Late-Term Abortion Provider Gunned Down
George Tiller knew the dangers of being one of few physicians in the USA who provided late-term abortions.
His Wichita clinic was bombed in 1985 and has been repeatedly vandalized. He survived a shooting by an activist more than a decade ago. Opponents protested daily in front of his clinic, his home, homes of his staff and volunteers and almost weekly in front of his church.
On Sunday, Tiller, 67, was shot dead as he served as an usher at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita. The killing was condemned by abortion rights opponents and mourned by abortion rights advocates as a devastating loss. Police, however, have not provided a motive for the shooting.
"He was constantly harassed, threatened, the man never escaped it. ... He knew it would someday cost him his life," said Marla Patrick, who worked with Tiller on abortion rights issues as the state coordinator for the Kansas National Organization for Women.
Police have a suspect in custody, a 51-year-old man from Merriam, Kan. Johnson County sheriff's spokesman Tom Erickson identified the man as Scott Roeder, the Associated Press reported. Murder charges are expected to be filed against him today, Wichita deputy chief Tom Stolz said.
Tiller, who has been providing abortions since 1973, was a controversial figure in the debate over abortion rights - a catalyst for opponents who galvanized against him and a role model for supporters who praised his work. His clinic performs abortions after the point when a fetus is considered viable.
Abortion rights opponents denounced the killing Sunday, saying they support peaceful, legal avenues to stop doctors who perform abortion. Troy Newman, director of Operation Rescue, said his organization had been working through the Kansas board that licenses physicians to have Tiller's medical license revoked.
However, he said, Tiller's death, "is a setback for the cause. Mr. Tiller will likely be seen as a hero from the pro-choice perspective."
Supporters wondered where women will go now for late-term abortions. Tiller "provided a service that got him demonized because he believed in it," Patrick said.
President Obama said he was "outraged by the murder."
"However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence," Obama said in a statement Sunday.
Tiller was shot in the foyer of the church, as his wife, Jeanne, sang in the choir in the church's main sanctuary, Stolz said. His family, which also includes four children and 10 grandchildren, released a statement calling his death an unspeakable tragedy.
A candlelight vigil was expected to be held for Tiller in Wichita on Sunday night.