In the wake of Dr. George Tiller’s assassination on May 31, 2009, Ms. Burkhart founded Trust Women in order to honor his legacy and to continue fighting for reproductive rights. At the time of his murder, Dr. Tiller was one of the few physicians in the United States who provided later abortion care for women from across the United States, as well as from around the world.
Dr. Tiller and Ms. Burkhart formed a formal working relationship by summer 2002, just in time for that election cycle. It was a working relationship which was only to last for a matter of months, but which turned into a seven-year commitment, with Dr. Tiller becoming Ms. Burkhart’s most beloved boss and mentor. Dr. Tiller named and founded the political action committee that Ms. Burkhart then built and directed - ProKanDo. The PAC soon became the largest political committee in the state, with its most significant defeat of former Attorney General Phil Kline, who had sought to bring criminal charges against Dr. Tiller. Additionally, Ms. Burkhart served as Dr. Tiller’s spokesperson and lobbied on behalf of Women’s Health Care Services, Dr. Tiller’s clinic, as well as other providers in the state of Kansas.
Shortly after his assassination, Ms. Burkhart decided that reproductive rights and access was too important to walk away from. Sitting at her kitchen table, and with encouragement from family, friends and colleagues, she set about building the organization from the ground up. That was the founding of Trust Women, named for one of the many phrases Dr. Tiller used; to trust women to make their own medical decisions.
Starting from only the commitment to continue Dr. Tiller’s legacy, which was to initially provide political and legislative support for pro-choice policymakers and candidates, it became clear that there was no use in passing laws which allow greater access if there are no facilities or doctors available to assist people in need of reproductive health care. Within 12 months of founding the organization, the course was set - to provide abortion care in underserved communities so that all women will be able to access the care they need.
Ms. Burkhart tirelessly worked to build Trust Women and to then re-establish abortion care in Dr. Tiller’s former clinic, which is now Trust Women’s flagship clinic. Ms. Burkhart bought Dr. Tiller’s former clinic from his family in August 2012. Only with a labor of love from supporters from across the country, Trust Women Wichita opened its doors on April 3, 2013; almost four years after the founding of Trust Women. At the time, the clinic was the only abortion provider within a 200-mile radius.
Anti-choice zealots were not going to let the clinic open without a fight, though. They lodged numerous false complaints to the Kansas Board of Healing Arts, which regulates physicians before the doors were even open. They made two attempts to rezone the property as non-medical, which had been zoned medical since 1937. Protesters became a current fixture at the clinic, as well as at Ms. Burkhart’s house on a number of occasions. A federal court case, brought by the anti-choice protesters, is still underway, which was a result of the protests at Ms. Burkhart’s house. The anti-choice faction even went as far to alert the City of Wichita that Trust Women was dangerous and would bring crime into the city, which was grossly overstated and completely unfounded.
Additionally, it took over two years to find a physician who would, at the minimum, travel to Wichita to provide abortion care. The cost of renovating the clinic and combating the obstacles put in the way was approximately $1M. Even after opening the clinic, it took another 24 months in order to obtain an ambulatory surgical center license.
Then, on September 10, 2016, Trust Women opened a second clinic in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In this case, Oklahoma City was also the largest metropolitan area in the United States, as Wichita had been, without abortion care. Trust Women Oklahoma City took two and a half years to open and faced a number of obstacles as well. It took approximately 18 months to secure a loan with a bank who would back the mortgage, as well as extend a small amount of money for construction. Legal intervention ultimately had to be requested in order for the Oklahoma Department of Health to even begin processing the application for the facility and in order to begin construction.
Protesters found out about the construction and made a point of harassing the construction workers; even walking into the building at one point, filming and harassing them. The protesters then proceeded to post the videos online, seeking to embarrass and ostracize the contractors, especially from their centers of faith. It became apparent, almost immediately, that the state was not going to process the required forms, putting obstacles in the way.
Trust Women Seattle was purchased on May 31, 2017 and opened under the Trust Women name the next day. A local Seattle physician was selling her abortion providing practice – the match between she and Trust Women seemed natural. In light of the incoming Trump Administration, January 2017, it was deemed important by the Trust Women board to ensure that Trust Women have a base from which to continue providing services in case Roe v. Wade were to become compromised due to the impending threat lodged by the White House. In this way, Trust Women would have a state in which it can practice legally, as well as provide abortion care at a later gestational limit if the opportunity or need were to arise.
Trust Women has the experience and the know-how to navigate hostile environments and oppressive policies in order to open clinics that provide abortion care.
Trust Women’s commitment to making sure people have access to the health care that is right for them, even in hostile states, is both an act of determination and defiance against those seeking to undermine equality. As founder and CEO, Ms. Burkhart provides a unique perspective in health care access and reproductive rights, while actively working to change anti-choice policies.
Trust Women’s work is essential to the reproductive choice movement because the right to choose is a right only in theory if not everyone can access that right to health care.