By Peter Slevin and Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
CHICAGO, June 9 -- The family of slain abortion provider George R. Tiller announced Tuesday that it will not reopen his Kansas clinic, eliminating one of the few medical practices in the country that performed abortions late in pregnancies.
Abortion opponents welcomed the closure, if not the violent act that led to it, while supporters of abortion rights lamented the decision as a product of violence and harassment.
A prominent Colorado abortion provider said he understands the family's decision but fears that the news, announced 10 days after Tiller's slaying, will inspire tactics designed to drive others out of business.
"It's hideous that it's come to this," said Warren M. Hern, who is among a handful of doctors known to perform abortions late in a pregnancy. "The antiabortion movement got exactly what they wanted. For the last 20 or 30 years, they've wanted him dead and his clinic closed. And they got it.
"The question is, 'Who's next?' "
The antiabortion American Life League noted in a news release that Tiller had aborted thousands of fetuses and said the group is "working actively for the day when the remaining 731 abortion clinics across America shut their doors and end the culture of violence against the most innocent of human beings."
In announcing the decision, Tiller family attorneys Dan Monnat and Lee Thompson said that Women's Health Care Services will be "permanently closed" effective immediately and that the family will not participate "in any similar clinic."
"We are proud of the service and courage shown by our husband and father and know that women's health care needs have been met because of his dedication and service," the statement said. "That is a legacy that will never die. The family will honor Dr. Tiller's memory through private charitable activities."
The man charged in Tiller's death, Scott P. Roeder, replied "Good, good" when told of the clinic's closing by a CNN reporter at the Sedgwick County jail in Wichita. The network quoted Roeder as saying the closure of the Tiller clinic represents a "victory for the unborn" and means "no more needles going into babies' hearts."
Tiller, 67, died May 31 from a single gunshot fired inside his Lutheran church, where he was serving as an usher. For years, Tiller and his clinic had been targeted by protesters. He was shot in both arms in 1993.
Roeder, a longtime abortion foe arrested a few hours after Tiller's slaying, said he thought that killing an abortion provider was a justifiable homicide because it would save the lives of the unborn.
Robert Crist, a doctor who performs abortions in St. Louis and who knew Tiller for many years, said the closing of the clinic is "a big loss," adding: "There's no place for a lot of women to turn now."
He says he is worried about more violence.
"Some might think, 'We can beat these folks if we pick off prominent people. They'll give up,' " Crist said. "Well, that's not the case. We're not going to give up any more than they are."
The U.S. Marshals Service announced last week that it is increasing protection for abortion providers across the country.
As for the future, Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said she hopes "other doctors will come forward and continue" Tiller's work.
Northup also called on abortion rights supporters to "stand up" and defend providers in their communities.
"It is unacceptable that antiabortion intimidation and violence has led to the closing of Dr. Tiller's clinic," Northup said. "Persistent harassment, including violence, threats, and intimidation, and legal restrictions on abortion deter new doctors from entering the field and force skilled physicians out."
Stein reported from Washington.