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Pro-lifers fear that the shooting death of the late-term abortionist may bring greater restrictions to their largely peaceful movement.
BY JEFF GARDNERREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
WICHITA, Kan. — Just after 10 a.m.
on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, George Tiller was shot in the head at the
Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kan.
The notorious late-term abortionist
was serving as an usher at Sunday services.
While a search for his killer was
under way, pro-lifers were already denouncing the murder.
Troy Newman, president of the
Wichita-based Operation Rescue, said, “We were shocked at the news of Tiller’s
death” and denounced the murder as a “cowardly act.”
“All life,” Newman said, “has
intrinsic value, including the life of Dr. George Tiller.”
Less than three hours after the
shooting, police near Kansas City, Kan., stopped a 1993 blue Ford Taurus and
arrested Scott Roeder as a suspect in the murder.
On June 2, Roeder was charged in
Sedgwick County District Court with one count of homicide in the murder of
Tiller and two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Roeder, 51, is from the Kansas City
suburb of Overland Park, Kan. He was convicted in 1996 on criminal possession
and use of explosives and sentenced to two years probation. That conviction was
later overturned on appeal.
Additionally, Roeder is suspected of
vandalizing a Kansas City abortion business. According to unconfirmed reports,
Roeder may also have a history of mental illness and was once a member of the
anti-government group Kansas Unorganized Citizens Militia.
Newman said, “This crime is
antithetical to the pro-life movement. We were within months of having Dr.
Tiller’s medical license revoked. That would have been a real victory for the
“The pro-life community can best put
abortionists out of business by using legal, peaceful means within the system,”
Newman said. “These acts of violence do nothing but set us back.”
In March, Tiller was acquitted on 19
criminal counts that stemmed from allegations that he carried out abortions in
violation of Kansas state law.
Despite this acquittal, the Kansas
State Board of Healing Arts had confirmed at least 11 violations of the Healing
Arts Act against Tiller, including the charge that he performed an abortion on
a viable “fetus without a documented referral from another physician not
legally or financially affiliated with him.”
Chicago-based pro-life activist Joe
Scheidler remembers abortionist George Tiller as “an odd fellow.”
Scheidler, founder and president of
the Pro-Life Action League, said he first met Tiller in New Orleans in 1980.
Scheidler was attending an abortionists’ convention “as a spy” and shared a
taxi ride with Tiller “for almost one half hour.”
“Tiller told me about how he was
using ultrasound to see what he was aborting and how great this was,” Scheidler
recalled. “He was excited about abortion; he saw himself as significant, almost
a pioneer in the business.”
Tiller was a Wichita native who,
after serving as a Navy flight surgeon from 1969 to 1970, returned to Wichita
to take over his father’s family practice. By the mid-1970s, Tiller had turned
the facility into an abortion business, The Women’s Health Care Services. Over
the years, as Tiller’s facility expanded, so too did its notoriety. It became
known as one of only a handful of places providing late-term abortions.
“Later on, he got into a lot of
quasi-religious stuff, installing a chapel at his facility and having a
minister baptize the aborted babies,” Scheidler said, days after Tiller’s
death. “Other abortionists admired him; to them, he was a hero, now perhaps a
martyr. He would go and do what any others would not.”
Many pro-life leaders are concerned
that one of the consequences of Tiller’s murder will be an increase by the
federal government to see suspects where there are none.
After the Tiller shooting, Attorney
General Eric Holder ordered the U.S. Marshal Service to “provide protection to
other appropriate people and facilities around the nation.” A source within the
Department of Justice, who asked not to be identified, confirmed that “U.S.
marshals would be providing security to certain people and facilities.” The
Department of Homeland Security and the FBI declined to comment on what actions
they might be taking.
For members of the pro-abortion
community, the actions taken by the attorney general, and even a strong
statement by President Obama condemning the shooting, are not nearly enough.
Reached at her New York home, Gloria Feldt, who was president and CEO of
Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 1996 to 2005, called the murder
of George Tiller “domestic terrorism.”
“The definition of terrorism,” Feldt
said, “is violence that is a result of a social climate that accepts such
behavior or even, at times, condones it.”
“There is no denying,” Feldt
claimed, “that there are groups who do in fact speak in such a way that foments
this kind of behavior, so that individuals who are mentally unstable take
action. Even if there is not a direct line from point A to point B, there is
still a connection.”
As for pro-life denunciations of the
murder, she said, “What do you expect those groups to say? Of course that is
what they are going to say, but that does not mean that the climate that they
generate does not create the conditions that bring violence or terrorism.”
Scheidler agreed that the climate is
difficult — for pro-lifers.
“There is a sense already that we
are being held down, and there is more coming,” noted Scheidler.
Father Frank Pavone, national
director of Priests for Life, said the movement always tries “to show people
the peaceful things that they can do in support of life. Unfortunately, we do not reach everyone.”
“Part of the solution to this
problem,” noted Pavone, “is for the government to not overreact and start to
prohibit First Amendment activities or the freedom of assembly. If they
overreach, we will end up with more violence, making matters worse.”
When asked to comment on Father
Pavone’s call for the government not to overreact, Feldt said, “I do not think
that there has been an overreaction [on the part of government], but an
‘Be Not Afraid’
Despite concerns that Tiller’s
murder will lead to an increase in surveillance and harassment of pro-life
activities, pro-life leaders are encouraging their members not to be
“We as pro-lifers are the majority,”
noted Newman. “Be resilient, and let’s look at this horrible event as an
opportunity to work more closely together, not for personal gain, but the
advancement of life.”
Scheidler echoed that sentiment:
“Tiller was a strange person. I am sorry about his death because not only does
it hurt the movement, but I think we could have converted him over time. ...
But we must proceed exactly as we have — fighting abortion nonviolently.”
Jeff Gardner is based in