Doctor's Assassination in Kansas Prompts Day of Mourning

Published on
by
The Nation

Doctor's Assassination in Kansas Prompts Day of Mourning

by
John Nichols

A woman participates in a candle light vigil for Dr. George Tiller in Old Town in Wichita, Kansas. Dr. George Tiller, a late term abortion doctor, was gunned down inside the foyer at the Reformation Lutheran Church during morning church services. (AFP/Getty Images/Kelly Glasscock)

Fifteen years ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation discovered a "hit
list" circulating among militant anti-abortion activists.

The top target for assassination on the list
was Dr. George Tiller, a
Kansas physician whose Women's Health Care Services clinic in Witchita
has
been one of only three clinics in the United States that performs
late-term abortions in order to end the pregnancies of women who
doctors determine would suffer irreparable harm by giving birth.

On Sunday morning, in the lobby of the Reformation Lutheran church in
Wichita, Dr. Tiller, an usher who was welcoming people to the house of
worship, was
shot by a gunman who then fled the scene.

The physician, who survived a shooting by a antiabortion protester in
1993 and whose clinic was bombed and seriously damaged in 1986,
died at the scene of the crime
.

A 51-year-old suspect was arrested later in the day, although it will
take time for all the details of the incident to come out.

But the National Abortion Federation identified Dr. Tiller as the eighth
US abortion provider to have been murdered since 1977. According to
the group, seventeen others have been targeted with attempted murder.

Supporters of reproductive rights responded to the murder by mourning
the loss of a doctor who "provided critical reproductive health care
services, including abortion services to women facing some of the most
difficult medical circumstances" and calling upon "the Justice
Department and the Department of Homeland Security [to] root out and
prosecute as domestic terrorists and violent racketeers the criminal
enterprise that has organized and funded criminal acts for decades."

"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," said
NARAL Pro-Choice America president Nancy Keenan. "We want them to know
that they have our support as they move forward in providing these
essential services in the aftermath of the shocking news from Wichita."

Here's the statement issued Sunday afternoon by Cecile Richards,
president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America:

The entire Planned Parenthood family is deeply saddened by
the murder of Dr. George Tiller. While he was not a Planned Parenthood
provider, he 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.

"Dr. Tiller provided his patients with high quality medical care underscored by
a deep compassion. He provided critical reproductive health care
services, including abortion services to women facing some of the most
difficult medical circumstances. He was continually harassed by abortion
opponents for much of his career--his clinic was burned down, he was
shot by a health center protestor, and he was recently targeted for
investigation only to be acquitted by a jury just a few months ago. None
of this stopped George Tiller from his commitment to providing women and
their families with compassionate care that others were unwilling to
offer.

His death is an enormous loss for the patients who relied on him, his
dedicated staff, the medical community and for women and their families
across America.

Here's what Kim Gandy, the president of the National Organization for Women, had to
say:

Women across the country have lost a champion today. The
cold-blooded murder of Dr. George Tiller this morning in church is a
stark reminder that women's bodies are still a battleground, and health
care professionals are on the frontlines.

This kind man and skilled doctor braved blockades, harassment, assault,
and countless threats, including an attempted murder in 1993 when he was
shot in both arms. He knew his life was in constant jeopardy, and that
he would likely die at the hands of an anti-abortion terrorist--yet he
continued to protect his patients and provide safe and legal abortions
to women in often-desperate circumstances. Those who are behind this
murder may believe that the killing of George Tiller will mean that
these women will have nowhere else to turn, but they are wrong. On the
contrary, I believe their depraved acts will inspire another doctor to
take up the torch, and another, and another.

Dr. Tiller's slaying is the most recent in a string of murders in the
service of the anti-abortion cause, and hundreds of people have been
injured or threatened because they provide legal abortion services.
Bringing the killers to justice is not enough--the Justice Department
and the Department of Homeland Security must root out and prosecute as
domestic terrorists and violent racketeers the criminal enterprise that
has organized and funded criminal acts for decades. We call on the new
attorney general Eric Holder and head of Homeland Security Janet
Napolitano to treat these murders in the same way they would treat
politically-motivated domestic terrorism of any other kind and put the
full resources of their two departments behind that effort.

Tomorrow will be a Day of Mourning for Dr. Tiller as well as a National
Day of Commitment for all who believe abortion must remain both safe and
legal--who believe women have the right and indeed the moral
obligation to make their own childbearing decisions. We urge individuals
to wear white armbands all day tomorrow, Monday, June 1, in memory of
Dr. Tiller and as a visible expression of determination to redouble our
commitment to protecting the right to safe and legal birth control and
abortion.

NOW identified the murder of Dr. Tiller as "domestic terrorism."

Conservative activists this spring mounted an aggressive campaign to get
Homeland
Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to withdraw a report
titled
"Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling
Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment" from her department's
official website.

The report was withdrawn from the site, but Napolitano continued to take
hits for standing by its basic premises.

Among the statements that drew the loudest objections from the
conservative camp was an observation that domestic threats might be
posed by "groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single-issue,
such as opposition to abortion."

Whether the report is seen in a new light by Napolitano's critics
following Dr. Tiller's murder remains to be seen. But defenders of
reproductive rights ended the day by calling on the federal government
to renew and expand protections for abortion providers.

"Violence and murder will never end the need for abortion," said Dr.
Suzanne T. Poppema, board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Choice
and Health, in response to Dr. Tiller's murder. "With great sadness and
discouragement we call on the government to reactivate its protection
system for our nation's abortion providers."

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