Opening an abortion clinic in the United States is never easy, and it’s especially difficult in a state hostile to abortion rights. That’s one of the reasons no one has attempted to open a clinic in Oklahoma since 1974 — at least, not until now. With the state down to just two clinics since the closure of Outpatient Services for Women in December 2014, Julie Burkhart decided to bring back abortion services to Oklahoma City, the largest metropolitan area in the country without a provider.
Just a month from opening her doors, Burkhart, CEO of Trust Women and owner of South Wind Women’s Center in Wichita, Kansas (which faced its own contentious opening in 2013), now finds herself facing a state legislature that’s not only anti-choice, but just approved a radical, headline-grabbing bill that would make the act of performing an abortion a felony.
Burkhart tells Rolling Stone about the challenges facing her and the doctors who’ve signed up to work at her clinic in Oklahoma, the barriers already in place for abortion providers, and how the 2016 election could change everything for abortion rights.
Why did you decide Oklahoma City would be your next site for opening a clinic?
It seemed like a natural progression — being in a neighboring state [to Kansas], the fact that Oklahoma has similar laws as those in Kansas, that it’s a state where access is limited for people. After the physician in Oklahoma City went out of business, I felt like it was even more important. If you want abortion care in Oklahoma, currently you have to go to Tulsa or Norman. Our clinic will go further in terms of gestational limit, and it will be one more site for people to go to.
This will be the first clinic to open in Oklahoma in over 40 years. Why are there so few clinics in the state?
I think it’s the fact that the laws are so restrictive. There’s great stigma regarding abortion. It’s a challenging environment. If you are a family physician or OB-GYN practicing in the state and you want to venture into abortion care, you are likely to find yourself ostracized from your medical community. People want to fit in and be accepted in their communities.