An assailant shot and killed Dr. George Tiller at a church in Wichita, Kansas this morning. Tiller has long been demonized by the anti-choice movement because he performs late-term abortions. He was shot in 1993 and has faced numerous threats, and his clinic has been bombed and vandalized. The Wichita Eagle has background here and is updating the story. (Note: police arrested a 51-year-old male suspect about three hours after the shooting.)
Daily Kos user wiscmass discusses other violent attacks against abortion providers here. As wiscmass notes, every murder or assault is a deterrent to medical professionals considering whether to provide abortion services. By intimidating doctors, anti-choice activists can restrict access to abortion where legal and political methods have failed. I would add that even non-violent methods of intimidation can be effective. For instance, the Sioux City medical community has made clear hospital privileges will be denied to any local doctor who performs abortions at Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa’s clinic there.
Tiller was not only serving women in Kansas. Many states, including Iowa, lack any clinic where women with a compelling medical reason can get a late-term abortion. (Contrary to propaganda you may have heard, healthy women with healthy pregnancies can’t just walk into Tiller’s clinic and get an abortion in the third trimester.) I have no idea where these women will go now.
Incidentally, Tiller’s donations to Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius and her political action committee prompted 31 Senate Republicans to vote against confirming Sebelius as Health and Human Services secretary in April.
Cecile Richards, leader of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told a story about Sebelius during a recent speech at Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa’s 75th anniversary celebration. Richards recalled a noisy group of protesters with graphic signs outside a Planned Parenthood event in Kansas. Everyone who attended the event, including then-Governor Sebelius, had to walk through the group of protesters. During her speech that night, Sebelius said she was glad everyone had to face those protesters, because it gave them a sense of what women in Kansas go through every day just trying to access reproductive health care.
Unfortunately, Tiller’s murder reminds us that standing up for reproductive rights in this country sometimes means putting your life in danger. I echo wiscmass in urging pro-choice Americans to support the organizations that are on the front lines in this battle.