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40 years after Roe v. Wade, doctor reflects on time in Oklahoma

Doctor Larry Burns does not defend abortions performed at late-term abortion clinics, unless it's a life-or-death situation for the mother — a very rare event, he said.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Modified: January 21, 2013 at 12:44 am •  Published: January 21, 2013
/articleid/3747444/1/pictures/1931146">Photo - ANTI-ABORTION PRAYER VIGIL: Mark Daly and Deborah Krisch hold prayer vigil signs on NW 63rd in Warr Acres, October 1 , 2010. Photo by Steve Gooch, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD
ANTI-ABORTION PRAYER VIGIL: Mark Daly and Deborah Krisch hold prayer vigil signs on NW 63rd in Warr Acres, October 1 , 2010. Photo by Steve Gooch, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD

Viewpoint ignored

Burns stopped going to the Capitol a long time ago. Early on, he tried to talk in legislative hearings on proposed bills regarding abortion.

But he never got called on and not many wanted to hear his viewpoint.

Burns said when he first moved to Oklahoma, the Legislature passed abortion laws regarding safety and sanitation. But over the past 10 to 12 years, the laws being written focus more on ideology.

“I just wish the people that make the laws concerning abortion really knew what they were talking about or really could experience why people come here and the importance of having it remain legal, safe, accessible.”

Limited service

Burns and his clinic staff perform about 50 abortions per week. He performs abortions only up to 12 weeks. Burns does not defend abortions performed at late-term, unless it's a life-or-death situation for the mother — a very rare event, he said.

“I really think the people who are for choice have wasted a lot of time and effort on defending late-term abortions,” Burns said. “There's no way to put a pretty face on that. If somebody is seven or eight months, unless it's some kind of a really rare medical thing, just go to full term, do adoption. Everybody knows you're pregnant, you're showing.”

Oklahoma law prohibits abortion to be performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The second trimester ends at 27 weeks, or 25 weeks after conception, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Burns' clinic offers two types of abortions: a surgical abortion or a medical abortion, which generally involves taking a series of pills.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 6,430 abortions were performed in Oklahoma in 2009, the most recent data available.

Of those performed, 4,256 were performed when a woman's pregnancy was at eight weeks or less, according to the CDC. About 1,693 were performed at nine to 13 weeks.

These numbers together represent about 93 percent of the abortions performed in Oklahoma in 2009.


Burns isn't shy about the fact that he has a concealed carry permit. He has had guns for more than 25 years.

“I've got to have guns,” Burns said. “There are too many crazy people out here.”

Over the years, Burns' clinic has been vandalized. In November 1992, several anti-abortion protesters blocked Burns' clinic by locking themselves to gates and entryways.

By June 1993, there were at least eight times when anti-abortion activists went to trial in Norman's municipal court.

One of those cases was an assault and battery case against a man who pushed Burns' wife, Debby Burns, the clinic's office manager, into a car and then pulled her away from the vehicle.

Meanwhile, in 1997, a Tulsa abortion clinic was subject to multiple attacks. The clinic was firebombed with Molotov cocktails, with pipe bombs and with gunshots only weeks apart. A 15-year-old Bixby teenager was arrested for the three events. In 1996, a Planned Parenthood facility in Broken Arrow also was bombed.

Attacks like this began to decrease after President Bill Clinton signed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act into law in 1994, according to the FBI. The law makes it a federal crime to injure, intimidate or interfere with those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health care services, according to the FBI.

Since 2009 when Dr. George Tiller, who provided late-term abortions, was shot and killed in Wichita, Burns has seen more women from southern Kansas.

Besides Oklahoma, he sees patients from Texas, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas.

But at some point, Burns will retire. He doesn't know when, but he's 67 and has four grandchildren.

For several years, his clinic has employed not only Burns and his wife but also their daughter. She worked at the clinic until three days before she gave birth. Recently, she gave birth to her fourth child and she probably will focus on raising her kids, rather than coming back to work at the clinic, Burns said.

On a recent Wednesday evening, Burns sat at his desk and was reminded that he and Debby had tickets to see “Jekyll & Hyde” at the Civic Center Music Hall.

His desk is covered with magazines and no computer. Debby handles that for him. His office is decorated with family photos and several buffalo statues and figurines.

“I like buffalo, they're survivors,” Burns said. “So are women.”

Contributing: Carla Hinton, Religion Editor

by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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