National exposure brings aid to last link to Dr. Tiller November 2, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Women.
Tags: ann kristin neuhaus, clarke davis, community health, george tiller, late-term abortions, operation rescue, pro choice, roger hollander, tiller murder, women, women's rights
Roger’s note: compare the work of this courageous, community minded physician and citizen with that of the hate-mongering, murderous, hypocritical and patriarchal anti-choice activists who call them selves right to life.
by Clarke Davis
Ann Kristin Neuhaus has lost her license to practice medicine, but she is still engaged in the work of making people healthy on the community level.
Neuhaus, 55, fell victim to Operation Rescue and the anti-abortion political winds that blow in Kansas. She is the last link to Dr. George Tiller, the late-term abortion doctor of Wichita who was murdered one Sunday morning in his church.
The rural Nortonville woman’s license has been revoked by the state Board of Healing Arts but that action has been appealed and is now in the judicial system.
Neuhaus doesn’t know the outcome yet—it may be a couple more months—but she believes the judge will base his decision on the law and not on some political agenda.
As an associate to Tiller, her job was to render a second opinion on late-term abortions as required by state law. The law requires a Kansas physician for the second opinion and since 99 percent of the patients were outside of Kansas and from all parts of the world, he relied on Neuhaus.
No patient ever brought a complaint, but she was charged with “documentation inefficiencies” through the regulatory agency.
In other words a couple of papers weren’t signed or t’s failed to get crossed and i’s dotted.
“I was even accused of not having seen one of the patients, which was ridiculous,” she said.
Tiller’s abortion clinic and his murder have been national news and now the Neuhaus story has national circulation. The Nation and The Huffington Post have done stories on human rights issues and reproductive health and have brought sufficient recognition to her that people want to help and have established an online fund to help in her struggle.
A $93,000 goal was set on indiegogo.com and late last week the amount of donations was nearing $60,000. The Neuhaus story can be found at this location along with links to most all of the news coverage that she has received.
Why that amount? That’s the amount of the bill she was sent after losing her license by the regulatory agency. She is being required to pay for her own prosecution, of which most of the cost came with the state bringing in an expert witness from Washington, D.C., to testify.
The matter is now in the court system and that could be overturned on appeal. Nevertheless, Neuhaus and her husband, Mike Caddell, are struggling financially and trying to hang onto their rural home and 10-acre farm. Her lawyers are working pro bono.
Tiller had been brought up on charges as well, most of which had been thrown out of court and a jury quickly found him not guilty of the remainder. A month later the assassin’s bullet killed him.
Late-term abortions are fewer than 1 percent of the total number of those performed, Neuhaus said. Often it’s a child and of those 12 and under, it’s almost always a case of incest.
Neuhaus has moved on in her professional life. She went back to school to acquire a master’s degree in public health and is now employed as a research instructor at the University of Kansas Medical Center’s Department of Family Medicine.
“I’m working on six or seven different projects involving community health,” she said.
One is the development of an informational kiosk made available in medical clinics that tend to serve the poor. This is to help them educate themselves on the importance of a colonoscopy for cancer screening.
“We spend time on the Indian reservations in this area,” she said.
This is for the purpose of doing health screenings, dealing with diabetes on the community level, and checking on the general environment for all aspects of health care.
“Do they have access to good food?” she asked. “That’s something rural and urban people often have in common is the lack of access to good nutritious food.”
Her department works through the churches in the African-American communities. She noted that sometimes people are disenfranchised and fatalistic about health care and they don’t need to be.
If she could be a benevolent dictator for 10 years, Neuhaus said she would end obesity and the health problems that come with it. There would be no junk food, plenty of bicycle trails, and opportunities for people to grow healthy food.
“There are many social detriments to health that are often overlooked,” she said. She noted that crime and stress and financial difficulties add up to lots of health problems when the community is not healthy.
She said it does not help to have a preachy attitude from the affluent looking down and addressing them as “you people,” an attitude that is not helpful and lacks understanding.
Even in her years of private practice, Neuhaus was serving mostly those who could not afford health care and insurance. She credits her stepfather with shaping her opinions of the world and caring for others.
Her mother divorced when she was 5 years old and married a man in the foreign service. She lived in a number of European countries and at one point was schooled with the children of ambassadors from nations around the world.
Her stepfather took her to the Dachau concentration camp at the age of 5 and showed her the ovens used by the Nazis to burn corpses. His father had worked alongside Oskar Shindler in saving Jews from the Nazi terror.
“I never experienced prejudice or hate until I was 13 and living in southwest Kansas,” she said.
There were black people and Mexicans in Hugoton and she never could understand the racist attitudes she encountered.
“None of it ever made sense,” she said.
The generosity of people across the country donating to her cause is also overwhelming for Neuhaus.
“What people have done is over the moon,” she said.
Neuhaus and her husband intend to stay in their rural Jefferson County home where they are raising their son, Tristan, a junior at Jefferson County North High School.
The old house needs some paint and sometimes the well runs dry, but it’s home. It’s home for the three of them along with three horses, a goat, some chickens, and several dogs and cats.
With the donations of money they hope to preserve their rural home so it will be there for future generations.
“We are pretty well rooted here,” she said.
One Year Later: Honoring Dr. George Tiller May 25, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Women.
Tags: abortion, abortion rights, anti-choice, goerge tiller, leroy carhart, nancy keenan, nebraska legislature, operation rescue, pro choice, reproductive health, roger hollander, women, women's health, women's rights
add a comment
We are days away from marking the one-year anniversary of the Sunday morning Scott Roeder walked into Dr. George Tiller’s church in Kansas and shot him at close range.
After his murder, many women and men came to our blog to express their appreciation for what Dr. Tiller had done for their sisters, wives, relatives, and friends. Many of these women had found themselves in desperate and heart-breaking circumstances and turned to Dr. Tiller in their time of need.
Karen from Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania gives us one example of what Dr. Tiller meant to women:
Dr. Tiller, you saved my niece Jeanette’s life, you helped our family through one of the darkest, most desperate and unthinkable moments we ever experienced. When we thought there was no where to turn, there you were. I called you the ‘Wizard,’ because of the incredible journey we had taken to find you, in Kansas. You are, and will always be my Hero.
It makes me angry when I think about how Roeder sat through his trial without showing any remorse for his actions. He reached new lows of callousness and disrespect for the Tiller family and for families like Karen’s. It’s equally infuriating that the same people who spent years harassing Dr. Tiller and his patients outside his health center showed no remorse. They rejected the notion that their pattern of inflammatory rhetoric could lead to violence by the more extreme elements of their own anti-choice movement.
We didn’t have to wait long for the intimidation to resume. Less than four months after Dr. Tiller’s murder, the members of the notorious Operation Rescue picked up their signs and bullhorns and moved 328 miles north to Omaha, Nebraska. Dr. Tiller’s murder didn’t change their tactics; they just changed their mailing address — and their target.
They took aim at Dr. LeRoy Carhart, who is one of the few abortion providers to whom women in heart-breaking circumstances can turn. Many of these women have wanted and cherished pregnancies but something goes wrong, such as a fetal anomaly or a condition that threatens their life or health. These circumstances are of no interest to Operation Rescue. Their goal is to close his clinic, too.
I am proud to report that pro-choice Americans in the heartland sent a strong message to Operation Rescue. On the day of Operation Rescue’s protest, pro-choice activists outnumbered their protesters two to one.
Unfortunately, our numbers weren’t as strong when it came to the Nebraska Legislature, where anti-choice lawmakers hold an overwhelming advantage. What Operation Rescue couldn’t achieve through violence and harassment, anti-choice politicians in Nebraska made possible through legislation. Just this spring, the state enacted a divisive and invasive anti-choice law aimed directly at threatening Dr. Carhart and the women he serves.
In a further sign of disrespect for women, the National Right to Life Committee’s Mary Spaulding Balch told Politico how her group capitalized on tragedy for political gain:
When George Tiller was killed, LeRoy Carhart had national attention…That alerted Speaker Mike Flood to the problem in Nebraska and he worked to address that.
An anti-choice operative’s callous words that reduce women in tragic situations to pawns in a political game are outrageous — and we cannot let them go unchecked.
As we mark the one-year anniversary of Dr. Tiller’s murder, those of us in America’s pro-choice majority must be vigilant about telling our friends and family that what happened in Kansas was not an isolated incident. It is a part of an ongoing campaign of threats — in legislative chambers and outside abortion providers’ offices and homes — to make it more difficult and dangerous for women to access abortion care.
Frankly, we cannot control anti-choice lawmakers or Operation Rescue, but we can call out their outrageous statements and aggressive tactics.
We can take inspiration from the pro-choice activists who stared down anti-choice demonstrators in Omaha. Not all of us can go to Nebraska, but we can join others in sending messages of support to Dr. Carhart. We can share our reasons for being pro-choice and standing up for women with friends and family. We can pledge to only vote for pro-choice candidates at all levels of government, so that groups like the National Right to Life Committee can’t coerce their followers into attacking women through the legislative process.
We can — and will, I have no doubt — pay tribute to Dr. Tiller, his family, and the women he served by speaking openly and honestly about our pro-choice values.
As we speak out, let’s always remember to use the two powerful words that guided Dr. Tiller’s work: Trust Women.
© 2010 Huffington Post
Nancy Keenan began her tenure as president of NARAL Pro-Choice America in December 2004. Committed to working on behalf of America’s pro-choice majority, Nancy took the reigns of the organization pledging to protect and defend the American values of freedom, privacy and personal responsibility.
Tags: abortion, adele m. stan, anti-choice, antiabortion, catholic bishops, catholic church, george tiller, insurrecta nex, leroy carhart, missy smith, operation rescue, randall terry, religion, roe v. wade, roger hollander
add a comment
As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops renews its offensive on the anti-abortion language in the heath-care legislation soon to be finalized by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, four of those bishops appear to have given their seal of approval to a group whose leader gloated over the killing of Dr. George Tiller, a gynecologist who performed late-term abortions in Kansas, and called on anti-abortion activists to next “get” Dr. LeRoy Carhart, who performs similar services at his Nebraska clinic.
Missy Smith, a stalwart member of Insurrecta Nex — Randall Terry’s merry band of anti-choice hecklers and street clowns — announced plans yesterday to conduct a training session for her own organization, Wake Up, at Washington, D.C.’s John Paul II Cultural Center, an institution presided over by four bishops, including Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington. (The other members include John Myers, archbishop of Newark, N.J.; Bernard Harrington, bishop of Winona, Minn.; and Cardinal Adam Maida, the retired archbishop of Detroit.) Among the speakers on Smith’s program is Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, who famously called Tiller “a mass murderer,” adding that Tiller, who was killed in cold blood, had “reaped what he sowed.” Susan Gibb, communications director for the archdiocese of Washington, refused comment on whether Archbishop Wuerl approved of the use of the Cultural Center by Smith and Terry, though she made the point that it was Smith, not Terry, who booked the facility.
George Tiller’s patients often traveled long distances to avail themselves of his services, since he was one of a handful of doctors willing to perform late-term abortions, usually to women who learned late in their pregnancies that the fetuses they were carrying were severely deformed and would not survive very long, if at all, outside the womb. For prospective parents left to make excruciating choices, Tiller provided services believed to promote healing, such as funerary services for the fetus, as well as allowing the parents to be photographed with the fetus. Anti-choice extremists often point to these acts of mercy as evidence of Tiller’s “evil”; he is misrepresented as a bloodthirsty criminal who took joy in committing macabre acts with “dead babies.”
Since Tiller’s murder, one of the few remaining abortion providers to offer late-term abortions is Dr. LeRoy Carhart of Nebraska, for whom two Supreme Court cases about the issue of late-term abortions are named.
Two weeks after Tiller was gunned down while ushering a church service, Missy Smith addressed a June training session for Insurrecta Nex activists.
“So, we’re all here to march on and to stop the slaughter of these little babies,” she said. “And to tell the truth, the biggest part is to use — tell everyone what Tiller did. Most of America doesn’t know that he took these dead babies and dressed them up in christening dresses and took their pictures. Most Americans believe, because of the liberal press, that he was a wonderful, martyred person, you know, who did — you have to kill a baby, don’t you, when a woman’s nine months pregnant — you just have to do it? I mean, most people believe that. And now we’ve got to get Carhart.”
With that, she left the podium in a meeting room at the Arlington, Virginia Doubletree Hotel to appreciative applause.
I learned of Missy Smith’s planned appearance at the Cultural Center from a press release sent by Randall Terry, who noted that he would be a speaker on Smith’s program, along with two of his regular activists. The program coincides with the annual March for Life in Washington, an event where anti-choice activists mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.
At present, no one appears to want to take responsibility for allowing Smith’s group to contract the facilities at the John Paul II Cultural Center. When I called the Cultural Center in the evening (I didn’t receive Terry’s release until after closing time), I could find no one in the directory whose obvious responsibility was facilitating use of the center by outside groups. I left a message for a Brother John who oversees something called the Intercultural Forum. I received a voice mail from Brother John in the morning directing me to contact Missy Smith with any questions about Randall Terry’s inclusion on her program.
I called Smith, as well as John Sanders, the director of facilities for the John Paul II Cultural Center, but as of press time I had not heard back from either of them.
Archbishop Donald Wuerl sits on the center’s four-bishop executive committee, so his spokesperson seemed an appropriate contact for any comment the archbishop wanted to make about the use of the Cultural Center by Missy Smith and Randall Terry. But archdiocese communications director Susan Gibbs grew testy with me when I pressed for comment as to whether or not the archbishop approved of Smith and Terry’s training session at the center, saying only that the executive committee has nothing to do with the day-to-day operation of the Cultural Center. When I pressed to get a comment on whether Wuerl judged Terry to be an appropriate guest for the center, Gibb simply repeated her claim that the executive committee is not involved in the Cultural Center’s bookings.
“I’m sorry if you don’t understand that,” Gibbs said. But she didn’t disavow Smith or Terry in the archbishop’s name, and instead used Smith as her line of defense, saying that it wasn’t Randall Terry who booked the facilities, it was Missy Smith. The same Missy Smith who told Insurrecta Nex activists that it was time to “get” LeRoy Carhart, presumably in the same way that George Tiller was gotten.
Randall Terry, the antiabortion extremist who founded Operation Rescue (and then was ousted from the group) has been a busy man since moving to Washington, D.C. last year. Most of his activities have focused on President Barack Obama: heckling the president and his nominees in various venues, and performing street theater that features a white man wearing an Obama mask while turning a bullwhip on his confederates. Another Terry street-theater act involves the stabbing of plastic baby dolls and the profligate use of fake blood.
On the day that Tea Party activists rallied against health-care reform legislation, Terry staged a skit outside a Senate office building in which he was costumed as the devil, while activists donning the masks of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid pretended to be writhing in the fires of Hell.
It was Terry who organized the heckling of the president during his address at Notre Dame, a Catholic university, and Terry who dogs Catholic bishops he deems insufficiently pro-life with protests outside their chanceries. Missy Smith was arrested for civil disobedience at Notre Dame with Terry and former U.N. Ambassador Alan Keyes. Since that time, Smith told the gathering of Insurrecta Nex activists last June, she had joined Terry in “six or seven protests.”
This is the same Randall Terry who sent his minions into the Senate to disrupt the nomination hearings of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a practicing Catholic.
While it’s likely that the bishops who lead the John Paul II Cultural Center were unaware of Smith’s partnership with Terry when she booked the center’s conference facilities for her training session, the refusal of Archbishop Wuerl’s spokesperson to disavow them is troubling, especially given Terry’s violent rhetoric and racist depictions of the president.
For Randall Terry, a talented strategist, the controversy surrounding Missy Smith’s training session at the John Paul II Cultural Center is a win whether the bishops allow her to hold the training or not. If they kick her out, they bolster Terry’s argument that the bishops aren’t really committed to “protecting the unborn;” if they permit his group to use the facilities, Insurrecta Nex — of which Missy Smith is an integral part — receives a de facto seal of approval from the church.
Dr. Tiller’s Murder: Fascist Terrorism June 2, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Health, Right Wing, Women.
Tags: abortion, abortion services, answer coalition, anthrax, anti-women terrorists, back-alley abortion, bill o'reilly, fascist terrorism, fbi agents, fbi infiltration, george tiller, mara verheyden-hilliard, misogyny, naral, operation rescue, planned parenthood, religious bigotry, reproductive health, reproductive health clinics, right wing, right wing bigotry, roger hollander, tyler froatz, women's health
1 comment so far
By Mara Verheyden-Hilliard
Attorney and co-founder of the Partnership for Civil Justice
Statement on behalf of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition
George Tiller after being shot
The rampant terrorism and violence against women and health care professionals who dare to provide women’s health services took its latest victim when Dr. George Tiller was brutally gunned down in his church on Sunday in Wichita, Kansas.
The government and the corporate media coddle these anti-women terrorists.
In the last 30 years, right-wing bigots have carried out 5,800 reported acts of violence against women’s health care providers, including targeted assassination, bombings, arsons, death threats, kidnappings and assaults, according to NARAL.
Hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions, of women have been assaulted and harassed by the right wing as they tried to see a doctor.
The Fascist Strategy
By targeting and intimidating health care providers, the fascist movement hopes to effectively ban abortion services in the United States. If they were to succeed, not only would it deprive women of their fundamental right to control their own bodies, it would be a health care catastrophe. One out of three women in the U.S. have an abortion by the time they are 45, according to Planned Parenthood.
The only question is whether women will be maimed or left to die because they cannot access quality health providers. Dr. Tiller took over his medical practice from his father, a doctor who began performing abortions himself in the 1940s after a patient whom he refused to help died in a back-alley abortion.
Dr. Tiller, like many other health care heroes, kept providing abortion services to women despite the threats. He had been shot previously in both arms; had his office bombed, shot at and frequently vandalized; and he and his patients were routinely threatened, intimidated and attacked.
Dr. Tiller kept providing health care services because, as his family said in a statement, he was “a dedicated servant on behalf of the rights of women everywhere.” He was past retirement age, with four children and 10 grandchildren, and he lived under a virtual military siege because of the terrorist threats. But he didn’t stop.
It Wasn’t Just the Gunman
This assassination is the culmination of a coordinated assault by the right wing. This included the Kansas Attorney General’s efforts to prosecute Tiller, the demonization of Dr. Tiller by Bill O’Reilly, who ran dozens of hit pieces targeting him as a “murderer,” and by “Operation Rescue,” which prominently called him “America’s Doctor of Death.”
In the aftermath of the murder, amid reports that the killer had worked with them, Operation Rescue scrambled to take down their prominent “Tiller Watch” webpage, apparently sanitizing it, while their founder continued to call Dr. Tiller a “mass murderer” and held a press conference to do so.
The New York Times coverage of the murder was pathetic. On its front page it stated, “Officials offered little insight into the motive, saying that they believed it was ‘the act of an isolated individual’ but that they were also looking into ‘his history, his family, his associates.'”
The decision to question or suggest uncertainty as to the killer’s “motive” reflects an effort to depoliticize and isolate this most violent of political acts and to disconnect the killing from right-wing groups who seek as their goal to deprive women of their rights using assassination as they see fit. Some right-wing groups and leaders have been quick to announce that the killing was not a homicide, but a justifiable act of “salvation.”
The mass media has leapt to the defense of many anti-woman, right-wing groups who directly targeted Dr. Tiller by giving their spokespeople more time in the wake of Dr. Tiller’s death to express their primary grievance with his murder — that it might make them look bad.
Fake Terrorism and Real Terrorism
In recent months, Dr. Tiller reported to the FBI that the threats were increasing.
Obviously, stopping real terrorism is not a “priority” for the FBI, which has allocated limitless resources to infiltrate and sabotage lawful political organizing all over the country. The FBI and police have disrupted and spied on progressive organizations that built a powerful anti-war movement in the last years. They have paid agents provocateur to infiltrate and frame up organizations and individuals engaged in dissent.
Nor is any mosque or Muslim community center safe from FBI infiltration and disruption activities. From Southern California to upstate New York, undercover FBI agents are trying to entrap Muslim youth into “terrorist” plots that emanate from the FBI itself.
The U.S. government’s use of the terrorist label is used to frame up and imprison Muslims in the United States. Just last week in Dallas, representatives of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) were sentenced to as much as 65 years in prison for the “terrorist” crime of raising money for desperately needed humanitarian relief. HLF had been the largest Muslim charity in the U.S. The charity’s “crime” was that the humanitarian relief was going to those starving and dying in Gaza and elsewhere in Palestine. The U.S. government has determined that it is an act of terrorism to get medicine to hospitals and food to children when U.S. foreign policy supports the strangulation of a civilian population for geostrategic reasons.
When Anthrax Threats Were No Big Deal
Yet, when it comes to the right-wing organizations that engage in violence and threats, the FBI and the corporate media are conspicuously mute.
For instance, shortly after the September 11 attacks, letters containing anthrax were sent to media and Senate offices. Hundreds of anthrax threats were also sent to reproductive health clinics, according to the website of NARAL, which states: “Between October 15 and 23, 2001, more than 250 abortion and family planning clinics in 17 states and the District of Columbia received letters purporting to contain anthrax. In each instance, a powdery substance was accompanied by a letter stating, ‘You have been exposed to anthrax. We are going to kill all of you.’ An additional 270 letters were sent to clinics during the first week of November.”
Very few people know about this kind of extreme terrorist intimidation. Can you imagine the reaction of the FBI and the media if anti-war organizers or Arab Americans were linked to anthrax threat letters? There would be screaming headlines and nationwide police sweeps.
Coddling Right Wing Terrorists
But in 2007, in Washington, D.C., when a man showed up at an immigrant rights rally, covertly carrying a map of the demonstration area with sight lines drawn on it, with a cache of weapons including a converted fully automatic M1-Carbine and apparent plans to massacre participants, you probably never heard about it. Why? Because the man, Tyler Froatz, was a right-wing vigilante bent on attacking immigrants and their supporters.
Froatz, who organized with the Free Republic and acted as a spokesman for the Minuteman, stalked a May Day demonstration in 2007. He was arrested after he was confronted by a courageous young woman working as an organizer with the ANSWER Coalition. She was then assaulted by him when she objected to the racist signs he was posting depicting the graphic slaughter of immigrants, including pregnant women and children.
In addition to the weapons Froatz brought with him, in his apartment was found a large arsenal of rifles, handguns, ammunition, a Molotov cocktail, a hand grenade and a 100,000-volt taser gun.
So is Froatz in the special terrorist prisons in Terre Haute or Marion? No. He was released to the custody of his parents in Connecticut and thereafter allowed to plead to a minor weapons charge. The U.S. Attorney’s Office never charged him with any terrorism-related offense or hate-crimes offense. And today, members of Froatz’s group, the Free Republic, celebrated this latest cold-blooded terrorist murder of Dr. Tiller in their postings.
More than Bullet-Proof Vests and Federal Marshals: A New Strategy is Needed
The murder of Dr. Tiller is a misogynist attack against all women. It is also the foreseeable outcome of a climate of bigotry and vilification fostered by the right wing, normalized by the media and the U.S. government.
A political calculus has been made by the government as to what will be deemed terrorism: what political acts will be crushed and what political violence will be supported or tolerated. As it stands, there is no mobilized effective counter to this fascist violence and the threat that it poses. It’s time for a new strategy and a new challenge. There must be a multi-faceted mobilization of women themselves and of all those men who stand with us against anti-woman bigotry.
Kan. abortion doc killed in church; suspect held May 31, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Religion, Right Wing, Women.
Tags: abortion clinics, abortion doctor, anti-abortion activists, anti-abortion bigots, anti-choice, anti-choice bigots, assassination, george tiller, late abortion, naral, operation rescue, religious bigots, roger hollander, roxana hegeman, scott roeder, women's health, women's rights
add a comment
WICHITA, Kan. – Dr. George Tiller, one of the nation’s few providers of late-term abortions despite decades of protests and attacks, was shot and killed Sunday in a church where he was serving as an usher.
The gunman fled, but a 51-year-old suspect was detained some 170 miles away in suburban Kansas City three hours after the shooting, Wichita Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz said.
Although Stolz refused to release the man’s name, Johnson County sheriff’s spokesman Tom Erickson identified the detained man as Scott Roeder. He has not been charged in the slaying and was expected to be taken to Wichita for questioning.
Police did not release a motive for the shooting. But the doctor’s violent death was the latest in a string of shootings and bombings over two decades directed against abortion clinics, doctors and staff.
Long a focus of national anti-abortion groups, including a summer-long protest in 1991, Tiller was shot in the foyer of Reformation Lutheran Church. Tiller’s attorney, Dan Monnat, said Tiller’s wife, Jeanne, was in the choir at the time.
The slaying of the 67-year-old doctor is “an unspeakable tragedy,” his widow, four children and 10 grandchildren said in statement. “This is particularly heart-wrenching because George was shot down in his house of worship, a place of peace.”
The family said its loss “is also a loss for the city of Wichita and women across America. George dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality health care despite frequent threats and violence.”
Stolz said all indications were that the gunman acted alone, although authorities were investigating whether he had any connection to anti-abortion groups.
Tiller’s Women’s Health Care Services clinic is one of just three in the nation where abortions are performed after the 21st week of pregnancy. The clinic was heavily fortified and Tiller often traveled with a bodyguard, but Stolz said there was no indication of security at the church Sunday.
Anti-abortion groups denounced the shooting and stressed that they support only nonviolent protest. The movement’s leaders fear the killing could create a backlash just as they are scrutinizing U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, whose views on abortion rights are not publicly known.
“We are shocked at this morning’s disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down,” Troy Newman, Operation Rescue‘s president, said in a statement. “Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice. We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning.”
President Barack Obama said he was “shocked and outraged” by the murder. “However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence,” he said.
At Tiller’s church, Adam Watkins, 20, said he was sitting in the middle of the congregation when he heard a small pop at the start of the service.
“We just thought a child had come in with a balloon and it had popped, had gone up and hit the ceiling and popped,” Watkins said.
Another usher came in and told the congregation to remain seated, then escorted Tiller’s wife out. “When she got to the back doors, we heard her scream, and so we knew something bad had happened,” Watkins said.
He said the service continued even after an associate pastor announced that Tiller had been injured. “We were just really shocked,” he said. “We were kind of dumbfounded. We couldn’t really believe it had happened.”
Tiller had in the past endured threats and violence. A protester shot Tiller in both arms in 1993, and his clinic was bombed in 1985. More recently, Monnat said Tiller had asked federal prosecutors to step up investigations of vandalism and other threats against the clinic out of fear that the incidents were increasing and that Tiller’s safety was in jeopardy. Stolz, however, said police knew of no threats connected to the shooting.
In early May, Tiller had asked the FBI to investigate vandalism at his clinic, including cut wires to surveillance cameras and damage to the roof that sent rainwater pouring into the building.
In 1991, the Summer of Mercy protests organized by Operation Rescue drew thousands of anti-abortion activists to this city for demonstrations marked by civil disobedience and mass arrests.
Tiller began providing abortion services in 1973. He acknowledged abortion was as socially divisive as slavery or prohibition but said the issue was about giving women a choice when dealing with technology that can diagnose severe fetal abnormalities before a baby is born.
Nancy Keenan, president of abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, issued a statement praising Tiller’s commitment.
“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. 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,” Keenan said.
The last killing of an abortion doctor was in October 1998 when Dr. Barnett Slepian was fatally shot in his home in a suburb of Buffalo, N.Y. A militant abortion opponent was convicted of the murder.
Tiller’s clinic is fortified with bulletproof glass, and Tiller hired a private security team to protect the facility. Once outside the clinic, Tiller was routinely accompanied by a bodyguard.
At a recent trial, he told jurors that he and his family have suffered years of harassment and threats and that he knew he was a target of anti-abortion protesters.
Federal marshals protected Tiller during the 1991 Summer of Mercy protests, and he was protected again between 1994 and 1998 after another abortion provider was assassinated and federal authorities reported finding Tiller’s name on an assassination list.
Tiller remained prominent in the news, in part because of an investigation begun by former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, an abortion opponent.
Prosecutors had alleged that Tiller had gotten second opinions from a doctor who was essentially an employee of his, not independent as state law requires. A jury in March acquitted Tiller of all 19 misdemeanor counts.
“I am stunned by this lawless and violent act, which must be condemned and should be met with the full force of law,” Kline said in a statement. “We join in lifting prayer that God’s grace and presence rest with Dr. Tiller’s family and friends.”