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k1090 BC-KS-Abortion-Kansas 1stLd-Writethru 07-17 0554

Kan. abortion rights group rebuilds after shooting

Eds: CORRECTS to 'abortion rights movement', sted 'anti-abortion movement' in penultimate graf. Minor edits throughout.


Associated Press Writer

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- Abortion rights activists are working to rebuild a coalition in Kansas following the death of one of the nation's few late-term abortion providers and the closure of his political action committee.

Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed May 31 at his church, and his family has since closed his Wichita clinic. ProKanDo, the political action committee he founded and funded, was closed in mid-June upon the request of the Tiller family, its former director, Julie Burkhart said.

But even before his closure of ProKanDo, the political action committee had been struggling to find someone in Kansas willing to take it over after Burkhart left the job in April.

Founded in 2002, ProKanDo has spent more than $1 million in the past four years promoting abortion rights, helping candidates who support abortion rights and working against anti-abortion candidates.

The Kansas chapter of the National Organization for Women has since formed its own political action committee to fill the void left by ProKanDo.

Marla Patrick, the Kansas coordinator for NOW, said that for years ProKanDo took the lead on abortion rights issues because they had the funding to do so. NOW was content then to stay in the background because it had found that its presence could hurt the cause.

"It came down to the fact that when they hear ProKanDo, they would think pro-choice," Patrick said. "When they hear NOW they would think radical feminist. So we worked really hard ... to get rid of that radical label."

NOW has scheduled a daylong conference July 25 at Unity Church in Wichita to regroup its supporters in the wake of Tiller's death and the loss of ProKanDo.

Activists plan to discuss legislative strategy and get more involved in local and state elections. Keynote speaker is national NOW President Terry O'Neill.

Finance reports filed by ProKanDo with the Kansas secretary of state show Tiller contributed $239,000 to the group from August through early November 2002, the year anti-abortion Republican Phill Kline won a close election in the attorney general's race.

Tiller contributions accounted for between one-third to one-half of ProKanDo's revenues, depending on the year, Burkhart said. The group had more than 6,400 contributors.

Patrick acknowledged that the abortion rights movement and NOW's political action committee will not have the heavy financial backing that ProKanDo did from Tiller, but said his death has propelled the grass roots support to come forward.

"While we may have less funding, we are going to have more grass roots," she said. "And I think that can be every bit as effective, if not more so, especially in light of all the recent events."