- The Washington Times - Monday, June 1, 2009

Dr. George Tiller, a Kansas physician who provided late-term abortions, was fatally shot Sunday morning at his church in Wichita, in the first fatal act of anti-abortion violence in 11 years.

Dr. Tiller, who had recently requested FBI protection, had been attacked twice in the past 20 years. He had become a lightning rod for pro-life activists because he is one of the nation’s few providers of late-term abortions and because of his long-standing ties to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Sheriffs in Johnson County, Kan., arrested a 51-year-old man suspected in the slaying Sunday afternoon. Johnson County sheriff’s spokesman Tom Erickson identified the man stopped in the car as Scott Roeder.

Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz told reporters in Wichita that early indications were that the gunman acted alone, though authorities were investigating suspected ties to pro-life groups.

“Our loss is also a loss for the City of Wichita and women across America,” the Tiller family said in a statement released by his attorney Dan Monnat. “George dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality health care despite frequent threats and violence. We ask that he be remembered as a good husband, father and grandfather and a dedicated servant on behalf of the rights of women everywhere.”

Pro-life activists expressed concern Sunday about a backlash against their cause from the killing. A major pro-choice figure Sunday referred to the incident as the latest example of violence by “individuals who oppose the right to choose.”

President Obama said he was “shocked and outraged” by the slaying.

“However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence,” he said.

Dr. Tiller’s death marks the first fatal act of violence against an abortion provider since Dr. Barnett Slepian was killed in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1998. According to the National Abortion Federation (NAF), there have been no attempted killings of abortion providers since 2000 and no bombings since 2001.

In this decade, the NAF says on its Web site, abortion-clinic bombings, arsons and attempts declined dramatically compared with the 1990s. From 2000 to 2007, there were 16 such acts; in the 1990s, there were 120, including two individual years with more than 16.

Eight people - four doctors, three clinic workers and a policeman - have been killed by abortion opponents since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, all before Dr. Tiller’s death occurring from 1993 to 1998.

Dr. Tiller was shot in both arms in 1993 by a protester and survived a 1985 bombing of his clinic. He was shot Sunday morning while serving as an usher at Reformation Lutheran Church, while his wife was in the church choir.

Adam Watkins, 20, told the Associated Press that he heard a small popping sound at the start of the service.

“We just thought a child had come in with a balloon and it had popped, had gone up and hit the ceiling and popped,” he said.

Dr. Tiller’s ties to Mrs. Sebelius also put him in the limelight. Senators vetting Mrs. Sebelius earlier this year questioned her about Dr. Tiller, who had donated thousands of dollars to her campaigns and allied groups and had attended a reception with her at the Kansas governor’s mansion when Mrs. Sebelius held that post.

Pro-life activists criticizing the Sebelius nomination frequently made use of her ties to Dr. Tiller.

Vicki Saporta, president and chief executive officer of the National Abortion Federation, pointedly referred to the suspect as an abortion opponent.

“It is abhorrent that once again, individuals who oppose the right to choose have used violence to try to advance their extreme anti-choice agenda,” she said.

Pro-life activists warned against such reactions. The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, said that “no one should use this tragedy for political gain.”

“I’d hope they wouldn’t try to broad-brush the entire pro-life movement as some sort of extremist movement because of what happened in Wichita,” Mr. Mahoney said. “That’s really important - don’t use this personal loss for a political gain.”

Nearly every prominent pro-life group quickly condemned the shooting Sunday, conveying their condolences to the Tiller family and saying that violence should not be an answer to violence.

“National Right to Life extends its sympathies to Dr. Tiller’s family over this loss of life,” said David N. O’Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee. “Further, the National Right to Life Committee unequivocally condemns any such acts of violence regardless of motivation. The pro-life movement works to protect the right to life and increase respect for human life. The unlawful use of violence is directly contrary to that goal.”

The Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, agreed, saying that “whatever the motives, we at Priests for Life continue to insist on a culture in which violence is never seen as the solution to any problem.”

Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, said he was “shocked at this morning’s disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down. … We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning. We pray for Mr. Tiller’s family.”

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, warned that “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.”

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said that while Dr. Tiller did not work for her group, “the entire Planned Parenthood family is deeply saddened by the murder of Dr. George Tiller. … [H]e was an integral part of our community and his loss is felt by all of us. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and those close to him who are suffering a personal tragedy.”

Deputy Chief Stolz said the suspect likely would be charged Monday in Wichita with one count of murder and two counts of aggravated assault, related to threats that authorities say he made against two people who tried to stop him.

Dr. Tiller also was the target of an investigation by former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, that accused him of getting legally required second opinions on late-term abortions from a doctor who was essentially his employee, rather than an independent physician as state law requires. A jury found him not guilty of 19 such misdemeanor charges earlier this year.

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