“Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use violence to get what it wants.”
– Mother Teresa at the 1994 Washington, D.C. prayer breakfast
On May 31, Wichita, Ks. abortionist George Tiller was killed while handing out bulletins as an usher in the foyer of his Reformed Lutheran church. The murder was quickly condemned by pro-life leaders, but used by the abortion movement to smear the anti-abortion cause.
Tiller’s three Kansas abortion facilities were often ground zero for the abortion controversy. In 1993, Tiller was shot in both arms; Shelley Shannon is serving an 11-year sentence for that crime. In 1985, one of his abortion facilities was bombed. Also in 1993, thousands of American pro-lifers went to Wichita for the “Summer of Mercy” protests, including sometimes-dramatic Operation Rescue encounters with women and staff. Nearly 2,000 protesters were arrested during the confrontation. Operation Rescue would later relocate to Wichita and has protested the killing at Tiller’s abortion mills over the past 16 years.
The abortionist was also the object of numerous investigations. In March, a Kansas jury acquitted the 67-year-old of 19 misdemeanor charges relating to violations of Kansas’s ban on late-term abortions. Pro-lifers saw it as a fabricated technicality that Ann Kristin Neuhaus, the abortionist signing off on his late-term abortions, was not a full-time employee of his, despite their close financial affiliation. At the time of his death, the Kansas State Board of Healing Arts was investigating Tiller for violating the state’s ban on late-term abortions.
Tiller specialized in killing late-term babies (after 20 weeks’ gestation) and even Canadian women were sent to his Wichita abortion facilities at the expense of Ontario and Quebec taxpayers. Few doctors elsewhere are willing to do late-term abortions. In 2004, when the Canadian media reported on women being sent from Quebec to Kansas for third-trimester abortions, abortionist Henry Morgentaler said: “We don’t abort babies; we want to abort ‘fetuses’ before they become babies … Around 24 weeks I have ethical problems doing that.”
But contrary to reports in the media – from the Los Angeles Times to the Guardian in England – Tiller was not one of three abortionists who committed late-term abortions. Others, including the New York Times and Slate.com, said there was only a “handful” of such abortionists practising in America. But, according to Amanda Robb, the niece of slain abortionist Barnett Slepian, writing in Newsweek, about 350 American ob-gyns commit late-term abortions.
Nebraska late-term abortion specialist and partial-birth abortion defender LeRoy Carhart offered to provide his services once the Tiller abortion mills re-opened following suspension of operations after the murder. But the Tiller family announced on June 9 that the Women’s Health Care Services Inc. would remain permanently closed.
Scott P. Roeder, 51, has been charged with first-degree murder and aggravated assault (for threatening two people after gunning down Tiller). Police said the evidence indicated Roeder acted alone. Wichita deputy police chief Tom Stolz said “We feel this is an isolated individual.” However, the federal Justice Department has launched an investigation to determine if Roeder did indeed act alone.
The Kansas City Star reported Roeder was a mentally unstable person who was tied to fringe, radical and violent anti-government and anti-abortion groups. His ex-wife Lindsay told the paper Roeder began to break down in the early 1990s, increasingly having difficulty coping with daily life or paying the bills. She told the Star that Roeder claimed income tax was unconstitutional “and he realized if he stopped paying his taxes, he could pay all of his bills. From there, things just started like a snowball. He became very obsessive.”
Roeder has been linked to the Freemen, an anarchist and militia movement that does not recognize the legitimacy of the U.S. government, as well as the Kansas Unorganized Citizens Militia. While many media outlets tried to tie Roeder’s previous arrest and imprisonment to his later anti-abortion activism, his 1996 conviction of having “felonious weapons” – guns, ammunition and bomb-making material – was the result of a routine traffic search that was flagged because he was on an FBI list of Freemen.
In 1997, he violated parole by refusing to pay his taxes and spent 16 more months in prison. The conviction was later overturned on a technicality. During this time, he became estranged from his family, divorced his wife of 10 years and seldom saw his young son, Nick.
According to the Daily Telegraph, David Roeder, the brother of the accused, released a statement following the murder that said Scott Roeder “suffered from mental illness at various times in his life.” The Kansas City Star also reported that, according to Superior Court of Pennsylvania documents (stemming from a custody battle with another woman), Roeder suffered the “chronic mental disability of schizophrenia.”
Eventually, his obsession with abortion brought him into contact with extreme anti-abortion activists, such as the Army of God, a group that advocates the use of violence against abortionists and abortion facilities.
Although he twice posted comments on the Operation Rescue website, the street-front activist group said in a statement that Roeder had “never been a member, contributor or volunteer” to the group. Operation Rescue also noted that thousands of people, including abortion supporters, post comments on their website. Comments attributed to Roeder, who is alleged to have repeatedly vandalized Tiller’s Wichita abortion mill, said that Tiller would face God’s wrath.
The pro-abortion movement has been quick to link the actions of a lone individual to the entire pro-life movement, despite the fact that over 30 mainstream pro-life organizations and leaders from Canada, the United States and England condemned the murder. (See sidebar “Pro-life reaction condemning of George Tiller and the reiteration of hte pro-life position,” for a sample of pro-life reactions.)
Kelli Conlin, head of NARAL New York, said in a release that there is no evidence the mainstream pro-life movement does not harbour “violent intentions” and she called upon “the anti-abortion movement to go beyond condemning (Tiller’s murder) to actually committing to control and measure their own irresponsible and incendiary rhetoric and actions.”
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the murderous actions of lone individuals cannot be an “isolated incident,” but are “part of an ongoing pattern of hateful rhetoric that unfortunately can lead to violence.”
Abortionist LeRoy Carhart bellowed that pro-lifers are “fundamentalist terrorists” who are “no different from al-Qaeda.”
The retiring head of the National Organization of Women, Kim Gandy, said the pro-life movement is guilty of “politically motivated domestic terrorism” and called upon the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department to “root out and prosecute as domestic terrorists and violent racketeers the criminal enterprise that has organized and funded criminal acts for decades” – by which she meant even peaceful protests outside abortion facilities.
Media allies joined in the chorus of criticism.
Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias called the shooting “domestic terrorism” applauded by “the American Taliban … Christofascists” who have “invaded clinics and harassed desperate women on their way” to procure abortions. She said the “systematic targeting” of abortion facilities and providers is “encouraged by the right-wing hate machine,” by which she meant the commentary and apologetics of “forced birthers” (pro-lifers).
Jill Filipovic wrote in the Guardian that “the mainstream pro-life groups shoulder much of the blame,” because their rhetoric that abortion is murder fans the flames of violence. She said that referring to abortion as “murder” or “genocide” is incendiary and that anti-abortion advocates gloating over Tiller’s death on blogs and message boards online “are not ‘bad apples’ (but) … symptomatic of … a larger movement that is disturbed and dangerous.”
Bonnie Erbe of U.S. News and World Report online said “all pro-life extremists are to blame” for Tiller’s murder. To be clear on what Erbe thinks of as extremist, the columnist explained that anyone who describes abortion as baby-killing “ought to be prosecuted as an accessory to murder, as well as partaking in domestic terrorism.”
Numerous bloggers and reporters took aim specifically at Bill O’Reilly of Fox News, because the top-rated cable host repeatedly referred to Tiller as “Tiller the baby killer” and has run nearly 30 segments on Tiller and his late-term abortions. Liberal talk show network Air America asked, “Is Bill O’Reilly to blame for the murder” of George Tiller?
Stephanie Gray, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Bio-ethical Reform, wrote in the National Post that pro-abortion advocates who are quick to condemn pro-lifers for inciting anti-abortion violence should “take a message from the pro-life textbook” that makes it clear: “Killing people isn’t the way to deal with problems. It’s the reason why we are more than just ‘anti-abortion.’”
The Calgary Herald was one of the few media outlets to show not only restraint, but common-sense. It editorialized that, “The only person who should be held responsible for Tiller’s death is the individual who pulled the trigger.”