Fifteen years ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation discovered a “hit list” circulating among militant anti-abortion activists.
The top target for assassination on the list was Dr. George Tiller, a Kansas physician whose Women’s Health Care Services clinic in Wichita has been one of only three clinics in the United States that performs late-term abortions in order to end the pregnancies of women who doctors determine would suffer irreparable harm by giving birth.
On Sunday morning, in the lobby of the Reformation Lutheran church in Wichita, Dr. Tiller, an usher who was welcoming people to the house of worship, was shot by a gunman who then fled the scene.
The physician, who survived a shooting by a antiabortion protester in 1993 and whose clinic was bombed and seriously damaged in 1986, died at the scene of the crime.
A 51-year-old suspect was arrested later in the day, although it will take time for all the details of the incident to come out.
But the National Abortion Federation identified Dr. Tiller as the eighth US abortion provider to have been murdered since 1977. According to the group, seventeen others have been targeted with attempted murder.
Supporters of reproductive rights responded to the murder by mourning the loss of a doctor who “provided critical reproductive health care services, including abortion services to women facing some of the most difficult medical circumstances” and calling upon “the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security [to] root out and prosecute as domestic terrorists and violent racketeers the criminal enterprise that has organized and funded criminal acts for decades.”
“Dr. Tiller’s murder will send a chill down the spines of the brave and courageous providers and other professionals who are part of reproductive-health centers that serve women across this country,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America president Nancy Keenan. “We want them to know that they have our support as they move forward in providing these essential services in the aftermath of the shocking news from Wichita.”
Here’s the statement issued Sunday afternoon by Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America:
The entire Planned Parenthood family is deeply saddened by the murder of Dr. George Tiller. While he was not a Planned Parenthood provider, he was an integral part of our community and his loss is felt by all of us. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and those close to him who are suffering a personal tragedy.
“Dr. Tiller provided his patients with high quality medical care underscored by a deep compassion. He provided critical reproductive health care services, including abortion services to women facing some of the most difficult medical circumstances. He was continually harassed by abortion opponents for much of his career–his clinic was burned down, he was shot by a health center protestor, and he was recently targeted for investigation only to be acquitted by a jury just a few months ago. None of this stopped George Tiller from his commitment to providing women and their families with compassionate care that others were unwilling to offer.