Trust Women Foundation

by Denise Nanni and Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In the following our interview with Julie A. Burkhart, founder and CEO of Trust Women Foundation in Kansas. The foundation operates two clinics – one in Wichita, Kansas, and one in Oklahoma City. The clinics are called Trust Women South Wind Women’s Center. We talked to Julie about reproductive rights, about abortion rights, and in particular how to improve the situation for women to guarantee and protect their basic human rights. 

What are the factors that led to the lack of access to reproductive rights in Kansas?
There are two parts to this answer. One, Kansans, as a majority, clearly support reproductive rights, but lawmakers have taken a staunch anti-choice position, since Governor Sam Brownback took office, passing legislation that limits women’s access. Trust Women has been heavily involved in efforts to repeal laws that put up roadblocks for women and in blocking anti-choice legislation that is proposed by extremist lawmakers. We believe that all women should be able to make personal medical decisions for themselves. We are looking forward to a more moderate Kansas Legislature this session. 
After the assassination of my boss and mentor, Dr. George Tiller, there was no access to abortion care west of the Kansas City area for almost four years; until our clinic opened. Women then had to drive, hours away, to obtain abortion care. Additionally, other clinics that provided abortion care and family planning closed due to the hostility they faced from the State. 

In spite of religious beliefs, abortion should be considered a matter of personal choice. Why, according to your opinion, it is still a reason for  social conflict?
I think it loops back to respect for women and their decisions. About 70 percent of our patients at our clinics in Wichita and Oklahoma City already have children. When they come to us for abortion care, they simply are trying to make the best decision for their families and the children they already have. Ultimately, it should not matter why a woman is seeking to terminate a pregnancy. It is her legal right to do so, and lawmakers’ personal religious beliefs should not be part of the equation. 


What are the legal challenges that clinics and physicians cope with?
I receive a subpoena at least once a month from taxpayer-funded state agencies – complaints drummed up by the anti-choice activists. Responding to them wastes not only our time but our financial resources. We have dealt with zoning challenges, surprise inspections and punitive regulations that other health care providers do not face. For example, laws requiring physicians to have hospital admitting privileges do not protect women; they simply make it more difficult for women to access their legal reproductive rights due to alienating physicians from mainstream medical practice and groups in their communities. Our physicians and staff face harassment from anti-choice protesters on a daily basis. Lastly, when restrictive anti-choice laws are passed, which we are unable to stop in the legislature, we then have to litigate; which also takes time, money and other resources to challenge. 

Do you involve civil society in your activities? If yes, how?
We have a robust advocacy and outreach program and seek to drive conversations about what we call “leaning in” to abortion. We organize canvasses, lobby in the legislatures, produce voter guides and questionnaires and participate in health care and other conferences. I speak regularly to groups about the work we are doing to ensure that women in underserved communities in the Midwest and South have access to abortion care. 

Do you cooperate with local authorities and institutions? If yes, how?

Because our line of work is so heavily regulated, we must cooperate with local and state authorities. We have good relationships with law enforcement agencies and communicate regularly with them. We are also members of the Abortion Care Network, National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, Feminist Abortion Network and Physicians for Reproductive Health. Our clinics are accredited by the National Abortion Federation, a distinction of pride for us. We are licensed facilities in both Kansas and Oklahoma.