Page 2 of 3   <       >

Tiller's Killing Puts Abortion Issue Back in Spotlight

Hundreds gathered in downtown Wichita, Kansas, Sunday to remember George Tiller, the abortion doctor shot dead at his church Sunday morning during weekly services. Video by AP

Tiller, shot once before by an antiabortion crusader, in 1993, and witness to the chaos of more than 2,000 arrests outside his clinic in the 1991 "Summer of Mercy," reportedly became worried last month about a return of trouble after his clinic was vandalized. Someone scaled the fence, cut wires to knock out lights and surveillance cameras, then sliced holes in the roof and plugged drain pipes to allow rain to pour in, Dan Monnat, Tiller's attorney, said in an interview.

Tiller alerted the FBI, Monnat said. The lawyer said that the clinic is closed for mourning but that doctors intend to reopen next week to serve women who "came to Dr. Tiller because they had nowhere else to turn."

"He often expressed fear about his patients or his family, but I never saw him fear for himself or even flinch," Monnat said. "He was a very dedicated, courageous, compassionate man who devoted his life to serving women patients and honoring their constitutional right to choose."

In accepting the Obama administration's offer of extra protection, clinic operators said women seeking abortions must have secure places to turn to.

"It is critically important that we ensure the safety of our doctors, staff and patients," said Sarah Stoesz, president of a Minnesota-based Planned Parenthood chapter. The group flies physicians anonymously into Sioux Falls, S.D., each week because no doctor in the state is willing to perform elective abortions.

The shooting returned the violent side of the abortion issue to the spotlight just as a diverse array of advocates has begun meeting with White House officials to explore President Obama's appeal for common ground.

The political effect of Tiller's killing is hard to gauge. Shaun Kenney, executive director of the antiabortion American Life League, worries that "extreme" groups "will try to use it for political advantage" and harm the larger movement.

Cynthia Gorney, author of "Articles of Faith," a book about the abortion wars, said the killing will weaken antiabortion forces because Americans will see all opponents in the same light, whatever their moral and tactical differences.

"It's going to bite them in the leg," Gorney said. "And it's going to do it in a very big way."

Roeder has not been charged with a crime in Sedgwick County, where prosecutors have 48 hours to file charges or request more time. District Attorney Nora Foulston told reporters that the case will be tried in state court.

As news of Roeder's arrest traveled, abortion opponent Regina Dinwiddie remembered the day a dozen years ago when Roeder hugged her in glee after his encounter with Crist.

"He grabbed me and said, 'I've read the Defensive Action Statement, and I love what you're doing,' " said Dinwiddie, of Kansas City, Kan. She was a signer of the 1990s statement, which declares that the use of force is justified to save the lives of the unborn.

<       2        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company