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Opponents ask Wichita to block abortion clinic

Roxana Hegeman, Associated Press

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- Anti-abortion activists delivered a petition with about 14,000 signatures to the Wichita City Council on Tuesday asking it to block the opening of a clinic at the building once owned by slain abortion provider George Tiller.

The city council took no action on the petition, which Kansans for Life concede has no legal force. However, the group also plans to present the petition to the local planning commission later this month. The commission could recommend the city rezone the site or do nothing.

An attorney for the clinic's owner said it would challenge any attempt to use rezoning to prohibit the clinic from opening.

"Our view is that there is no legal basis that will justify rezoning and that to the extent that the rezoning is motivated by a political purpose, it's improper," said Robert Eye, the Topeka attorney representing the clinic's new owner. "The anti-choice clique is effectively misusing the rezoning laws to accomplish its narrow purpose and that is inconsistent with what the law requires related to rezoning."

The Wichita-based nonprofit Trust Women Foundation Inc. purchased the building in late August. The abortion rights group plans to offer reproductive health care services, including abortions, when the clinic opens later this year.

The petition asks the city to do "all in your power" to prevent the clinic from opening in what it contends is a residential neighborhood. It contends the clinic would create vehicular traffic, affect property values and change the atmosphere of the neighborhood due to the noise and large crowds.

While the city council took no immediate action, it asked staff to research the issue.

Petition organizer David Gittrich told the council that the group plans to add hundreds more signatures to the 13,937 it already collected and present the petition to the local planning commission on Feb. 21.

Tiller was one of the few remaining late-term abortion providers in the nation when he was murdered and his clinic shuttered in 2009. When Tiller operated the clinic, it was the site of regular protests by abortion opponents, including large demonstrations in 1991 and 2001.

"The reason over 14,000 people signed the petition is because they are aware of the problems in that neighborhood when that business was open," Gittrich said.

Eye said the clinic owners would oppose rezoning by whatever legal means required.

"I don't want to anticipate that the city of Wichita would do something that is not authorized by law, but if there is a misuse of the zoning laws to try to prevent a lawful operation of our clinic, then, yes, I would anticipate we would challenge that," he said.