Late-Term Abortion Provider George Tiller Killed in Wichita Church

By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 1, 2009

George R. Tiller, the nation's most prominent provider of controversial late-term abortions, was shot and killed yesterday in the lobby of his Lutheran church in Wichita, where he was serving as an usher.

Hours later, police stopped and apprehended Scott Roeder, 51, of Merriam, Kan., a Kansas City suburb, on Interstate 35. He had been driving a car that had been identified by churchgoers as leaving the scene of the crime. Authorities were returning him last night to Wichita, and he had not been questioned or charged with a crime.

Wichita Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz said all indications were that the assailant acted alone. The FBI and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation are trying to determine whether others were part of the attack and whether the suspect had any connection to antiabortion groups.

Tiller, 67, had performed abortions since the 1970s. He ran the Women's Health Care Services clinic, one of three in the nation to perform abortions after the point when a fetus is considered able to survive outside the womb.

The clinic had been the scene of frequent abortion protests -- some peaceful, some not -- and had served as the national focal point of antiabortion activists during Operation Rescue's "Summer of Mercy" protests in 1991.

Tiller was shot in both arms in 1993 by abortion protester Rachelle "Shelley" Shannon, who remains in prison for the crime. Tiller received protection from federal marshals for a time. In recent years, he declined interviews and public appearances out of fear for his safety.

He had also been a frequent subject of attempted prosecution in a state that has become one of the battlegrounds of attempts to restrict abortion. In March, the physician was acquitted of criminal charges that he performed late-term abortions without properly obtaining a second medical opinion.

The killing brings renewed attention to the abortion issue, which is never far from the public spotlight. It moved to the forefront with the controversy that surrounded President Obama's delivery of a commencement address at the University of Notre Dame. And an opening on the Supreme Court inevitably leads to questions about constitutional protections for the procedure, especially in light of uncertainty about nominee Sonia Sotomayor's stand on the issue.

President Obama issued a statement late in the day saying he was "shocked and outraged" by the killing.

"However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence," Obama said.

Tiller is the fourth abortion provider to be killed since 1993, and the first since Barnett A. Slepian was fatally shot outside Buffalo in 1998.

Tiller's family members said through their attorney: "Today we mourn the loss of our husband, father and grandfather. Today's event is an unspeakable tragedy for all of us and for George's friends and patients. This is particularly heart wrenching because George was shot down in his house of worship, a place of peace."

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