New Tactic in Abortion-Foe Fight: Evicting Clinics

If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em.

That's the tactic that an anti-abortion group in Wichita, Kan., took when it boasted about its purchase of a former abortion facility building and subsequent plans to convert it into a memorial for aborted fetuses.

Operation Rescue bought the former site of Central Women's Services weeks after the abortion clinic sold its equipment and closed the doors -- a tactic used before by similar groups that may increase.

The clinic, which also offered pregnancy tests and Pap smears, had been planning to close its doors for several months, clinic affiliates said.

The last surgical procedure was performed May 2, and the clinic had an equipment sale on May 22. The facilities were sold on June 28.

The phone line, which had not been turned off when Operation Rescue took over the building, was rerouted to an abortion-alternative organization until it was shut off.

Troy Newman, the spokesman and director of Operation Rescue, said that by rerouting the phone line his group had dealt the clinic its final blow. He maintains his group shut Central Women's Services down.

"We've been keeping our eye on it and praying it would come up for sale," he said. "And it did."

The town now has a single abortion provider, Women's Health Care Services.

Mark Pederson, office manager for Kansas City-based Aid for Women, which provided doctors who performed abortions at the Wichita clinic, said the clinic closed because no doctors had been available to continue administering the procedure.

"This had nothing to do with Operation Rescue," he said in a written statement. "It's a little bit like closing the barn door after the horse has left the barn."

New Tactic in Abortion Debate?

Buying and then eventually evicting or taking over the site of an abortion clinic is a well-known but rarely utilized tactic, Newman says.

In 1993, a group called the Pro-Life Majority Coalition of Chattanooga outbid a Tennessee abortion provider for ownership of a facility that had been the town's only provider of abortions.

The site is now a crisis pregnancy center and the National Memorial for the Unborn.

In 2000, the building that housed Leroy Carhart's Nebraska abortion clinic was sold to a partnership of three abortion opponents who had tried to evict him.

By law, Carhart was entitled to buy the building before it could be sold, and he sued successfully for ownership of the building.

Carhart says he knows of similar cases in Florida and Maryland where abortion opponents tried to buy out abortion providers.

"That goes on fairly frequently," he said. "It certainly is common knowledge among providers. In fact, that is one of the reasons why we started a nonprofit."

The Abortion Access Fund, which provides loans to abortion clinics, was started by Carhart to allow abortion providers to buy their own property and limit their chances of eviction.

Joseph M. Scheidler, director of the Pro-Life Action Leage, says buying out abortion providers is a good idea.

"Here's a spot where you picketed, where you couldn't go in before, and all of the sudden you own it," Scheidler said.

Usually, he says, abortion opponents buy property close to existing abortion providers or move in shortly after a clinic has closed down.

Anti-abortion advocate Leslee Unruh opened a crisis pregnancy center in Sioux Falls, S.D., where a Planned Parenthood was once located. She says women have arrived at her Alpha Center looking for an abortion provider.

"Those women, very rarely did they leave and get an abortion," she said. "And if they did, they knew that they can come back for postabortion counseling."

In Wichita, Operation Rescue plans to turn the former abortion clinic into its national headquarters as well as an abortion memorial.

"It's actually quite imaginative," said Ted G. Jelen, a political science professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

He recently taught a politics of abortion class at DePauw University and says evicting abortion providers could become a new strategy for abortion opponents.

"The pro-life side has gotten a little more sophisticated than in the past, including this tactic."

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