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ABORTION NEWS | Kansas Abortion Provider Tiller Shot Dead at Church Service

ABORTION NEWS | Kansas Abortion Provider Tiller Shot Dead at Church Service
[June 1, 2009]

Kansas abortion provider George Tiller, one of the few U.S. doctors who performed the procedure later in pregnancy, was shot and killed Sunday at his church in Kansas, the New York Times reports. Tiller, who ran Women's Health Care Services, was believed to be one of about three doctors in the country who provided abortion services to women in the third trimester of pregnancy under certain conditions, according to the Times. He was a longtime target for protests from antiabortion-rights groups and, in recent years, had endured multiple legal challenges from the groups and antiabortion-rights officials seeking to shut down his practice through prosecution (Stumpe/Davey, New York Times, 6/1). The Washington Post reports that Kansas resident Scott Roeder is considered a suspect in the shooting and was taken into custody. According to the Post, Roeder "is known in antiabortion circles as a man who believes that killing an abortion doctor is justifiable" (Slevin/Barnes, Washington Post, 6/1).

The killing further intensifies attention on abortion-rights issues at a time when the Supreme Court nomination and the controversy over President Obama's recent speech at the University of Notre Dame have brought the debate to the forefront, the Post reports (Barnes, Washington Post, 6/1). In a statement, Obama said he was "shocked and outraged" by the murder (Simon/Bustillo, Wall Street Journal, 6/1). "However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence," Obama said.

Abortion-rights supporters said Tiller's death would leave few options for women in need of abortion later in pregnancy. Peter Brownlie, president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said, "This is a tremendous loss on so many levels" (New York Times, 6/1). The Post reports that Tiller is the fourth abortion provider to be killed since 1993 and the first since 1998. Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said, "Dr. Tiller's murder will send a chill down the spines of the brave and courageous providers and other professionals who are part of reproductive health centers that serve women across this country" (Barnes, Washington Post, 6/1). NARAL New York President Kelli Conlin, said, "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" (Abcarian, Los Angeles Times, 6/1). Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northup said that Tiller was "willing to be a very public, forthright and brave defender of women's right to abortion," adding that he "put himself out front as a defender of women's reproductive health care" (Welch, USA Today, 6/1).

Abortion-rights opponents also condemned the murder, saying that they do not condone violence as a means to further their cause, USA Today reports. Troy Newman, director of Operation Rescue, which had been working to pressure Kansas' medical licensing board to revoke Tiller's license, called Tiller's death "a setback for the cause," adding that he "will likely be seen as a hero from the pro-choice perspective" (Bello, USA Today, 6/1). Marjorie Dannenfelser, head of the antiabortion-rights group Susan B. Anthony List, said she condemned "this anti-life act in the strongest of terms" (Wall Street Journal, 6/1).