Kan. abortion provider was polarizing force
By ROXANA HEGEMAN
May 31, 2009
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — When George Tiller was young he dreamed not of being one of the most visible and strident advocates for abortion rights, but of becoming a dermatologist.
The 67-year-old physician, who was shot and killed Sunday in his church, had said his path was altered by a 1970 plane crash that killed his father, mother, sister and brother-in-law.
The former Navy flight surgeon was left with his father's family practice in Wichita, and he soon learned a secret. One of his father's patients asked him whether he, like his father, would perform abortions.
At first, Tiller said, he did not believe his father had risked his medical license by performing then-illegal abortions. But after the Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortions in 1973, Tiller began providing them.
By the time he was killed, his clinic, Women's Health Care Services, was among just three in the nation to perform abortions after 21 weeks of pregnancy, when the fetus is considered viable.
He was a focus of abortion opponents for years, most peaceful, some violent.
"George dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality health care despite frequent threats and violence," his Tiller's widow, four children and 10 grandchildren said in a statement. They called him "a good husband, father and grandfather and a dedicated servant on behalf of the rights of women everywhere."
Tiller's clinic was bombed in 1985, and he was shot in both arms in 1993 by abortion protester Rachelle "Shelley" Shannon of Grants Pass, Ore.
In 1991, the Summer of Mercy protests organized by Operation Rescue drew thousands of anti-abortion activists to Wichita for demonstrations marked by civil disobedience and mass arrests.
Federal marshals protected Tiller during the Summer of Mercy protests, and he was protected again between 1994 and 1998 after another abortion provider was assassinated and federal authorities reported finding his name on an assassination list.
The women's clinic is fortified with bulletproof glass, and Tiller hired a private security team to protect the facility. Once outside the clinic, Tiller was usually seen accompanied by a bodyguard.
Anti-abortion groups condemned Tiller's slaying.
"We value life, completely deplore violence, and are shocked and very upset by what happened in Wichita today," said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life.
Tiller in 1997 said his "gifts of understanding" helped him bring a service to women that aided them in making their dreams of a happy, healthy family a reality.
Tiller, who in his later years largely shunned interviews and public appearances amid his family's increasing fear of violence against him, said abortion was as socially divisive as slavery or prohibition.
But he said the issue was about giving women a choice when dealing with technology that can diagnose severe fetal abnormalities before a baby is born.
"Prenatal testing without prenatal choices is medical fraud," Tiller once said.
Tiller contended that he pioneered the use of sonogram imaging during procedures, a process that has since been adopted by abortion providers nationwide.
In 2002, Tiller founded ProKanDo, a state political action committee, to help elect abortion rights supporters and support abortion-friendly legislation.
His resume includes the National Abortion Federation's highest honor, The Christopher Tietze Humanitarian Award, as well as the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights' Faith and Freedom Award.
Tiller Murder: Ann Coulter's Happy Day?
May 31, 2009
The killing of George Tiller will likely be attributed to some lone and deranged individual, acting on his or her own. (As I write, the suspect remains at large.) Indeed, Operation Rescue, the hold-no-prisoners anti-abortion group, issued a immediate statement from Operation Rescue President Troy Newman, decrying Tiller's shooting as "a cowardly act."
In fact, the hands are many in the death of George Tiller, some more directly than others. Take Ann Coulter, for example. I watched her describe, to a church full of right-wing activists, abortion-clinic doctors and health care personnel who were murdered, as either having been shot, "...or, depending on your point of view, had a procedure performed on them with a rifle." And she's still out there today, spewing the same bile with violent force.
Several weeks ago, President Barack Obama's commencement address at Notre Dame University spurred controversy when anti-abortion activists pressed the Catholic university to withdraw its invitation to the pro-choice president. Coulter responded with the suggestion that for next year's ceremony, "Notre Dame have an abortionist perform an abortion live on stage? They could have a partial-birth abortion for the advanced degrees."
As if that wasn't enough, Coulter added this:
Being such a prestigious institution, Notre Dame could probably get famed partial-birth abortion practitioner George Tiller to do the demonstration at next year's graduation. Obama could help -- inasmuch as Tiller the abortionist is a close friend of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
George Tiller, M.D., was unlikely national figure, but to the religious right, he was Enemy Number One.
Close watchers of national news may have known the name of George Tiller, M.D., from the extraordinary actions of former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, who, three years ago subpoenaed from Tiller's clinic the records of hundreds of women who had undergone abortion procedures there. Kline, a frequent speaker at religious-right gatherings, claimed he needed the records for an investigation as to whether Tiller was following the law, but many in the reproductive health community saw Kline's actions as an attempt to intimidate women who were considering undergoing late-term abortions. Kline's case against Tiller was dismissed in 2006, after Kansas voters booted the AG from office.
Tiller's name became part of inside-the-Beltway parlance with the nomination of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sibelius to head the Department of Health and Human Services, when campaign contributions from Tiller and his associates became a bone of contention in her confirmation process. (She has since been confirmed, and is now HHS secretary.)
So my question to Ann Coulter is: Did George Tiller have "a procedure performed on him by a rifle"? Did he simply get his just desserts?
If the murderer was not a follower of Coulter's, he certainly acted from the sort of hateful sentiment she disseminates in popular and right-wing media.
Consider this comment left by a reader of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's posting of Associated Press coverage of the Tiller murder:
Although I would never do something like this, he got what was coming to him. Now he needs to answer to God for the thousands of innocent babies he has murdered.
Sounds like one of Annie's kids to me.
Abortion provider Tiller shot dead at Kansas church
May 31, 2009
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A suspect is reported in custody in the shooting death of Dr. George Tiller, 1 of the nation's few providers of late-term abortions.
Tiller was shot and killed this morning in a Wichita, Kan., church where he was serving as an usher and his wife was in the choir.
The gunman fled, but Johnson County Sheriff's Deputy Tom Erickson says a suspect is now in custody. Erickson says the suspect is being held in New Century, about 170 miles northeast of Wichita, until Wichita police can question him.
Tiller was long a focus of national anti-abortion groups, including a summer-long protest in 1991. He was shot during morning services at Reformation Lutheran Church. His attorney calls Tiller's killing "an unspeakable tragedy."
Tiller's Women's Health Care Services clinic is 1 of just three in the nation where abortions are performed after the 21st week of pregnancy.
O'Reilly's campaign against murdered doctor
The Fox News star had compared Tiller to a Nazi, called him a "baby killer," and warned of "Judgment Day"
By Gabriel Winant
May 31, 2009
When his show airs tomorrow, Bill O'Reilly will most certainly decry the death of Kansas doctor George Tiller, who was killed Sunday while attending church services with his wife. Tiller, O'Reilly will say, was a man who was guilty of barbaric acts, but a civilized society does not resort to lawless murder, even against its worst members. And O'Reilly, we can assume, will genuinely mean this.
But there's no other person who bears as much responsibility for the characterization of Tiller as a savage on the loose, killing babies willy-nilly thanks to the collusion of would-be sophisticated cultural elites, a bought-and-paid-for governor and scofflaw secular journalists. Tiller's name first appeared on "The Factor" on Feb. 25, 2005. Since then, O'Reilly and his guest hosts have brought up the doctor on 28 more episodes, including as recently as April 27 of this year. Almost invariably, Tiller is described as "Tiller the Baby Killer."
Tiller, O'Reilly likes to say, "destroys fetuses for just about any reason right up until the birth date for $5,000." He's guilty of "Nazi stuff," said O'Reilly on June 8, 2005; a moral equivalent to NAMBLA and al-Qaida, he suggested on March 15, 2006. "This is the kind of stuff happened in Mao's China, Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Soviet Union," said O'Reilly on Nov. 9, 2006.
O'Reilly has also frequently linked Tiller to his longtime obsession, child molestation and rape. Because a young teenager who received an abortion from Tiller could, by definition, have been a victim of statutory rape, O'Reilly frequently suggested that the clinic was covering up for child rapists (rather than teenage boyfriends) by refusing to release records on the abortions performed.
When Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, an O'Reilly favorite who faced harsh criticism for seeking Tiller's records, was facing electoral defeat by challenger Paul Morrison, O'Reilly said, "Now we don't endorse candidates here, but obviously, that would be a colossal mistake. Society must afford some protection for viable babies and children who are raped." (Morrison ultimately unseated Kline.)
This is where O'Reilly's campaign against George Tiller becomes dangerous. While he never advocated anything violent or illegal, the Fox bully repeatedly portrayed the doctor as a murderer on the loose, allowed to do whatever he wanted by corrupt and decadent authorities. "Also, it looks like Dr. Tiller, who some call Tiller the Baby Killer, is spending a large amount of money in order to get Mr. Morrison elected. That opens up all kinds of questions," said O'Reilly on Nov. 6, 2006, in one of many suggestions that Tiller was improperly influencing the election.
Tiller's excuses for performing late-term abortions, O'Reilly suggested, were frou-frou, New Age, false ailments: The woman might have a headache or anxiety, or have been dumped by her boyfriend. She might be "depressed," scoffed O'Reilly, which he dismissed as "feeling a bit blue and carr[ying] a certified check." There was, he proposed on Jan. 5, 2007, a kind of elite conspiracy of silence on Tiller. "Yes, OK, but we know about the press. But it becomes a much more intense problem when you have a judge, confronted with evidence of criminal wrongdoing, who throws it out on some technicality because he wants to be liked at the country club. Then it's intense."
Tiller, said O'Reilly on Jan. 6 of this year, was a major supporter of then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. "I think it's unfairly characterized as just a grip and grin relationship. He was a pretty big supporter of hers." She had cashed her campaign check from Tiller, "doesn't seem to be real upset about this guy operating a death mill, which is exactly what it is in her state, does she?" he asked on July 14 of last year. "Maybe she'll -- maybe she'll pardon him," he scoffed two months ago.
This is where it gets most troubling. O'Reilly's language describing Tiller, and accusing the state and its elites of complicity in his actions, could become extremely vivid. On June 12, 2007, he said, "Yes, I think we all know what this is. And if the state of Kansas doesn't stop this man, then anybody who prevents that from happening has blood on their hands as the governor does right now, Governor Sebelius."
Three days later, he added, "No question Dr. Tiller has blood on his hands. But now so does Governor Sebelius. She is not fit to serve. Nor is any Kansas politician who supports Tiller's business of destruction. I wouldn't want to be these people if there is a Judgment Day. I just -- you know ... Kansas is a great state, but this is a disgrace upon everyone who lives in Kansas. Is it not?"
This characterization of Tiller fits exactly into ancient conservative, paranoid stories: a decadent, permissive and callous elite tolerates moral monstrosities that every common-sense citizen just knows to be awful. Conspiring against our folk wisdom, O'Reilly says, the sophisticates have shielded Tiller from the appropriate, legal consequences for his deeds. It's left to "judgment day" to give him what's coming.
O'Reilly didn't tell anyone to do anything violent, but he did put Tiller in the public eye, and help make him the focus of a movement with a history of violence against exactly these kinds of targets (including Tiller himself, who had already been shot). In those circumstances, flinging around words like "blood on their hands," "pardon," "country club" and "judgment day" was sensationally irresponsible.
Seeking Clues on Suspect in Shooting of Doctor
New York Times
By SUSAN SAULNY and MONICA DAVEY
Published: June 1, 2009
OVERLAND, Kan. — From the one-story house she once shared in this Kansas City suburb with her former husband, now suspected in the death of a doctor who performed late-term abortions, Lindsey Roeder recalled on Monday how he seemed to undergo a drastic personality shift more than a decade ago.
“The man I married disappeared into this other person,” Ms. Roeder, shaken and puffy eyed, said of Scott Roeder, who was being held in a Wichita jail in the death of Dr. George R. Tiller, who was fatally shot at his Wichita church on Sunday. The authorities said charges were expected soon against Mr. Roeder.
“He wanted a scapegoat,” Ms. Roeder said. “First it was taxes — he stopped paying. Then he turned to the church and got involved in anti-abortion.”
But Mr. Roeder, 51, had not been among the people considered most worrisome to abortion rights groups, some of which keep a close eye on anti-abortion groups and their Web sites to monitor what they consider threats, some leaders here said. “Nobody recognizes his name,” said Marla Patrick, a state coordinator for the National Organization for Women in Kansas.
Law enforcement officials here and in Wichita, a conservative town that has for years been a focal point of tense abortion debate in large part because of Dr. Tiller’s clinic, gave little sense of whether they had previously viewed Mr. Roeder as a concern. After he was taken into custody, they indicated that they were only beginning to delve into his past and his associations.
Still, as Mr. Roeder’s relatives and others who had come into contact with him over the years began looking backward, they said they now saw some signs that might have hinted at more serious trouble ahead. For more than 10 years, Mr. Roeder had been linked, at various times and in varying degrees, to the Freemen, a group that rejected federal authority and the banking system, and to people who believe that the killing of abortion providers was justified by the abortions it prevented.
In 2007, someone identifying himself as Scott Roeder posted a message on the Web site of Operation Rescue, a group based in Wichita that had devoted much of its effort to blocking Dr. Tiller from performing late-term abortions. The posting read, in part: “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.” ...