- Category: News & Analysis
- Created on Sunday, 31 May 2009 17:08
- Written by MONICA DAVEY and JOE STUMPE
This was originally posted in nytimes.com.
Doctor Who Performed Abortions Is Shot to Death
By MONICA DAVEY and JOE STUMPE
WICHITA, Kan. — Authorities said they had a suspect in custody Sunday afternoon in the shooting death of George Tiller, a Wichita doctor who was one of the few doctors in the nation to perform late-term abortions.
Dr. Tiller, who had long been a lightning rod for controversy over the issue of abortion and had survived a shooting more than a decade ago, was shot inside his church here on Sunday morning, the authorities said. Dr. Tiller, 67, was shot with a handgun inside the lobby of his longtime church, Reformation Lutheran Church on the city’s East Side, just after 10 a.m. (Central Time). The service had started minutes earlier.
Dr. Tiller, who had performed abortions since the 1970s, had long been a lightning rod for controversy over the issue of abortion, particularly in Kansas, where abortion opponents regularly protested outside his clinic and sometimes his home and church. In 1993, he was shot in both arms by an abortion opponent but recovered.
Dr. Tiller had also been the subject of many efforts at prosecution, including a citizen-initiated grand jury investigation. In the latest such effort, in March, Dr. Tiller was acquitted of charges that he had performed late-term abortions that violated state law.
Shortly after Sunday’s shooting, police said they were searching for a man who had fled in a powder blue Taurus. By mid-afternoon, they said someone had been taken into custody, but offered no additional details.
“This is going to be a larger search than maybe just Wichita,” said Brent Allred, a police captain, who said that the FBI and state police had been called to the scene. Few parishioners remained at the church, a modern, red brick facility that seats about 500 people. Police cars surrounded the building.
Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group that has led opposition to Dr. Tiller’s methods, denounced the killing on Sunday, as did other national groups opposed to abortion. “Our prayers go out to his family and the thousands of people this will impact,” Mr. Newman said in a telephone interview from his home in Wichita.
“Operation Rescue has worked tirelessly on peaceful, non-violent measures to bring him to justice through the legal system, the legislative system,” Mr. Newman said. “I’m a tireless advocate and spokesman for the pre-born children who are dying in clinics everyday. Mr. Tiller was an abortionist. But this wasn’t personal. We are pro life, and this act was antithetical to what we believe.”
Leaders of national abortion rights organizations, meanwhile, expressed outrage. Some described Dr. Tiller as one of the only doctors in the nation who performed third-trimester abortions when the life or health of a mother was at stake, and said that his death would make it even harder for women in such circumstances to end their pregnancies.
“Dr. Tiller was a fearless, passionate defender of women’s reproductive health and rights,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, based in New York, which had worked on a legal case related to Dr. Tiller. “It’s time that this nation stop demonizing these doctors, and start honoring them.”
At St. George Orthodox Christian Church, next door to Dr. Tiller’s church, members said they had often been concerned about being so close to a church that often was the scene of protests because of Dr. Tiller’s presence. Dr. Tiller had attended the church for a long time, they said, and had contributed significantly to construction of the current facility, which was built in about 1996.
“This is a God-fearing community,” said Mickey Cohlmia, who was at services at the neighboring church on Sunday morning and said she was horrified that such a thing had happened in Wichita, a city of about 358,000 in southern Kansas. “How does this scar everybody in his church?”