Dr. George Tiller, who provided abortions, including late-term abortions. Before he was fatally shot by anti-abortion protester Scott Roeder, Tiller had survived the bombing of his clinic in 1985, been besieged by protests during Operation Rescue’s 1991 “summer of mercy,” shot in both arms in 1993, and tried and acquitted in 2008 for 19 misdemeanor charges of circumventing the letter of a state law requiring a second opinion before performing an abortion. When he was murdered, the clinic closed and his name still resonates as a cautionary tale about the perils of providing abortions.
Larry and Debby Burns agreed to have me up for the day to their clinic—one of the five about 200 miles from Wichita that are now the closest remaining options for women there. I’ll be the first reporter they’ve given such access to in 40 years of practice. Two other clinics who have seen an influx of Wichita women, in Kansas City and Tulsa, declined to have a reporter visit.
While I wasn’t allowed in the room for the procedure itself, Debby introduced me to patients as they arrived, and several agreed to let me spend the day with them (on the condition that their real names would not be used) from arrival and paperwork to ultrasound to medical consultation and then after the abortion was performed in recovery.
Burns sees 14 patients over the day I’m here, with the closest one coming from Oklahoma City, 45 minutes away, and the farthest coming from Oklahoma’s panhandle, some four hours away. On other days, patients arrive from as far off as Texas and Arkansas.