- A Killing in Kansas
- Murdered for defending women’s rights
- Christian Taliban Murder Doctor
- A history of violence on the antiabortion fringe
- How doctors who perform abortions in US have been targeted
- Center for Reproductive Rights Deeply Saddened by Murder of Dr. George Tiller
-Letter of Nominating Dr Tiller for the Tulip award
- Anti-abortion and violence in the US
- Who killed George Tiller?
- Americans United Deplores Murder Of Kansas Doctor)]
by John Nichols (The Nation, May 31, 2009)
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 Witchita 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.
His death is an enormous loss for the patients who relied on him, his dedicated staff, the medical community and for women and their families across America.
Here’s what Kim Gandy, the president of the National Organization for Women, had to say:
Women across the country have lost a champion today. The cold-blooded murder of Dr. George Tiller this morning in church is a stark reminder that women’s bodies are still a battleground, and health care professionals are on the frontlines.
This kind man and skilled doctor braved blockades, harassment, assault, and countless threats, including an attempted murder in 1993 when he was shot in both arms. He knew his life was in constant jeopardy, and that he would likely die at the hands of an anti-abortion terrorist—yet he continued to protect his patients and provide safe and legal abortions to women in often-desperate circumstances. Those who are behind this murder may believe that the killing of George Tiller will mean that these women will have nowhere else to turn, but they are wrong. On the contrary, I believe their depraved acts will inspire another doctor to take up the torch, and another, and another.
Dr. Tiller’s slaying is the most recent in a string of murders in the service of the anti-abortion cause, and hundreds of people have been injured or threatened because they provide legal abortion services. Bringing the killers to justice is not enough—the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security must root out and prosecute as domestic terrorists and violent racketeers the criminal enterprise that has organized and funded criminal acts for decades. We call on the new attorney general Eric Holder and head of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to treat these murders in the same way they would treat politically-motivated domestic terrorism of any other kind and put the full resources of their two departments behind that effort.
Tomorrow will be a Day of Mourning for Dr. Tiller as well as a National Day of Commitment for all who believe abortion must remain both safe and legal—who believe women have the right and indeed the moral obligation to make their own childbearing decisions. We urge individuals to wear white armbands all day tomorrow, Monday, June 1, in memory of Dr. Tiller and as a visible expression of determination to redouble our commitment to protecting the right to safe and legal birth control and abortion.
NOW identified the murder of Dr. Tiller as "domestic terrorism."
Conservative activists this spring mounted an aggressive campaign to get Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to withdraw a report titled "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment" from her department’s official website.
The report was withdrawn from the site, but Napolitano continued to take hits for standing by its basic premises.
Among the statements that drew the loudest objections from the conservative camp was an observation that domestic threats might be posed by "groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single-issue, such as opposition to abortion."
Whether the report is seen in a new light by Napolitano’s critics following Dr. Tiller’s murder remains to be seen. But defenders of reproductive rights ended the day by calling on the federal government to renew and expand protections for abortion providers.
"Violence and murder will never end the need for abortion," said Dr. Suzanne T. Poppema, board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, in response to Dr. Tiller’s murder. "With great sadness and discouragement we call on the government to reactivate its protection system for our nation’s abortion providers."
Nicole Colson reports on the murder of an abortion provider in Kansas who faced a quarter-century of hate and violence from the misnamed "right to life."
June 1, 2009
DR. GEORGE TILLER, an abortion provider in Wichita, Kan., who for decades has been a target for abuse and harassment by anti-abortionists, was shot to death Sunday morning as he attended church.
Tiller was one of the few remaining doctors in the country who performed late-term abortions. His murder is the culmination of a decades-long campaign against both him and Women’s Health Care Services, the clinic he operated.
In June 1986, Tiller’s clinic was bombed—no arrests were ever made in that case. Last month, the clinic was vandalized, with wires to security cameras and outdoor lights cut. The building’s roof was cut through, and downspouts were plugged, leading to flooding that caused thousands of dollars in damage. Tiller had reportedly asked the FBI to investigate.
In 1993, anti-abortion fanatic Rachelle "Shelley" Shannon attempted to murder Tiller, shooting him in both arms. Shannon remains behind bars, convicted of attempted murder and charges stemming from at least six arson and acid-attacks at clinics in Oregon, California, Nevada and Idaho.
According to press reports, a suspect in the murder is in custody, though not charged—he is 51-year-old Scott Roeder of Merriam, Kan. Roeder was allegedly a member at one time of the anti-government militia group known as the "Freemen." In 1996, he was reportedly found with bomb components in his car trunk.
In a comment left on an anti-abortion Web site two years ago, someone with the same name wrote: "Bleass (sic) everyone for attending and praying in May to bring justice to Tiller and the closing of his death camp."
Tiller is the fourth abortion provider to be gunned down by "pro-life" extremists since 1993.
That year, Dr. David Gunn was shot to death outside a Pensacola, Fla., clinic. The following year, Dr. John Bayard Britton and one of his volunteer escorts were shot and killed by former minister Paul Hill outside another abortion clinic in Pensacola. Hill had reportedly been "inspired" by Shannon’s attempted murder of Dr. Tiller the year before.
In 1998, anti-choice extremist James Kopp killed Dr. Barnett Slepian in his home in Amhest, N.Y.
As well, there have been dozens of clinic bombings, arsons and other attacks that have injured or frightened staff and volunteers across the country. This includes the 1998 bombing of a Birmingham, Ala., clinic in which nurse Emily Lyons was maimed, and off-duty police officer Robert Sanderson killed by bomber Eric Rudolph.
THE IMMEDIATE aftermath of Tiller’s death included predictable statements from anti-abortion groups claiming that this murder does not represent their movement.
The anti-abortion group Operation Rescue was among those that mercilessly harassed Tiller in life, only to feign surprise and concern at his death. "We are shocked at this morning’s disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down," the group said in a statement on its Web site. "Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice."
Yet Operation Rescue’s director Troy Newman moved the headquarters of the group’s operations to Wichita in 2002 specifically to target Dr. Tiller. The group launched a "Year of Rebuke" campaign in 2004 that targeted what it termed Tiller’s "collaborators"—anyone with political, professional or social ties to the doctor.
The "Year of Rebuke" included plans for protests at the home of every employee at Tiller’s clinic. Typical of the campaign were hundreds of postcards showing mangled fetuses that were sent to the neighbors of clinic employees like Sara Phares. As author Kimberley Sevcik noted in a Rolling Stone article "One man’s God squad":
[The card read], "Your neighbor Sara Phares participates in killing babies like these." The postcard implored them to call Phares, whose phone number and address were provided, and voice their opposition to her work at the clinic. Another card soon followed. It referred to Phares as "Miss I Help to Kill Little Babies" and suggested, in an erratic typeface that recalled a kidnapper’s ransom note, that neighbors "beg her to quit, pretty please."
One of Phares’s neighbors, a federal agent, called her at work to warn her. "Just be careful, ma’am," he said. "You never know what kind of nuts these things will draw."
Founder and former head of Operation Rescue Randall Terry didn’t even pretend to be sorry about the murder. "George Tiller was a mass-murderer," Terry told the Associated Press. "We grieve for him that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God."
Terry’s real concern was for the renewed scrutiny that the assassination might bring on the anti-choice movement. He told a reporter:
I am more concerned that the Obama administration will use Tiller’s killing to intimidate pro-lifers into surrendering our most effective rhetoric and actions...Those men and women who slaughter the unborn are murderers according to the Law of God. We must continue to expose them in our communities and peacefully protest them at their offices and homes, and yes, even their churches.
While a far-right fanatic may have pulled the trigger, the truth is that the "respectable" right—and the state of Kansas—put a very large target on George Tiller’s back.
Fox News blowhard Bill O’Reilly repeatedly attacked Tiller on air, referring to him as a "so-called baby killer" and the clinic as a "death mill." In segments he called "Tiller the Baby Killer," O’Reilly hurled wild accusations:
In the state of Kansas, there is a doctor, George Tiller, who will execute babies for $5,000 if the mother is depressed. And there are rapists impregnating 10-year-olds who are being protected by abortion clinics. It doesn’t get worse than that.
Tiller was also forced to defend himself against trumped-up criminal charges brought by the state. This March, he was acquitted on 19 counts of performing illegal late-term abortions in 2003. Jurors took just 45 minutes to find Tiller not guilty of failing to secure an independent second opinion, which, under Kansas law, is needed to perform late-term abortions.
The court case against Tiller was brought by then-Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline—an abortion opponent, who later lost reelection and has since become a law professor at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.
GIVEN THIS kind of harassment, it’s not surprising that the number of physicians willing to provide abortions—in particular late-term abortions—has dramatically declined in U.S. in the past several decades.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2005, 87 percent of all U.S. counties (with 35 percent of the U.S. female population) lacked an abortion provider. Just 20 percent of providers offered abortion services after 20 weeks—and only 8 percent of all abortion providers offer abortions at 24 weeks.
This, combined with recent statistics from a Gallup poll, show a troubling shift to the right in attitudes on abortion in the U.S. According to the poll, for the "first time, a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question in 1995." The poll found 51 percent describing themselves as "pro-life," up seven points from a year ago.
As SocialistWorker.org columnist Sharon Smith noted:
Since [Bill] Clinton’s election in 1992, the anti-abortion crusade has remained defiant while the pro-choice movement has been in steady retreat. This is the only way to understand how a small but dedicated army of religious zealots has managed to successfully transform the political terrain in its favor—and why a figure as ridiculous as Randall Terry is now regarded as legitimate within the political mainstream.
Dr. Tiller’s violent death at the hands of an anti-abortion extremist should be a wake-up call to supporters of the right of women to control their own bodies.
Despite the rhetoric—adopted today even by mainstream abortion rights groups—that "no woman wants to have an abortion" and that abortion should be "safe, legal and, above all, rare," the truth is that some women do desperately need and want to have abortions, and they shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for it.
That was something Dr. George Tiller understood—and ultimately gave his life for. As a statement from Tiller’s family following his murder emphasized:
Our loss is also a loss for the City of Wichita and women across America. George dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality heath care, despite frequent threats and violence. We ask that he be remembered as a good husband, father and grandfather, and a dedicated servant on behalf of the rights of women everywhere.
"Verily I say unto you, if you have no gun, go then and sell your cloak and buy one." (Luke .30-06)
Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, Kansas was one of the few doctors in the nation legally performing late-term abortions when the life of a mother was at stake. This made him a prime target for domestic anti-abortion protesters.
In 1993 Dr. Tiller was shot in both arms by abortion protester Shelly Shannon, whose arrest eventually exposed a far-right domestic Christian terrorist network called the "Army of God."
In 1986 Dr. Tiller’s Women’s Health Care Services clinic was severely damaged by a bomb blast.
In 1991 the clinic was blockaded for six weeks by anti-abortion protesters.
A few weeks ago Dr. Tiller again reported damage to his clinic, which included cutting the wires to his surveillance cameras.
And today a Christian terrorist succeeded in assassinating Dr. George Tiller.
More frequently now than ever, Christian anti-abortionists, white supremacists, anti-gay activists and conspiracy-minded "Patriots" are all sharing the same hit list. These movements also describe homosexuals as "sodomites," people who deserve capital punishment.
Last November an overwhelming number of Americans voted to move this nation away from a theocracy and toward positive change. But there has always been a frightened fringe element - - usually self-identified as "conservative Christian" - - in American society that loathes any progress involving tolerance and inclusion and who see a vast secular assault on their liberty. They oppose tolerance and civil rights progress with whatever means they can employ. To them, we are a nation locked in a holy war, a Christian jihad.
The terrorist who assassinated Dr. Tiller will no doubt claim that the murder he committed inside a Christian church during a Christian Sunday service was commanded by the Christian god.
A long-time friend and colleague of Dr. Tiller, Dr. Warren Hern stated, "I think it’s the inevitable consequence of more than 35 years of constant anti-abortion terrorism, harassment and violence. George is the fifth American doctor to be assassinated. I get messages from these people saying, ’Don’t bother wearing a bulletproof vest, we’re going for a head shot.’ " Amen.
Dr. George Tiller’s slaying is the latest in a decades-long campaign of shootings, bombings and vandalism carried out by extremists from the mostly peaceful movement.
by Richard Fausset
Reporting from Atlanta — Bombings. Butyric acid attacks. Sniper shootings. Letters filled with fake anthrax. These are some of the tactics used over the years by antiabortion extremists.
The slaying of Dr. George Tiller in his Kansas church Sunday was part of a decades-long history of domestic terrorism aimed at abortion providers, carried out by a small minority of the much broader and generally peaceful movement that opposes abortion.
The National Abortion Federation, which supports abortion rights, has documented more than 6,100 acts of violence against abortion providers in the United States and Canada since 1977. The group classifies as "violent" not only the acts of murder, attempted murder, bombing and arson, but also vandalism, burglary and stalking, among others.
Tiller’s slaying appears to be the eighth of an abortion clinic worker in the U.S. or Canada and the fourth of a doctor. A fifth doctor was shot but survived — as did Tiller in a previous attack.
These illegal tactics — denounced by many peaceful antiabortion activists — multiplied in the 1980s, as the broader movement shifted away from pressuring the women who were having abortions to the medical personnel providing them, according to Carole Joffe, a sociology professor at UC Davis.
April 2007 Nail bomb is left in car park of Austin women’s health centre in Texas, but found and defused.
23 October 1998 Dr Barnett Slepian shot dead at home in Buffalo, New York. Militant anti-abortionist James Kopp convicted of murder in 2003.
29 January 1998 Bomb explodes outside clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, killing police officer and wounding several others. Eric Rudolph later pleads guilty,and also to deadly bombing at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
16 January 1997 Two bomb blasts at Atlanta abortion clinic. Seven people injured. Rudolph charged in October 1998.
30 December 1994 John Salvi opens fire with rifle in two clinics in Boston, killing two receptionists and wounding five. Kills himself in prison in 1996.
8 November 1994 Dr Garson Romalis, who performs abortions in Vancouver, Canada, shot in the leg at home.
29 July 1994 Dr John Bayard Britton and volunteer escort, James Barrett, killed outside clinic in Pensacola, Florida. Paul Jennings Hill, a former minister, is sentenced to death for murder.
19 August 1993 Dr George Tiller is wounded outside clinic in Kansas. Rachelle Shannon jailed for 11 years for shooting.
10 March 1993 Dr David Gunn shot dead in Pensacola, Florida, first US doctor killed during anti-abortion protest. Michael Griffin jailed for life.
NEW YORK, May 31 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Today, the Center for Reproductive Rights issued a statement following the shooting of Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. Dr. Tiller was murdered entering his church in Wichita, Kansas. As one of the few physicians in the country who provides abortions later in pregnancy, Dr. Tiller has been the target of anti-choice movement for over two decades. Recently, the Center for Reproductive Rights represented two-thousand of Dr. Tiller’s patients when a citizen-impaneled grand jury unsuccessfully attempted to subpoena their medical records. Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights issued this statement:
"I am deeply saddened by the tragic news of Dr. Tiller’s murder. Dr. Tiller has long been a stalwart and fearless defender of women’s fundamental health and rights, providing abortions despite decades of relentless and vicious attacks on his clinic, family and private life. His death is a devastating loss to the reproductive rights movement and to women across this country. We send our condolences to his family and friends."
In August 2008, the Center for Reproductive Rights nominated Dr. Tiller for the Netherlands government’s annual Human Rights Tulip award for individuals who have shown exceptional moral courage in protecting and promoting the rights of his or her fellow citizens. Here is an excerpt from the nomination letter:
Dr. Tiller, like other physicians who provide abortions in the U.S., is forced to work under circumstances far more dangerous and difficult than other healthcare providers. There is a long history of violations to physicians’ physical security — including murder, attempted murder, and assault and battery — without adequate protection from the state. Physicians providing abortions increasingly are faced with other forms of violence and harassment, including destruction of personal property, smear campaigns, intimidation of family members, and stalking.
The government has failed to take adequate measures to protect Dr. Tiller. Federal and state laws are inadequate to deter many forms of violence and harassment directed at him and his family, and enforcement of protective laws that do exist has waned in recent years. Further, the state and federal government have passed legislation targeting abortion providers like Dr. Tiller with threats of criminal penalties and other sanctions that are not imposed on providers of comparable medical services. State laws in Kansas are specifically designed to impose additional burdens on abortion providers, with an explicit view towards shutting down Dr. Tiller’s clinic. Finally, state actors have allowed private groups to turn state mechanisms like the court system into a tool of harassment against Dr. Tiller.
Secretariat Human Rights Tulip Award
Institute of Social Studies
P.O. Box 29776
2502 LT The Hague
Dear Nominating Committee,
We write with enthusiasm to nominate Dr. George Tiller for the Human Rights Defender Tulip award. Dr. Tiller has owned and operated Women’s Health Care Services (WHCS) in Wichita, Kansas, USA since 1975. He specializes in post-viability abortion services for women who face substantial health risks should they continue with their pregnancy, or for women carrying fetuses with severe anomalies. Because he is one of only three physicians in the country who provides abortions at a later stage of pregnancy, he is a frequent target for harassment and violence by anti-abortion extremists and politicians opposed to abortion rights. Yet, for 33 years Dr. Tiller has courageously defended women’s constitutional right to access safe abortion care — a service vital to the exercise of women’s fundamental human rights to life, health, reproductive health and reproductive autonomy.
Since the constitutional right to an abortion was recognized in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade in 1973, U.S. physicians who provide abortions have been targeted for harmful treatment by both state and non-state actors. Anti-abortion extremists, who cannot legally prohibit women from exercising their rights, target physicians to make it nearly impossible for them to provide abortion services. Despite frequent attacks on his physical security, professional reputation, and personal and family life, Dr. Tiller has kept his clinic doors open because of his commitment to women’s human right to reproductive healthcare.
Dr. Tiller, like other physicians who provide abortions in the U.S., is forced to work under circumstances far more dangerous and difficult than other healthcare providers. There is a long history of violations to physicians’ physical security—including murder, attempted murder, and assault and battery—without adequate protection from the state. Physicians providing abortions increasingly are faced with other forms of violence and harassment, including destruction of personal property, smear campaigns, intimidation of family members, and stalking.
The government has failed to take adequate measures to protect Dr. Tiller. Federal and state laws are inadequate to deter many forms of violence and harassment directed at him and his family, and enforcement of protective laws that do exist has waned in recent years. Further, the 2 state and federal government have passed legislation targeting abortion providers like Dr. Tiller with threats of criminal penalties and other sanctions that are not imposed on providers of comparable medical services. State laws in Kansas are specifically designed to impose additional burdens on abortion providers, with an explicit view towards shutting down Dr. Tiller’s clinic. Finally, state actors have allowed private groups to turn state mechanisms like the court system into a tool of harassment against Dr. Tiller.
In the United States, women’s rights to health, life, and dignity include a constitutional right to abortion. These rights cannot be fulfilled unless medical professionals are able to provide abortion and other related services free of violence and harassment by public and private actors. For this reason, the U.N. Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders has recognized those who promote women’s right to sexual and reproductive health as women’s human rights defenders. She also identified healthcare providers as human rights defenders where those individuals faced great risk in working to promote the rights of others.
I. Persistent Attacks Against Dr. Tiller
A. Attacks on Physical Security
On August 19, 1993, an anti-abortion extremist attempted to assassinate Dr. Tiller, shooting him in both arms. Demonstrating remarkable courage, he not only survived the attack but returned to the clinic to provide services the following day. This attack fits into a long history of violence, death threats, and murder of physicians who perform abortions in the United States, undertaken with the express purpose of preventing physicians from providing abortions. Since 1973, three physicians and four clinic workers in the U.S. have been killed by anti-abortion extremists. Five other physicians or clinic workers have been seriously injured in such attacks.
Prior to the shooting, WHCS had been targeted for two years by anti-abortion forces dedicated to closing the clinic at whatever cost. In 1991, an extremist group called Operation Rescue led a six-week siege on WHCS during its "Summer of Mercy" protest in Wichita, which involved numerous blockades of clinic entrances; death threats to doctors who perform abortions; and daily, often violent, protests at abortion clinics. The government did not take adequate measures to protect Dr. Tiller, such as ordering federal marshal protection, despite a known, significant association between severe intimidation tactics and violence against abortion clinic staff and physicians. Tellingly, Dr. Tiller’s would-be assassin had participated in the Summer of Mercy blockades as a member of the Army of God, an underground network that believes violence is acceptable and justifiable to end abortion. The correlation between intimidation and severe violence continues today. In 2005, clinics facing one or more forms of intimidation were three times more likely to experience violence compared with clinics that experienced no intimidation tactics. Although the incidence of severe clinic violence has decreased over the past decade, moderate-level violence — including vandalism, home picketing, and home or clinic invasions — is on the rise.
Severe violence has decreased in large part because providers have been forced to take extreme security measures that are expensive and burdensome to maintain. Dr. Tiller wears a bullet proof vest. He moved to a home in a gated community with a state-of-the-art security system and barrier wall in order to protect himself and his family from shootings by extremists. His clinic has spent thousands of dollars to install maximum security measures, including security barriers, bulletproof glass, metal detectors, and security cameras. Maintenance of alarm systems and security personnel amount to tens of thousands of dollars per year. Although Dr. Tiller has been placed under federal marshal protection for brief periods of time, in general he must provide and pay for his own security.
The 1994 Federal Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act aims to protect physicians providing abortions and women seeking to access clinics. It was successfully used to prosecute Dr. Tiller’s attacker. However, FACE provides only narrow protection against the most severe forms of violence, not the multiple forms of harassment or severe intimidation that are linked to violence. Moreover, FACE fails to adequately protect providers because it allows for injunctive relief or civil remedies only after a FACE violation has occurred. Predictably, abortion opponents soon learned the loopholes in FACE and began to exploit them. First, they concentrated their harassment on a smaller number of physicians, namely Dr. Tiller, with the aim of forcing them to stop performing abortions. Second, their tactics gradually shifted to the private sphere, involving protests at providers’ private homes where FACE does not reach. Therefore, attacks against Dr. Tiller have not abated since the passage of FACE but have rather changed form and become more personal.
B. Destruction of Private Property
In 2007, Dr. Tiller’s facility was attacked by vandals who cut a hole in the ceiling, inserted a garden hose, and flooded part of the facility with several inches of water. They also attempted to seal the gates of the parking lot. WHCS was forced to close for more than a month due to mold damage. The closure prevented approximately 230 women from obtaining reproductive health services at the clinic and resulted in at least $86,000 of damages, not including lost income. This was the second time that WHCS was forced to close; the first was in 1986, when a bomb exploded at the clinic and caused $100,000 in damage. Again, attacks on WHCS reflect a national trend of attacking the property of reproductive health clinics. Between the years 1977-2007, there were over 41 bombings, 175 arsons, 94 attempted bombings and arsons, and 623 bomb threats directed at abortion providers, resulting in $8.5m in damages.
C. Attacks against Private Life, Family, and Reputation
Now that a federal law prohibits clinic blockades, anti-abortion extremists have shifted tactics and begun to wage smear campaigns — some of which advocate violence — against doctors providing abortions. Dr. Tiller was featured in "most-wanted" posters resembling the posters used by the FBI to track down most-wanted criminals. Some of these posters offered a $1,000 reward for stopping physicians from performing abortions. Two physicians featured on these posters were later assassinated. Some anti-abortion extremists, including the extremist who tried to murder Dr. Tiller, defend the murder of abortion providers as "justifiable homicide." These actions are facilitated by websites such as the infamous "Nuremburg Files," which until it was shut down by a federal judge in 1999 published the names, addresses, and other identifying information of abortion providers, with the names of those who had been killed crossed out in black.
Smear campaigns are carefully coordinated by anti-abortion extremists to pressure abortion clinics to go out of business. Employees of Dr. Tiller’s clinic have been subjected to continuous smear campaigns since the 2004 "Year of Rebuke" organized by the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. The "name and shame" campaign involved targeted picketing of each clinic employee. Protesters picketed outside private homes, mailed postcards to the neighbors of clinic employees, greeted employees at restaurants with photos of mangled fetuses, and even sorted through employees’ home garbage. They also drove a moving billboard of bloody postabortion fetuses around the neighborhoods where clinic employees live and work. Operation Rescue even mounted an attack against over 200 companies doing business with the clinic or Dr. Tiller personally, demanding that they cease their affiliations or face a boycott. Recently, antiabortion extremists in Wichita have begun a public intimidation and shaming campaign entitled "People Are Watching," where they wear binoculars and stake out the movements of Dr. Tiller and his employees.
Many of these forms of harassment are protected speech under the U.S. Constitution. However, the established link between forms of intimidation and violence against abortion providers requires heightened diligence on the part of state actors to monitor potential threats, provide proper training to law enforcement and other public officials to offer the same level of protection to abortion providers as other human rights defenders, and promptly investigate instances when public expression crosses the line to threatening behavior. Because the law treats abortion providers differently than other healthcare providers, the U.S. government has failed to adequately protect Dr. Tiller from attacks on his physical security or provide an adequate remedy once attacks have occurred.
II. Government Regulations and Restrictions on the Right to an Abortion
The state has a duty to respect the right of human rights defenders to the lawful exercise of their profession. However, the federal and state governments are making it increasingly difficult for Dr. Tiller to exercise this human right, in turn compromising his ability to provide comprehensive reproductive healthcare to his patients. A panoply of state and federal laws create a complicated legal minefield, placing him at greater risk of legal liability than physicians who provide comparable medical services. He works with fear of criminal sanctions, civil liability, or loss of his medical license if he unintentionally fails to comply with one of the many regulations governing every aspect of his medical practice.
A. Criminal Penalties and other Severe Sanctions
Laws that single out abortion providers regulate everything from the methods physicians use to perform abortions, the physical plant requirements of their facilities, and staffing levels and qualifications. Failure to comply with these requirements can result in substantial criminal sanctions, civil penalties, or loss of medical licensure. In contrast, all other doctors, including those in the field of gynecology and obstetrics who do not perform abortions, are subject only to professional ethics codes and medical malpractice laws. As a physician who provides abortion services in the state of Kansas, Dr. Tiller must comply with four laws that do not apply to other kinds of physicians:
- A state ban on certain methods of abortion that carries a penalty of imprisonment for non-compliance. Kan. Stat. Ann. Section 65-6721.
- A federal ban on certain methods of abortion that carries a penalty of 2 years imprisonment. 18 U.S.C.A. Section 1531 (2003).
- A Kansas law requiring that another financially and legally independent doctor verify the first physician’s independent judgment that a post-viability abortion is necessary. Failure to comply could result in one year imprisonment, the loss of a medical license or fines. Kan. Stat. Ann. Section 65-6703(a).
- A biased counseling law that requires Dr. Tiller to provide patients medically unnecessary or inappropriate materials 24 hours prior to receiving an abortion. A violation could lead to loss of a medical license or fines. Kan. Stat. Ann. Sections 65-6701; 65-6708-15.
B. Selective Investigations and Prosecutions
Navigating the legal minefield is difficult in itself for physicians, but public officials with political motivations can substantially heighten the risk. A zealous prosecutor in Kansas abused the power of his state office to investigate and prosecute Dr. Tiller for lawfully performing abortions. Former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, who described himself as "unabashedly pro-life," initiated an aggressive multi-year inquisition of Dr. Tiller for the purpose of investigating whether he violated Kansas abortion law. Kline issued subpoenas for the private medical records of 90 of Dr. Tiller’s patients and eventually charged him with 30 misdemeanor crimes based on their contents. Kline’s successor as Attorney General, Paul Morrison, convinced the Kansas Supreme Court to drop the misdemeanor charges against Dr. Tiller because according to his office, the basis of the charges was "absolutely inaccurate and false" and "based on a political agenda."
Even though the court dismissed Kline’s baseless charges, Dr. Tiller must still contend with a different state investigation involving unsubstantiated allegations that he failed to maintain an independent financial relationship with a referring physician, as required by Kansas law. He faces 19 misdemeanor charges carrying penalties of a prison sentence and loss of his medical license. Even if a jury clears Dr. Tiller of all wrongdoing, the process has burdened him with the considerable time and expense required to defend himself against such charges, in addition to the fear of sanctions or damage to his professional reputation.
The state of Kansas also grants private citizens the power to trigger the minefield of legal liability for abortion providers. For instance, two anti-abortion extremist groups in Kansas used an 1887 state law to convene a "citizen grand jury" to investigate whether Dr. Tiller violated the state’s abortion laws, even though the state was conducting its own investigation of Dr. Tiller at the time. Fortunately, the Kansas Supreme Court recently held that the citizen grand jury must take certain precautions to protect patient privacy when issuing subpoenas of medical records. Despite these limits, the state has allowed the citizen grand jury to be turned into a mechanism for the harassment of physicians and an anti-abortion "political weapon."
Dr. Tiller deserves the Human Rights Defenders Tulip because of his brave perseverance in providing women their human right to reproductive health services in the face of great risks to his safety, reputation, and profession. He must endure the constant stress of harassment and intimidation, the fear of greater violence, and the burden of substantial expenses in security measures and legal fees. Other physicians in Dr. Tiller’s position have been forced to abandon their abortion practices out of sheer stress and exhaustion or out of necessity to protect themselves and their families.
Quite simply, without Dr. Tiller women would lose access to a vital reproductive health service. The words of one of Dr. Tiller’s patients, Sarah Coe, are instructive. Sarah obtained an abortion from Dr. Tiller after her fetus was diagnosed with severe hydrocephaly in her 22nd week of gestation, a condition denying oxygen to the brain that would certainly lead to fetal death during pregnancy or birth. Sarah was unable to find a physician near her home who would perform an abortion and was directed to WHCS. In acknowledging her gratitude to Dr. Tiller, she also stated, "It scares me. If something happens to Dr. Tiller, where would women turn?"
Thank you for considering this nomination. We are happy to provide you with additional information upon request.
Human Rights Attorney
U.S. Legal Program
SOURCE Center for Reproductive Rights
by Nick Triggle (BBC News, 1 June 2009)
Health reporter, BBC News
The killing of an abortion doctor has once again highlighted the aggressive and emotional nature of the abortion debate in the US. Why does the issue elicit such a strong response compared to countries such as the UK?
US anti-abortion campaigner
There are about 800,000 abortions a year in the US
It is perhaps a mark of the fervour that characterises the abortion debate in the US, that even President Barack Obama is not immune.
One of the few times he has faced an angry audience since taking power was during an appearance at Indiana’s Notre Dame, one of the largest Catholic universities in the country.
He was heckled by anti-abortion activists over his decision earlier this year to lift restrictions on funding for abortion.
Indeed, heckling and protests over abortion are much more commonplace in the US than they are in the UK.
With hundreds of religious radio stations across the country, the anti-abortion movement enjoys a much higher profile than its equivalent on the other side of the Atlantic.
But as well as getting more attention, there is also more violence associated with the issue - as the shooting of Dr George Tiller demonstrates.
While many pro-life organisations have come out and condemned the killing on Sunday, the fact remains that violence and intimidation have remained a constant thread in the history of the modern-day movement.
According to data gathered by the National Abortion Federation, a pro-choice group, there had been at least nine killings in anti-abortion protests, 17 attempted murders and 400 death threats.
Bombings and arson attempts of abortion facilities also happen on a regular basis with cases often reaching double figures every year.
The most famous was probably the Christmas Day bombings which targeted three clinics in 1984 with the perpetrators dubbing them a "birthday gift for Jesus".
The abortion debate in the US has been gathering pace ever since a Supreme Court judgement in 1973.
The landmark Roe v Wade ruling decreed that most existing state abortion laws were unconstitutional and the termination of pregnancy should be made legal.
Since then there has been a gradual rowing back from that position - although laws do vary from state to state.
Restrictions are now in place on everything from funding and insurance cover to a particular form of late-term abortion known as partial birth by its opponents.
Partial birth refers to abortions over 20 weeks which require the dead foetus to be delivered vaginally.
This is now relatively rare with only a handful of clinics, including Dr Tiller’s, willing to carry out such procedures.
In total, only about 2,000 of the 800,000 abortions carried out in the US each year are classed as partial birth.
One of the obvious differences between anti-abortion movements in the US and the UK is the level of involvement of religious groups.
With half the US population regular church-goers, everything from sexual abstinence and euthanasia campaigns to the abortion debate has been dominated by religious groups.
Dr Joe Cassidy, an expert in medical ethics at Durham University, believes this has played a role in the violence that has been seen.
"The debate in the US has been couched in the terms of defending the defenceless. That gives some people a feeling that violence is therefore justified.
"That sort of debate has never taken off in the UK. There is a feeling that it should be left to the government.
"But in the US there is a fundamentalist religious fringe which believe it is their duty to take matters into their own hands."
Dr Cassidy also said there was a marked difference in what opponents were trying to achieve. "In the US there is a will to ban abortion that is not present in the UK.
"Here the campaigners have been focusing on introducing more restrictions, which would be seen as selling out in the US."
But campaigners in the UK do not believe these differences really account for the violence that has attached itself to the US movement.
John Smeaton, national director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, who has condemned the killing of Dr Tiller, said: "I think it is more to do with the levels of gun crime in the US.
"Guns are more readily available so by the law of averages people providing abortions are going to be caught up.
"What is important to remember is that these acts of violence are not carried out by organisations but by lone individuals.
"I know many of the leaders of these organisations in the US and I know they share the same values as we do in the UK.
"Killings go against everything we stand for - the right to life."
George Tiller’s murder is a horrific consequence of the harassment and intimidation of abortion providers
by Jill Filipovic (The Guardian, 1 June 2009)
George Tiller, a Kansas physician, was shot to death in church on Sunday. He was one of only a handful of doctors in the United States providing late-term therapeutic abortions for women in need – women whose pregnancies threatened their lives or their health, and women who learned that they were carrying foetuses with severe abnormalities. Women travelled across the country to see Tiller when their own physicians and local medical providers couldn’t help them. For many women, Tiller was, as one of his patients put it, "the one shining light in the worst week of my life".
He was also a major lightening-rod in the abortion wars. Anti-choicers harassed his patients, day in and day out. They bombed his clinic. They shot him once before. They filed lawsuit after lawsuit and even convinced local prosecutors to launch criminal investigations and trials (none were successful). They published his home address and the full names of his family members on their websites. They posted information about anyone who did business with him, from where he got his coffee to where he did his dry cleaning.
They had him and his staff wearing bullet-proof vests to work every day. Tiller drove an armoured car and protected his home with a state-of-the-art security system. And, to better enable stalking and harassment, they posted his daily comings and goings – including the fact that he attended services every Sunday at Reformation Lutheran Church, the place where he was ultimately shot and killed.
All because he was a licensed physician who performed legal medical procedures.
Not surprisingly, his killer is strongly suspected to be affiliated with the "pro-life" movement. If that’s the case, it makes Tiller the 10th person in the United States to be murdered by anti-choice terrorists.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Since 1977, there have been at least 17 attempted murders, 383 death threats, 153 incidents of assault or battery and three kidnappings committed against abortion providers in North America. Tiller himself survived an assassination attempt in 1993.
Some pro-life groups are issuing statements of condemnation and attempting to paint this murder as the work of an extremist. But this latest act of terrorism is, sadly, not an anomaly. It is part of a clearly-established pattern of harassment, intimidation and violence against abortion providers and pro-choice individuals. And mainstream pro-life groups shoulder much of the blame.
Pro-life organisations routinely refer to abortion as "murder", a "genocide" and a "holocaust". They post the full names abortion providers on their websites, along with their addresses, their license plate numbers, their photos, the names of children and the schools those children attend (sometimes with helpful Wild-West-style "Wanted" posters offering $5,000 rewards).
When you convince your followers that abortion providers are the equivalent of SS officers slaughtering innocents by the millions, tell them that "it’s all-out WAR" against pro-choicers and then provide the home addresses and personal information of the "monster" "late-term baby-killer" abortion providers you’re supposedly at war against, you can’t act surprised when those followers conclude that it’s morally justified to use the information to kill doctors.
These are not fringe groups. Conservative television personality Bill O’Reilly called Tiller’s clinic a "death mill", referred 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".
Frank Pavone, a Roman Catholic priest, member of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family and director of Priests for Life, posted a YouTube video on Sunday to say that he "abhors" the violence committed against Tiller but "we just don’t know and we shouldn’t jump to conclusions" in assuming that an anti-choice terrorist may have murdered Tiller – although, he concedes, someone may have assassinated him "in order to stop Tiller from killing more babies". He continued: "When we talk about abortion, we are taking about killing. There’s no two ways about it. ... This is a massive holocaust, it is killing."
Pavone is chummy with Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, who had this to say about Tiller’s assassination:
George Tiller was a mass-murderer. We grieve for him that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God. I am more concerned that the Obama administration will use Tiller’s killing to intimidate pro-lifers into surrendering our most effective rhetoric and actions. Abortion is still murder. And we still must call abortion by its proper name: murder.
Those men and women who slaughter the unborn are murderers according to the law of God. We must continue to expose them in our communities and peacefully protest them at their offices and homes, and yes, even their churches.
That’s some definition of "peacefully protesting".
The prime suspect in Tiller’s murder appears to have frequented the Operation Rescue website (which had it’s own "Tiller Watch" section), and took part in some of those "peaceful protests" that anti-choicers hold so dear. Far from a random extremist, he appears to have been fairly entrenched in the anti-choice movement.
And if he is the person who murdered Tiller, he isn’t alone among pro-lifers who embrace Terry’s directive that "If you think abortion is murder, act like it." (After all, Terry has posited, "Wouldn’t it have been OK to kill Hitler if you knew you could save millions of Jews?").
Self-identified pro-lifers have celebrated Tiller’s murder, leaving hundreds of comments on rightwing blogs (and a good number at progressive and pro-choice blogs, just for good measure). Conservative writer LaShawn Barber gloated at the "irony" of "Tiller the child killer, cultivator of death" being murdered at church. A quick perusal of the front page of ProLifeBlogs.com includes such headlines as "George Tiller has killed his last baby," "Baby killer Tiller shot, killed at church," "Tiller the Killer killed," "Today Tiller the Killer, now a martyr for Molech, met God" and "Tiller shot to death!"
These are not "bad apples". They are symptomatic of (and sometimes the spokespeople for) a larger a movement that is disturbed and dangerous.
While individuals who self-identify as pro-life may be well-meaning and against violence, mainstream pro-life groups and the people who run them do not care about life, before or after birth. And while today anti-choice groups are half-heartedly condemning Tiller’s murder, they continue to use the same outlandish and inflammatory rhetoric that inspired and enabled it.
Words mean things. Anti-choicers should certainly have every right to express their views, but they must also realise that actions have consequences and their rhetoric is not harmless. If you yell "Fire!" in a crowded theatre, it’s reasonably foreseeable that people will panic and someone will be injured. And if you yell "Murderer!" "Baby-Killer!" and "Holocaust!" long enough, it’s reasonably foreseeable that someone will take it upon themselves to make sure that vigilante justice is done (especially if you provide the name and address of the person who you claim is committing "genocide").
This was not the act of a lone extremist. It is one more act of violence to add to a long, long list of crimes committed by anti-choice terrorists, and it is the logical outcome of years of increasingly violent, dehumanising and threatening rhetoric and action on the part of supposedly mainstream pro-life groups. The responsibility for George Tiller’s death surely falls on the shoulders of the person who actually pulled the trigger. But when pro-life groups did everything but give him a gun, their hands are hardly clean.
June 1, 2009
Americans United for Separation of Church and State today deplored the murder of a Kansas doctor nationally known for his work on behalf of women’s reproductive rights.
Dr. George Tiller was shot dead Sunday morning while serving as an usher at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kan.
“The murder of Dr. Tiller is an affront to every moral system imaginable,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “He had worked relentlessly to preserve the guarantee that women could make their own medical and ethical decisions. Our deepest sympathies go to his family, friends and patients.”
Tiller, who provided abortions to women with problem pregnancies, has been the target of a vicious – and sometimes violent – campaign by extreme Religious Right activists who want to ban all abortions in keeping with their doctrinal mandates.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.