Dr. George Tiller, an outspoken advocate for abortion rights and one of the few late-term abortion providers in the country, was shot dead in church yesterday morning in Wichita, Kansas. A 51-year-old suspect was arrested three hours after the shooting in a Kansas City suburb about 170 miles from Wichita, police said.

As my colleague John Nichols notes, the National Abortion Federation identified 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.

I last wrote about Tiller in this space in August of 2007 when he was being harassed by the state for his work and asked readers to help him keep operating his clinic in Wichita, which has been one of only three clinics in the United States that performs late-term abortions to end the pregnancies of women who doctors determine would suffer irreparable harm by giving birth.

Tiller’s murder yesterday, as Ann Freidman underscores, is the culmination of an ongoing campaign of intimidation and harassment against someone who was providing completely legal health-care services.

He had previously been the victim of violence. In 1993, he was shot in both arms by an abortion protester as he drove away from his clinic. In 1986, his Women’s Health Care Services clinic was severely damaged in a bomb blast. In 1991, the clinic was blockaded for six weeks by anti-abortion protesters.

And this month, Tiller’s attorneys told the Associated Press, the doctor had asked the FBI to investigate an incident where vandals cut wires to security cameras, cut holes in the roof and plugged downspouts, resulting in thousands of dollars in damage to the clinic.

At The Guardian‘s Comment is Free blog, Jill Filipovic draws the very important connection between the mainstream “pro-life” movement, its media supporters and Tiller’s murder. Conservative television personality Bill O’Reilly has devoted 29 segments of his show since 2005 to demonizing and dehumanizing Tiller, called Tiller’s clinic a “death mill”, referred regularly to Tiller as a “baby killer” who was “executing babies about to be born” and said Tiller was doing “Nazi stuff” for which he “had blood on his hands.” As you can see from this video clip from Jed Lewison at DailyKosTV, you don’t have to actually pull the trigger to help sponsor terrorism.

In addition to fending off abortion protesters for years, as the Los Angeles Times reports, Tiller had been pursued by public officials opposed to abortion. In March, he was acquitted of charges that he broke a Kansas law requiring a second doctor to affirm that a late-term abortion was necessary to preserve the health of the woman. That second doctor must be financially and legally independent from the first physician.

Beyond his courage and medical competence Tiller’s loss will be greatly felt becuase there just aren’t that many other peope with the will and wherewithal to do what he did. It would be a fitting memorial to Dr. Tiller, as Friedman suggests, to contribute to Medical Students for Choice, and encourage more doctors with a deep commitment to reproductive rights to become abortion providers.

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