Kansas physician who performed abortions killed
■ George R. Tiller, MD, performed second- and third-trimester abortions. He had survived a 1993 shooting by an anti-abortion activist.
By Kevin B. O’Reilly — Posted June 2, 2009
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A Wichita, Kan., ob-gyn who specialized in late-term abortions was shot dead May 31 while serving as an usher for Sunday services at Reformation Lutheran Church, police said.
George R. Tiller, MD, 67, had long been a target of anti-abortion activists because he performed elective second-trimester abortions and offered second- and third-trimester therapeutic abortion care. Dr. Tiller's clinic, Women's Health Care Services PA, was routinely picketed and was bombed in 1986. In August 1993, Dr. Tiller was shot in both arms by an abortion opponent.
But Dr. Tiller persevered in his controversial specialty. In a 2003 American Medical News article, he reflected on the 30 years since Roe v. Wade and the 30th year of his abortion practice.
"Although there have been some hardships, I have had more expressions of love," he said.
About four hours after the shooting, two Johnson County (Kansas) deputies arrested 51-year-old Scott P. Roeder, officials said. The Merriam, Kan., resident was driving a powder-blue Ford Taurus, described by witnesses as the vehicle leaving the murder scene.
At this article's deadline, Roeder was being held in Sedgwick County Jail on suspicion of murder and aggravated assault in Dr. Tiller's death. At a news briefing June 1, Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston said the slaying would be handled as a state, not federal, case.
Regina Dinwiddie, a Kansas City anti-abortion activist, told The Kansas City Star that she knew Roeder. He "believed in justifiable homicide ... that abortion was murder and that you ought to defend the little ones, both born and unborn," she told the newspaper.
In June 2007, then Kansas Attorney General Paul J. Morrison charged Dr. Tiller with violating a 1998 statute barring doctors from performing late-term abortions without a documented referral from an unaffiliated physician. A Wichita jury found him not guilty of the charges in March this year.
Medical community stunned
American Medical Association Board of Trustees Chair Joseph M. Heyman, MD, expressed shock at the killing.
"Violence is never an acceptable response to resolving the philosophical, moral and ethical differences we may share as a nation," Dr. Heyman said in a statement.
The AMA has a number of abortion-related policies, including a policy opposing violence directed at abortion clinics "as an infringement of the individual's right of access to the services of such centers."
Many anti-abortion groups condemned the killing.
"We are saddened by this deplorable act," said Margie Shealy, spokeswoman of the 15,000-member Christian Medical & Dental Assns., which oppose abortion. "Our sympathies go out to the family and friends of Dr. Tiller."
Dr. Tiller was a former board member of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, which favors abortion rights. Suzanne T. Poppema, MD, chair of the group's board, said in a statement the killing will not "lessen the determination of the thousands of physicians who help women end pregnancies they cannot continue."
She called on the government to "reactivate its protection system for our nation's abortion providers."
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder ordered increased security for some individuals and facilities the day after the shooting, the Associated Press reported.