Abortion Physician Killed in Church
Posted by dorian on June 1, 2009
(06-01) 04:00 PDT Wichita, Kan. — Dr. George Tiller – one of the few U.S. physicians who performed late-term abortions and long a target of violent extremists as well as principled opponents – was shot and killed Sunday in the lobby of his church.
A 51-year-old suspect, identified by sheriff’s deputies as Scott Roeder, was arrested three hours after the shooting in a Kansas City suburb about 170 miles from Wichita. Police said he would likely be charged today with one count of murder and two counts of aggravated assault.
Tiller, 67, was a lightning rod in the struggle over legalized abortion and had previously been the victim of violence. In 1993, he was shot in both arms by an abortion protester as he drove away from his clinic. In 1986, his Women’s Health Care Services clinic was severely damaged in a bomb blast. In 1991, the clinic was blockaded for six weeks by anti-abortion protesters.
And this month, Tiller’s attorneys told the Associated Press that the doctor recently had asked the FBI to investigate an incident in which vandals had cut wires to security cameras, cut holes in the roof and plugged downspouts at the clinic, resulting in thousands of dollars in damage.
In addition to fending off abortion protesters for years, Tiller had been pursued by public officials opposed to abortion. In March, he was acquitted of charges that he broke a Kansas law requiring a second doctor to affirm that a late-term abortion is necessary to preserve the health of the woman. State law requires that the second doctor be financially and legally independent from the first physician.
In a trial that lasted five days – and in which the jury took less than an hour to return its verdict – Tiller was cleared of charges that he had improper ties to Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus.
Sunday, Neuhaus said that she had expected further violence after Tiller’s acquittal. “I knew it was going to antagonize these people that he quote, unquote, got off the hook,” she said. “Dr. Tiller really was a warrior. He was a quiet, persistent, capable visionary, a true leader.”
Parishioner Adam Watkins, 20, said he was sitting in the congregation at Reformation Lutheran Church when he heard a small pop at the start of the service. Another usher came in and told the congregation to remain seated, then escorted Tiller’s wife out. “When she got to the back doors, we heard her scream, and so we knew something bad had happened,” Watkins said.
Later, Tiller’s attorneys released a statement from Tiller’s wife, Jeanne, his four children and 10 grandchildren.
“Today we mourn the loss of our husband, father and grandfather,” it said. “This is particularly heart wrenching because George was shot down in his house of worship, a place of peace. Our loss is also a loss for the city of Wichita and women across America.”
Phill Kline, the former Kansas attorney general whose investigations led to the charges being filed against Tiller, decried the killing. “I am stunned by this lawless and violent act which must be condemned,” he said.
Warren Hern, a Colorado physician and close friend of Tiller’s, who described himself now as “the only doctor in the world” who performs very late-term abortions, said Tiller’s death was predictable.
“I think it’s the inevitable consequence of more than 35 years of constant anti-abortion terrorism, harassment and violence. George is the fifth American doctor to be assassinated. I get messages from these people saying, ‘Don’t bother wearing a bulletproof vest, we’re going for a head shot.’ ”
When President Obama was elected last fall, Hern predicted that anti-abortion violence would increase, he said. Because Obama supports legalized abortion, Hern said, its foes “have lost ground. … They want the doctors dead, and they invite people to assassinate us.”
Obama said he was “shocked and outraged” by the killing. “However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion,” he said in a statement, “they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence.”
The killing spotlights the notion that common ground can be found between proponents of legalized abortion and those who oppose it.
“It is cold-blooded, vicious actions like today’s assassination that make it hard for those of us in the pro-choice community to find common ground with those on the other side,” said Kelli Conlin, president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York. “It is lawless, violent behavior like this that makes us fear for our lives and our families. When they sit down across from us, they have no reason to believe that we come to the table with violent intentions. Today is a brutal reminder that we are not privileged to have the same sense of security.”
Other recent cases of abortion-related violence:
April 25, 2007: Authorities say Paul Ross Evans placed a homemade bomb in the parking lot of the Austin Women’s Health Center in Texas. A bomb squad disposed of the device, which contained 2 pounds of nails. There were no injuries.
Oct. 23, 1998: Dr. Barnett Slepian is fatally shot in his home in a suburb of Buffalo, N.Y. Militant abortion opponent James Kopp is convicted of the murder in 2003 and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Jan. 29, 1998: A bomb explodes just outside a Birmingham, Ala., abortion clinic, killing a police officer and wounding several others. Eric Rudolph later pleads guilty to that incident and the deadly bombing at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Jan. 16, 1997: Two bomb blasts an hour apart rock an Atlanta building containing an abortion clinic. Seven people are injured. Rudolph is charged by federal authorities in October 1998.
Dec. 30, 1994: John Salvi opens fire with a rifle inside two Boston-area abortion clinics, killing two receptionists and wounding five others. Sentenced to life without parole, he kills himself in prison in 1996.
Nov. 8, 1994: Dr. Garson Romalis, who performs abortions in Vancouver, British Columbia, is shot in the leg at his home.
July 29, 1994: Dr. John Bayard Britton and his volunteer escort, James Barrett, are slain outside a Pensacola, Fla., abortion clinic. Barrett’s wife, June, is wounded in the attack. Paul Hill, 40, a former minister and anti-abortion activist, is later convicted of murder and sentenced to death.
March 10, 1993: Dr. David Gunn is shot to death outside a Pensacola, Fla., clinic, becoming the first U.S. doctor killed during an anti-abortion demonstration. Michael Griffin is convicted and is serving a life sentence.
Source: Associated Press