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Profile: George Tiller
George Tiller was a participant or observer in the following events:
Anti-abortion protesters gather on a street corner in Wichita. [Source: Patriotic Thunder (.org)]Anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (see 1986), under the new leadership of the Reverend Keith Tucci, conducts a seven-week occupation of three women’s clinics in Wichita, Kansas. Some 2,700 activists and protesters are arrested during the course of events. [Associated Press, 7/5/1993; Kushner, 2003, pp. 38-39] The occupation is part of what the organization calls the “Summer of Mercy,” which involves a series of clinic blockades, occupations, and harassment of abortion providers, clinic staff, and patients. The event lasts six weeks, and culminates in a rally that fills Wichita’s Cessna Stadium and features conservative Christian activist Dr. James Dobson. One of the clinics targeted is operated by Dr. George Tiller; Tiller will be shot by an anti-abortion activist in 1993 (see August 19, 1993) and murdered by another in 2009 (see May 31, 2009). [Associated Press, 7/5/1993] Some of the Operation Rescue members arrested face charges for attacking police officers trying to keep order at the clinics. Tucci and two other anti-abortion organization leaders, the Reverends Pat Mahoney and Joe Slovenec, are jailed until they agree to comply with Judge Patrick Kelly’s order not to blockade the clinics. Two other Operation Rescue leaders, Randall Terry and Michael McMonagle, are ordered along with Tucci, Mahoney, and Slovenec to leave Wichita; when they refuse to comply with Kelly’s initial order to stop the blockades after agreeing to it, Kelly observes, “You are learning for the first time, I think, that you can’t trust a damned thing they say.” Mahoney retorts, “Hell will freeze over before I surrender my constitutional rights.” He, Tucci, and Slovenec promise to return to Wichita despite the court orders and again protest at the clinics. [Associated Press, 8/31/1991; Associated Press, 7/5/1993] The Bush administration attempts to derail Kelly’s curbing of the anti-abortion activities; the Justice Department files a “friend of the court” brief challenging Kelly’s jurisdiction in the case. “The position we have taken before the Supreme Court of the United States is that the courts do not have jurisdiction, that it is a matter properly handled in state and local courts,” says Attorney General Richard Thornburgh. [Newport News Daily Press, 8/9/1991]
Entity Tags: Richard Thornburgh, US Department of Justice, Patrick Kelly, Operation Rescue, Michael McMonagle, Bush administration (41), George Tiller, James Dobson, Joe Slovenec, Keith Tucci, Pat Mahoney, Randall Terry
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism
Dr. George Tiller, a women’s health doctor and abortion provider, is shot once in each arm outside the Women’s Health Care Services clinic in Wichita, Kansas, by anti-abortion activist Rachelle “Shelley” Shannon. Shannon has a long history of violent attacks against abortion clinics on the West Coast, using both fire and acid to disrupt or close women’s health care clinics. [Washington Post, 1998; Kushner, 2003, pp. 39] Shannon is a member of the violent anti-abortion group Army of God (see 1982). After her arrest, she will tell authorities that her attempt to murder Tiller was a means of “enforcing God’s will.” Police will find a copy of the secret “Army of God Manual” (see Early 1980s) buried in her backyard. [Extremist Groups: Information for Students, 1/1/2006] In 2009, Tiller will be murdered by another anti-abortion activist (see May 31, 2009).
Dr. George Patterson, a woman’s health doctor in Mobile, Alabama, is shot to death behind a downtown X-rated movie theater. Patterson owns and operates four abortion clinics in Florida and Alabama. His murder comes two days after a Kansas abortion provider, Dr. George Tiller, was shot (see August 19, 1993), and Patterson owns the Pensacola, Florida, clinic where Dr. David Gunn was murdered (see March 10, 1993). Patterson had taken over Gunn’s duties in the Pensacola clinic. Patterson’s wallet is not taken, leading police to believe the shooting was politically motivated and not the result of a robbery. Anti-abortion activist Paul Hill of Pensacola says that whether or not Patterson’s murder had anything to do with his abortion provisions, “the killing has stopped, and so it had the desired result.” Hill will himself murder another abortion provider less than a year later (see July 29, 1994). Witnesses tell police that Patterson, who frequented the theater, got into an altercation with another man as that man stood near Patterson’s car. The man fired a pistol shot into the ground, witnesses say, the two struggled, and then the man shot Patterson in the neck. The man jumped into Patterson’s Cadillac, but quickly got out, leapt into his own car, and drove away. Abortion advocates say Patterson liked to keep out of the public eye; Dr. Bruce Lucero, another Alabama abortion provider, says that Patterson “urged me to take a lower profile and said bad things happened to people who were too visible.” Still, Patterson’s clinic had been the frequent target of anti-abortion protests. One member of a protest group, Vicki Kline of Alabama Citizens for Life, says: “I didn’t know him by sight, but just that he did a lot of abortions. I certainly wouldn’t wish him ill, and in fact I prayed for his conversion for a number of years. But I guess he who lives by the sword perishes by the sword.” Two weeks later, Winston McCoy of nearby Eight Mile is arrested for Patterson’s murder. Investigators say they can find no evidence of a connection between Patterson’s murder and his medical practice. [New York Times, 8/29/1993; Associated Press, 9/5/1993]
After the shooting of Dr. George Tiller (see August 19, 1993), and in conjuction with numerous arson and acid attacks on women’s health clinics around the nation, the FBI undertakes an investigation of anti-abortion organizations, focusing on death threats issued by anti-abortion organizations against Tiller and other abortion providers. [Kushner, 2003, pp. 39] In 1984, the Bureau rejected the idea that such attacks constituted terrorism (see December 1984). The investigation, called the Clinic Violence Task Force, results in the brief deployment of some two dozen US Marshals to protect clinics, but the marshals will be called off after a few months on the grounds that the threat has abated (see December 30, 1994 and After). [Time, 1/9/1995]
In the weeks before his murder on May 31, 2009, Dr. George Tiller, who provides late-term abortions as part of his medical practice, has a feeling something major is planned. Other abortion rights advocates across the country will later say they notice an uptick in incidents and threats before the shooting: more people at protests, more clinic vandalism, and more singling-out of doctors. Tiller’s colleague Susan Hill will recall: “I said, ‘George, I think there’s something coming.’ He said, ‘I do, too.’ Strange things were happening in our Mississippi clinic and in North Carolina. He admitted that for the first time, he really believed that something was going to go down.” Warren Hern, one of the handful of remaining doctors who perform late-term abortions, will say he is not receiving the protection he needs from constant harassment at his Boulder, Colorado, clinic: “I’m practicing medicine. I’m doing something legal. Why should I have to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions of dollars, to keep from getting shot and to protect my patients? This is madness.” [Kansas City Star, 6/5/2009]
Dr. George Tiller, one of three doctors in the US that perform late-term abortions, is acquitted of misdemeanor charges that he violated laws governing such abortions. Within minutes of the acquittal, the Kansas Board of Healing Arts announces that it is investigating allegations against Tiller almost identical to the charges rejected by the jury. Prosecutors alleged that in 2003, Tiller had gotten second opinions on late-term abortions, not from an independent doctor as required by law, but from a doctor that was an employee of his. The jury takes an hour to reject the 19 charges. “You would hope it would be over,” says Tiller’s attorney Dan Monnat, “but there is a group of people who want to suppress the constitutional rights of women.” Tiller has maintained that the charges are politically motivated. He has long been a target of violent anti-abortion protests; his clinic was bombed in 1985 and targeted by the 1991 “Summer of Mercy” protests featuring violent demonstrations, and in 1993 he was shot by an anti-abortion activist (see August 19, 1993). [Associated Press, 3/27/2009] Tiller will be murdered by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder several weeks later (see May 31, 2009).
US President Barack Obama issues a terse condemnation of the murder of late-term-abortion-provider Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009) in a statement issued on the same day as the shooting. The president writes: “I am shocked and outraged by the murder of Dr. George Tiller as he attended church services this morning. However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence.” [White House Press Office, 5/31/2009]
Police arrest 51-year-old Scott Roeder of Merriam, Kansas, on the afternoon of May 31 in connection with the shooting of late-term-abortion-provider Dr. George Tiller in his church that morning (see May 31, 2009). Roeder is arrested about 30 miles southwest of Kansas City after eyewitnesses to the murder provide police with the license number of the killer’s getaway car. [CNN News, 5/31/2009] In 1996, Roeder, then a member of the anti-government militia group known as the Freemen, was arrested on charges of possessing explosives (see April 16, 1996). Police say they found no weapon in his possession. Roeder’s uncle Clarence Roeder issues a statement this evening: “This is a tragedy for the Tiller family and we feel so badly about that, that Scott would murder the doctor in the Lutheran church. We are also Lutherans, and that adds a double touch of sadness and irony.” Family members say they haven’t seen Scott Roeder since 2000, and he was in and out of trouble in the 1990s. [KMBC.com, 5/31/2009] In video recorded by local TV station KMBC-TV, neighbors say Roeder was not a friendly person; a landlord says he was “trouble from the start,” and was “radical” and “strange.” His ex-wife Lindsay Roeder says: “He didn’t think of the consequences this would have for anybody. There were children in that church, children that will remember that for the rest of their lives.” [KMBC-TV, 5/31/2009] In 2010, Roeder will be convicted of murdering Tiller (see January 29, 2010).
TV station KMBC reports on the arrest of Scott Roeder in connection with the murder of late-abortion-providing OB/GYN Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009), and mentions an envelope found in the getaway car with the words “Op Rescue” and “Cheryl” and a phone number on it. [KMBC-TV, 6/3/2009] Kansas news blogger Justin Kendall finds out that the number is a direct line to Cheryl Sullenger, a senior policy advisor with Operation Rescue, a hardline anti-abortion activism group. Sullenger served two years imprisonment after bombing an abortion clinic in 1988. She tells Kendall she hasn’t spoken to Roeder recently and says: “You know, he’s somebody who’s been around. My name is on the Internet. It’s on every press release. My phone number is on every press release it. It’s all over the Internet. I don’t know. He probably has lots of people’s phone numbers.” [The Pitch, 6/1/2009] Sullenger says she kept Roeder up to date on court hearings involving Tiller, who was acquitted of failing to properly justify late-term abortions in January 2009: “He would call and say, ‘When does court start? When’s the next hearing?’ I was polite enough to give him the information. I had no reason not to. Who knew? Who knew, you know what I mean?” [Kansas City Star, 6/3/2009] Kendall also reveals that in a May 2007 comment on an Operation Rescue forum, a “Scott Roeder” advocated attending Tiller’s church—the eventual scene of his murder—with “as many people as possible” to ask questions of church leaders and members and bring attention to Tiller. [Scott Roeder, 5/19/2007] In 1996, Roeder, then a member of the anti-government militia group known as the Freemen, was arrested on charges of possessing explosives (see April 16, 1996). In 2010, Roeder will be convicted of murdering Tiller (see January 29, 2010).
Fellow anti-abortionists say that Scott Roeder, arrested in connection with the murder of late-term-abortion-providing OB/GYN Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009), has long been a hard-line opponent of abortion. Kansas anti-abortion activist Regina Dinwittie, who was ordered by a judge to cease using a bullhorn within 500 feet of an abortion clinic in 1995, says: “I know that he believed in justifiable homicide. He very strongly believed that abortion was murder and that you ought to defend the little ones, both born and unborn.” Dinwittie recounts Roeder confronting Dr. Robert Crist, who worked at the Kansas City Planned Parenthood clinic in 1996: “He stared at him for approximately 45 seconds. Then he [Roeder] said, ‘I’ve seen you now.’ Then he turned his back and walked away, and they were scared to death.” [Kansas City Star, 5/31/2009] Dinwittie says she herself is “glad” of Tiller’s death, saying, “I wouldn’t cry for him no more than I would if somebody dropped a rat and killed it.” [Associated Press, 6/1/2009] After attending Tiller’s trial, Roeder told fellow Kansas anti-abortion activist Eugene Frye that the whole process was “a sham.” Frye says, “He felt justice had not been served.” [Kansas City Star, 6/2/2009] “In this situation, Scott viewed Tiller as the violent person,” Frye said. “Scott didn’t see himself as that. He saw this man as perpetrating murder on these innocent babies.… Scott had that conviction.” [Kansas City Star, 6/5/2009] Dave Leach, publisher of the Iowa magazine Prayer and Action News, which has said “justifiable homicide” against abortion providers can be supported, and to which Roeder subscribed, says: “Scott is not my hero in that sense; he has not inspired me to shoot an abortionist. But definitely, he will be the hero to thousands of babies who will not be slain because Scott sacrificed everything for them.” [Associated Press, 6/1/2009] In signing a petition against Tiller in September 2007, someone giving the name Scott Roeder wrote, “Tiller is the concentration camp ‘Mengele’ of our day and needs to be stopped before he and those who protect him bring judgment upon our nation.” [Scott Roeder, 9/3/2009] In 1996, Roeder, then a member of the anti-government militia group known as the Freemen, was arrested on charges of possessing explosives (see April 16, 1996).
A 2002 photo of Dr. George Tiller. [Source: Abortion Essay (.com)]Dr. George Tiller, one of the handful of doctors in the USA willing to perform late-term abortions, is shot to death while attending services at the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas. The 67-year-old doctor is slain in front of several witnesses by a single assailant in the foyer of his church while serving as an usher at about 10 a.m. Law enforcement officials say they believe the murder is “the act of an isolated individual,” but add that they are also looking into the suspected assailant’s “history, his family, his associates.” [CNN News, 5/31/2009; New York Times, 5/31/2009] Tiller’s murderer is eventually identified as anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder (see May 31, 2009).
Murder Caps Off Years of Violence, Harassment - Tiller’s murder comes after repeated harassment and violence against him, his clinic, and his patients. In 1986, the clinic was bombed, causing serious damage. In 1991, 2,000 protesters outside the clinic were arrested over the course of the summer. In 1993, Tiller was shot in both arms outside the clinic (see August 19, 1993). During a trial for performing illegal abortions, in which he was acquitted (see March 27, 2009), Tiller testified that he had spent years under the protection of federal agents after the FBI learned in 1994 that he was a top target on an anti-abortionist assassination list. [Agence France-Presse, 5/31/2009] In recent months, Tiller had been targeted by Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly, who repeatedly referred to him as “Tiller the Killer.” Tiller’s clinic was defaced with a poster titled “Auschwichita,” that claimed Tiller was like Hitler because he espoused Christianity just as Hitler did. The poster also used the term “Tiller the Killer,” and called Tiller an “equal opportunity executioner.” [Sarah Jones, 10/20/2010]
Responses from Family, President, Activists - Responding to Tiller’s murder, President Obama tells the nation, “However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence” (see May 31, 2009). Troy Newman, the president of the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986), says his organization has always sought “nonviolent” measures to challenge Tiller, including efforts in recent years to have him prosecuted for crimes or investigated by state health authorities. “Operation Rescue has worked tirelessly on peaceful, nonviolent measures to bring him to justice through the legal system, the legislative system,” Newman says. “We are pro-life, and this act was antithetical to what we believe.” Newman says that Roeder may have posted on OR-hosted Web sites, but says of the suspect, “He is not a friend, not a contributor, not a volunteer.” The media will quickly unearth deeper ties between OR and Roeder than Newman initially acknowledges (see May 31, 2009). In a statement, the Tiller family says: “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.” [New York Times, 5/31/2009]
Author and pro-choice advocate Cristina Page writes that the murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009) is anything but an isolated incident, and warns that more anti-abortion violence may well be forthcoming. “The pattern is clear and frightening,” she writes. Page notes that the tenure of President Clinton, who supported abortion rights, was marred by a large and ever-escalating number of violent protests and attacks on abortion providers, beginning with the murder of Dr. David Gunn in 1993 (see March 10, 1993); Gunn’s murder, Page writes, “was the beginning of what would become a five-fold increase in violence against abortion providers throughout the Clinton years.” During Clinton’s two terms, six abortion providers and clinical staff members were murdered, and 17 other attempted murders took place. There were 12 bombings or arsons during Clinton’s tenure. From 2001 through 2008, no abortion-related murders, nor attempted murders, occurred, while George W. Bush, an anti-abortion president, was in office. A single clinic bombing took place during Bush’s two terms. Since the election of President Obama, another pro-choice president, a steady escalation of anti-abortion violence has occurred (see February-May, 2009), culminating in the murder of Tiller. Page notes that in the eight years of the Bush administration, abortion and women’s health clinics registered 396 harassing phone calls. In the five months of the Obama administration, that number is at 1401 and rising. Page writes: “Battered women are at greatest danger of being killed by their abusers when they are most strong—that is, when they muster the courage to leave. The same phenomenon may be true in the abusive political abortion debate. The pro-choice movement, specifically our abortion providers, are in the greatest danger of violence when we take power. When the anti-abortion movement loses power, their most extreme elements appear to move to the fore and take control. The murder of Dr. Tiller suggests that violence against abortion providers may be far more linked to the power, or lack thereof, anti-abortion groups have politically than to laws designed to increase penalties against such acts.” She notes the violent rhetoric of numerous anti-abortion organization leaders since Obama’s election, many targeting Obama himself, with one official calling Obama a “radical pro-abortion president” and another saying that Obama will “force Americans to pay for the killing of innocents.” Elizabeth Barnes, executive director of the Philadelphia Women’s Center, says: “When the pendulum swung in the direction of protecting women’s rights, we expected something. The way the antis are reacting has changed, they’re taking more liberties, pressing the boundaries of legal, civil protest.” Page concludes: “Anti-abortion groups will put out carefully worded press statements condemning the murder of Dr. Tiller, as became routine for them during the Clinton years. But unless the rhetoric they choose from now on becomes careful too—they may be the enablers of murder and terror.” [Huffington Post, 5/31/2009]
Former anti-abortion activist Frank Schaeffer, author of the book Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back, says publicly that the religious right anti-abortion movement shares the blame for the murder of late-term-abortion-provider George Tiller (see May 31, 2009). In a column on the “Huffington Post” website, Schaeffer writes that, in books they wrote that were bestsellers on the religious right, both he and his father, Francis Schaeffer, advocated using force to stop abortion if legal avenues failed. His father, he writes, “compared America and its legalized abortion to Hitler’s Germany and said that whatever tactics would have been morally justified in removing Hitler would be justified in trying to stop abortion.” He points out that Paul Hill, who was executed in 2003 for murdering abortion provider Dr. John Bayard Britton and one of his volunteer escorts in 1994, was “an avid follower of my father’s.” Schaeffer, who left the religious right in the mid 1980s, writes that he is “very sorry” for his own part. [Huffington Post, 6/1/2009] In an interview on the “Rachel Maddow Show,” Schaeffer apologizes again for the anti-abortion campaign he helped found and build, and says, “[T]his is what helps unhinge a society.” [MSNBC, 6/1/2009]
A screenshot of Bill O’Reilly, taken during one of his segments featuring his criticism of Dr. George Tiller. [Source: Drive-By Times]Progressive author and blogger David Neiwert compiles three years of video evidence that he says proves Fox News host Bill O’Reilly helped target murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009). Since 2006, Neiwert writes, O’Reilly has targeted the man he called “Tiller the Killer” in recurrent episodes of his Fox television show, The O’Reilly Factor, and on his radio show, accusing Tiller of “executing babies” and recommending that “something” be done to stop Tiller from continuing his practice. In November 2006, O’Reilly told his audience: “If we as a society allow an undefined mental health exception in late-term abortions, then babies can be killed for almost any reason.… This is the kind of stuff that happened in Mao’s China and Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union.… If we allow this, America will no longer be a noble nation.… If we allow Dr. George Tiller and his acolytes to continue, we can no longer pass judgment on any behavior by anybody. What Tiller is doing is that bad.” In the same broadcast, he said: “I don’t care what you think. We have incontrovertible evidence that this man is executing babies about to be born because the woman is depressed… if you don’t believe me, I don’t care.… You are okay with Dr. Tiller executing babies about to be born because the mother says she’s depressed.” O’Reilly claimed that Tiller was a criminal and told his audience, “George Tiller will execute babies for $5,000 if the mother is depressed.” O’Reilly has urged “massive” protests at Tiller’s clinic, once in January 2006, when he said, “There should be thousands of people protesting outside Tiller’s abortion clinic in Wichita.” According to Neiwert, the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (see 1986), which regularly prints O’Reilly’s articles in its newsletter, answered O’Reilly’s call, and O’Reilly used information from Operation Rescue to further lambast Tiller on his shows. In May 2007, O’Reilly described Tiller with the following diatribe: “killer, murder, murderer, barbarian, barbaric procedure, disgrace.” Neiwert writes that O’Reilly is not legally culpable for Tiller’s murder, but he is “morally and ethically culpable.” [Crooks and Liars, 6/1/2009; Salon, 6/1/2009]
Jeffery Pederson, office manager of the Central Family Medicine/Aid for Women Clinic in Kansas City, says that he reported to both the FBI and local police that a man whose description and license plate matched those of Scott Roeder, the man charged with murdering late-abortion-provider Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009), had glued the locks of the clinic doors. One of the reports was made the day before the killing. “I was just sick,” Pederson says. “That was the plate I gave the FBI Saturday [May 30]. I called the FBI back and said, ‘It’s the same car. It’s the same guy.’” FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton says, “When we are notified when vandalism occurs at a clinic, we look into the matter, but we’re not going to comment on anything regarding that incident.” Kansas City police spokesman Michael Golden says the police report resulting from Pederson’s complaint contained “no suspect information.” [Kansas City Star, 6/2/2009] In an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, Pederson says that he told the FBI the vandal’s first name, Scott, which his staff knew from anti-abortion protests at the clinic, as well as giving them his license plate number and security camera videos. He also notes that complaints to the FBI of the same man committing similar vandalism in 2000 resulted in no action other than “talking to” Roeder. [Democracy Now!, 6/4/2009] A New York Times editorial will later criticize the FBI for not being more vigilant. [New York Times, 6/7/2009]
Flowers adorn the sidewalk outside George Tiller’s clinic in Wichita, Kansas, laid in his memory. [Source: AP: Charlie Riedel]The family of George Tiller, a doctor who provided late-term abortions as part of his practice before being murdered (see May 31, 2009), decides that his Wichita, Kansas, clinic will be closed permanently. Nebraska doctor LeRoy Carhart, who worked at the clinic, said he was willing to continue, but the decision is the family’s. Warren Hern, one of the few remaining doctors in the US who performs late-term abortions, says: “This is what they want, they’ve been wanting this for 35 years. The anti-abortion fanatics have to shut up and go home. They have to back off and they have to respect other people’s point of view. This is a national outrage.” Randall Terry, original founder of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, says, “Good riddance,” and predicts that Tiller’s clinic will be remembered similarly to Nazi death camps. In a statement, the Tiller family says, “We are proud of the service and courage shown by our husband and father and know that women’s health care needs have been met because of his dedication and service.” [Associated Press, 6/9/2009]
Journalist Daphne Eviatar writes that during the eight years of the Bush presidency, prosecutions and enforcement of the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE—see May 1994) “cratered,” with Justice Department officials refusing to prosecute or sometimes even investigate complaints of vandalism, harassment, and assault. After the recent murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009), Eviatar and the Washington Independent obtained government data showing that enforcement of the FACE law, and other federal laws designed to protect abortion providers and clinics, declined by 75 percent during the Bush presidency. Between 1994 and 1999, when President Clinton was in office, the Justice Department filed 17 complaints under the FACE Act. Between 2001 and 2009, when President Bush was in office, the Justice Department only filed a single case. Tiller’s own clinic was vandalized numerous times, but complaints against the actions were ignored by the department. Statistics provided by the National Abortion Federation (NAF) show that over 3,200 acts of violence against abortion providers in the US and Canada were committed between 2000 and 2008, and the organization says the number of actual incidents was probably “much higher.” The number does not include threats, vandalism, and harassment. NAF statistics show that at least 17 cases of “extreme” violence against abortion providers in the US were reported, including arson, stabbings, bombings, and fake anthrax mailings. But the Bush Justice Department only prosecuted 11 individuals for these attacks. The two highest-profile anti-abortion prosecutions were those of anthrax mailer Clayton Waagner (see 1997-December 2001) and bomber Eric Rudolph (see April 14, 2005). However, none of Waagner’s or Rudolph’s associates in the extremist organization Army of God (see 1982) were ever prosecuted as accessories to the two activists’ crimes. Neither was the Army of God ever investigated as a potential domestic terrorist organization (see Early 1980s). [Washington Independent, 6/12/2009]
Dan Monnat, who acted as George Tiller’s attorney until the late-term abortion provider was murdered (see May 31, 2009), discusses his relationship with Tiller, and the fears and threats leading up to the murder, in a lengthy interview with the Wichita Eagle. One observation he makes is that, since Barack Obama came into office, federal authorities have been more attentive to complaints of vandalism against abortion clinics. “I think there had been other requests during the previous administration for Dr. Tiller’s clinic to be protected under the FACE [Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances] Act and nobody had done anything,” he says. However, when clinic staff reported vandalism on May 1 that showed “a little more cloak and dagger planning and sophistication” than most acts of vandalism, according to Monnat, the FBI opened an investigation (see June 2, 2009). Federal authorities say they will investigate a possible conspiracy in the Tiller murder. [Wichita Eagle, 6/13/2009]
After announcing plans to commemorate the death and clinic closing of murdered late-term-abortion-providing OB/GYN George Tiller (see May 31, 2009) by laying flowers at the clinic building, hardline anti-abortion group Operation Rescue changes the location of the event to its Wichita headquarters due to an announced counter-protest by abortion rights supporters. However, about ten abortion opponents return to the clinic in the evening to lay hundreds of flowers, after the abortion rights supporters have left. [Operation Rescue, 6/20/2009] Marla Patrick, state co-ordinator for the National Organization for Women, which organized the counter-protest, says: “Our original intent was to prevent them from doing their proverbial dance on a murdered man’s grave. The fact they changed plans tells me we were successful.” [Associated Press, 6/20/2009] Suspicions persist of murder suspect Scott Roeder’s connection with Operation Rescue (see May 31, 2009).
The pro-choice organization Physicians for Reproductive Choice releases two video clips featuring Dr. George Tiller, the abortion provider murdered by an anti-abortion activist (see May 31, 2009). The clips show Tiller explaining why he chose to provide abortions as part of his work. In the clips, Tiller, who called himself a “woman-educated physician,” harked back to his father, a doctor who during his practice offered then-illegal abortions. Tiller said: “The women in my father’s practice for whom he did abortions educated me and taught me that abortion is not about babies, it’s not about families. Abortion is about women’s hopes, dreams, potential, the rest of their lives. Abortion is a matter of survival for women.” By looking through his father’s medical records, Tiller learned that his father denied an abortion to one patient in the 1940s; the woman, a mother of two, told his father, “I can’t take it, can you help me?” Tiller’s father refused. The woman then sought out an unsafe “back-alley” abortion and died in the process. “There are all sorts of dangers [for] postal workers, firemen, police officers,” Tiller said; “everything has a risk to it. I would prefer, personally, to have a challenging, stimulating, and emotionally and spiritually rewarding career that is short, rather than having a long one that is filled with ho-hum, mundane mediocrity—feeling as if you don’t make any difference to people.” [Salon, 1/20/2010; Alex DiBranco, 1/21/2010]
A Wichita, Kansas, jury convicts Scott Roeder of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Dr. George Tiller, one of the few doctors in the country to perform late-term abortions (see May 31, 2009 and May 31, 2009). The jury only deliberates for 37 minutes before handing down its verdict. Roeder admitted shooting Tiller during the trial, said he felt no remorse whatsoever for his actions, and instead justified them by saying he saw no other way to prevent abortions. Roeder will receive a sentence of life in prison; prosecutors say they hope to add restrictions to his sentence that will prevent him from coming up for parole for 50 years. Dr. Tiller’s widow, Jeanne Tiller, says in a statement, “At this time, we hope that George can be remembered for his legacy of service to women (see January 20, 2010), the help he provided for those who needed it, and the love and happiness he provided us as a husband, father, and grandfather.” [New York Times, 1/29/2010; AlterNet, 1/29/2010]
Roeder Traced Belief to Conservative Televangelist - During the trial, Roeder said that he became a fervent Christian in 1992 after watching televangelist Pat Robertson’s 700 Club. He said he fell to his knees at the end of the show, during the customary appeal to viewers to “commit your life to Christ.” From then on, Roeder said, his Christian views went “hand in hand” with his opposition to abortion. Reporter Adele Stan writes, “The interesting thing in all this is not that Roeder converted to Christianity, but that he did so via a ministry whose definition of Christianity is the demonization of those who oppose the views of those who embrace one particular theological strain of Christianity.” [AlterNet, 1/29/2010]
Abortion Rights Organizations Say Roeder's Conviction Sends Powerful Message to Perpetrators of Violence - Abortion-rights organizations applaud Roeder’s conviction, saying it sends a clear and powerful message to those who would commit violence against abortion providers, and add that it also points up the need for more intensive law enforcement and investigations into those conspiring to commit such violence (see May 31, 2009). “They need to take this investigation to the next stage,” says Katherine Spillar of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “We don’t have rigorous enough enforcement.”
Anti-Abortion Organizations Split on Verdict - Some anti-abortion organizations call the trial unfair, and say that the guilty verdict will breed more violence. Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986), denounces Roeder as a “cold, calculated, and despicable” killer, and says Roeder does not represent the anti-abortion movement. However, Randall Terry, the former head of OR, calls the trial a “scam” and contends that Roeder had never been allowed to “really tell his side of the story.” Terry, who now leads a far-right anti-abortion organization called Insurrecta Nex, says Roeder should have been allowed to use descriptions and images of aborted fetuses to help jurors understand why he felt compelled to kill Tiller. Others take Terry’s position even further. “People had said if he were acquitted it would be open season on doctors,” says convicted clinic bomber Michael Bray (see September 1994). “But if you want to see what’s going to stimulate people to do something, you’re inviting more of the same by not giving him a fair trial.” Bray and other abortion opponents say Judge Warren Wilbert erred in not allowing the jury to consider a charge of voluntary manslaughter if it decided that, under Kansas law, “an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.” The judge refused to allow that charge to be considered. [New York Times, 1/29/2010; AlterNet, 1/29/2010]
Entity Tags: Adele M. Stan, George Tiller, Michael Bray, Pat Robertson, Katherine Spillar, Warren Wilbert, Randall Terry, Scott Roeder, Troy Newman, Jeanne Tiller
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism
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