Abortion clinics in the US: "Our doctors are outlawed"
Julie Burkhart runs three abortion clinics in the US. She fights for her boss murdered by activists and against the hatred of the opponents. It will be more difficult under President Trump. How is she able to do that?
Vice President Mike Pence calls his boss Donald Trump "the most prolife president in american history". No US president, Pence says, has ever worked so hard for the "unborn life" right. With him at the head of the country, abortion opponents in the US sense their opportunity: they want to overturn as many laws as possible and make access to abortions in the country more difficult.
Julie Burkhart heads the Trust Women organization. She is trying to improve access to abortion clinics in the US. She has just come back from a conference in South Africa. There she spoke with colleagues about new abortion techniques. She travels a lot around the world to network. A member of the German Bundestag also met her to talk to her about paragraph 219a, which prohibits advertising for abortions in Germany.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ms. Burkhart, why are you traveling so much?
Julie Burkhart: There is no place on earth where people do not try to ban women from controlling their fertility. I'm trying to continue the legacy of George Tiller - my former boss. Women from all over the world came to him to help him. Because there was often nobody else who could do that. He was the greatest mentor I had in my life.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What moved you to found Trust Women in 2009?
Burkhart: ... That was two months after my boss was murdered. I envisioned an organization that would continue its political and legal work, help the abortion clinics and those who need access to abortions. Already in the first year after founding, it became clear that we needed more clinics in the Midwestern United States. Where, for years, one after the other made dense. It made sense to open the first clinic where my boss had worked: in Wichita, Kansas. After his death, it was the largest metropolitan area in the US without an abortion clinic.
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SPIEGEL ONLINE: Was it hard to open a clinic there?
Burkhart: It was hard to raise money. People advised me to put the money in transport costs for women who should use it for abortions in other states. People were afraid that a new clinic in Wichita would mean more violence that someone could be killed. I listened to this for about 18 months, until I decided to do it anyway. Then it took me two years to find a doctor who wanted to work there for a limited time. Only in 2013 could I find someone who stays.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Meanwhile, their organization operates three clinics. How has the climate changed over the years?
Burkhart: In the 2000s, people chose moderately. That changed with the financial crisis of 2008, with Barack Obama and the assassination of Dr. Ing. Tiller. After his death, the country became even more anti-choice. His death, it seemed, opened the doors to the right-wing anti-abortion agenda. Suddenly, the fight against abortion became a political issue that allowed the right to be elected. They began working hard on bills against abortions.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Since Donald Trump was elected president, many fear that the climate could get worse. In 2017, threats and attacks on abortion clinics have increased. Are you worried about her staff?
Burkhart: One week after his election, abortion opponents rioted outside our clinic in Wichita. Since then, more protesters feel encouraged to stand in front of our facilities every day. They know exactly how far they can go. This is particularly troubling because it is new protesters we do not know and whose intentions we can not assess. We are very alert.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: How do you assess the chances of your movement in this climate?
Burkhart: There are people in our society who want to keep us from achieving equal rights for women. But that does not mean that we should be beaten. Only if we continue we can win. Otherwise we will give power to the abortion opponents.
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SPIEGEL ONLINE: Of the four doctors who work in their clinic in Oklahoma, no one lives there. Why?
Burkhart: The anti-choice movement has ensured that they are ostracized and marginalized. That worked in the conservative areas of the country. It would be hard for a doctor to live in the Midwest or the South of the US while offering abortions. There is still concern that they could be murdered for it. This concern is legitimate. Still, my goal is for Trust Women and for our movement to find doctors who also want to live in the area where they work without fear.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What is the day-to-day work of doctors in their clinics?
Burkhart: The doctors are working under pressure because, for example, they are in Oklahoma only two days a week on site. We do not send anyone who comes to us and try to treat everyone as soon as possible, so that an abortion is also legally possible. Time plays a big role for us.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: There are several restrictions in the states that regulate the way abortions are handled and that it often makes it difficult for abortion clinics to do their jobs. Which do you consider exaggerated?
Burkhart: That after a consultation, a woman should wait 72 hours before she can have an abortion. If a woman makes an appointment, then she has decided. It does not have to be reprimanded. Depending on what month she is in, this waiting time can determine if, where and how she can do the procedure. In Oklahoma, for example, our clinic is the only one where you can abort after the 16th week.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The appointment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court could have far-reaching consequences for access to abortions in the US. What do you fear?
Burkhart: There are many anti-abortion laws that could make it to the Supreme Court: for example, those who want to stop using taxpayers' money for clinics offering abortions. Then there are restrictions on the procedures of abortion and the causes of abortions - and of course the so-called "TRAP" laws. (* Editor's note: Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers refers to the laws that have been attempting to make access to abortions more difficult since the 1980s, for example, by imposing particularly high requirements on abortion clinics).
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are there certain cases that could make it to the Supreme Court in the near future?
Burkhart: In Louisiana, a court just upheld the ruling that a doctor who carries out abortions must have his practice within a radius of 30 miles to a hospital for which he has a license. In Kentucky, it is being examined whether the obligation to ultrasound and the writing down of images and hearing the heart sounds of an abortion violate the constitution.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are you worried about the future?
Burkhart : I'm afraid our doctors will not want to fly back and forth at some point. That is why we try to initiate training programs in our clinics. But there are hurdles in both Kansas and Oklahoma. For example, doctors studying at public universities are not allowed to learn how to abort. Only if we enable the people in their homeland to practice this profession can we tackle the stigma.