Profession

First-degree murder charge brought in slaying of Kansas ob-gyn

The suspect has been barred from any contact with family or friends of the victim, George R. Tiller, MD.

By Kevin B. O’Reilly — Posted June 3, 2009

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Abortion opponent Scott P. Roeder, 51, was charged June 2 with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Wichita, Kan., ob-gyn George R. Tiller, MD. He also was charged with two counts of aggravated assault in the case.

Sedgwick County District Judge Ben Burgess told Roeder that orders of protection prohibit him from contacting Dr. Tiller's family or friends or the two men whom Roeder allegedly threatened at gunpoint in the foyer of the Reformation Lutheran Church, where the May 31 shooting occurred.

In video circulated of the court appearance, the balding, heavyset Roeder appeared calm as Burgess read the charges. Roeder's request for a court-appointed lawyer was granted, and Burgess said Roeder would hear from the public defender's office within 24 to 48 hours.

Roeder, who is being held without bail, was not asked to enter a plea. He did not say anything regarding his guilt or innocence. His next scheduled court appearance is June 16, Burgess said.

Dr. Tiller was fatally shot while serving as an usher during Sunday services, police said. He 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.

Despite the attacks, 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 practice.

"Although there have been some hardships, I have had more expressions of love," he said.

It has been widely reported that, with Dr. Tiller's slaying, there are now only two remaining U.S. physicians who perform the ethically charged and clinically complicated late-term abortions for which Dr. Tiller was known.

About four hours after the shooting, two Johnson County (Kansas) deputies arrested Roeder, officials said. The Merriam, Kan., resident was driving a powder-blue Ford Taurus, described by witnesses as the vehicle leaving the murder scene.

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 that 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.

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