Neighbors of a Wichita clinic where abortions are performed say there haven’t been any problems in the area since the clinic opened earlier this year, and they don’t expect any when a 40-day prayer vigil begins outside the clinic this week.
Ruth Collingwood lives about a block south and around the corner from the South Wind Women’s Center, which operates out of the building at 5107 E. Kellogg where George Tiller performed abortions until he was murdered in 2009. Collingwood has lived in her house since 1961.
“We’ve been through everything, so we’ve seen ’em all,” she said of protests at Tiller’s former clinic. “But this hasn’t been bad at all. The people who caused all the problems were the ones protesting. There hasn’t been anyone else.”
The leader of “40 Days for Life,” a round-the-clock prayer vigil that will start Wednesday and continue through Nov. 3, said the event will be peaceful.
“All of our vigil participants are asked to sign a statement of peace, conduct themselves in a loving and Christ-like manner, stay in public right-of-ways and stay within the law,” said Kara Shaw, a Wichita mother of three children who is organizing the event.
“They’re not there to be mean or hateful. It’s all loving and peaceful. We’re there to represent Christ and reach out to them.”
The 40-day time period comes from Biblical stories that tell of God transforming the world in 40-day periods.
Julie Burkhart, South Wind’s executive director, said she hopes that the event remains peaceful throughout.
“The thing we are not looking forward to is the fact that their presence outside our clinic serves to intimidate and shame women who are coming in for health care services,” Burkhart said.
Although only 10 people had signed up for the vigil as of Monday, attendance is expected to grow to a couple of hundred people as the event continues, Shaw said. She is working with groups such as Kansans for Life and the Kansas Coalition for Life to circulate word of the vigil.
The Wichita event will be synchronized with other vigils nationally and internationally over the same period. Participants will pray and fast during the vigil.
They won’t approach clinic patients unless the patients ask for information, Shaw said. A phone number for a counselor will be offered to them, she said, and counselors may be present during the vigil.
Traffic won’t be impeded, and vigil participants won’t yell at anybody, she said.
Burkhart said the clinic has not faced a large protest since it opened about six months ago. One or two protesters have stepped on clinic property in their eagerness to talk to patients, she said, but a security guard has been able to handle those situations and only once has the clinic had to file a police report when it happened.
Last week, a Shetland pony bearing anti-abortion signs was paraded up and down the street outside the clinic, Burkhart said.
But there has been no violence at the clinic.
“We’re very pleased we’ve been able to operate,” Burkhart said. “We haven’t had any incidents at the clinic. Things are going very well.”
Police have been called to the clinic periodically to address parking issues and settle differences of opinion over where protesters are allowed to stand, said Sgt. Allen Wolf, community policing supervisor for the Patrol East bureau.
“But it’s nothing above and beyond the norm, as regards what we’ve done there over the years,” he said.
Wolf said there have been no arrests at the clinic. He anticipates a peaceful prayer vigil.
A kickoff rally for the vigil will be held outside the clinic Tuesday at 7 p.m. Church pastors will pray and bless the event, songs will be sung to guitar music, and Shaw will speak about the vigil.
“We’re not there to start any fights or skirmishes, even against abortion workers themselves,” Shaw said. “We’re praying for them, too.
“If anything is started, I’m hopeful all of our volunteers will just walk away.”
Burkhart said she has been aware of such 40-day events at other clinics around the country, and generally they have been peaceful, she said.
“I haven’t heard of any problems,” Burkhart said. “But just the fact people feel they have the moral authority to show up and try to dictate to women how they’re supposed to live their lives, that’s unsettling.”