Roundup: More Details Emerge on Tiller’s Alleged Killer; Mourners Turn to Vigils Across the Nation

Emily Douglas

Two days after the murder of Kansas women's health care provider Dr. George Tiller, more details emerge about the suspect's hate-mongering, clinics across America tighten their security, and the religious right continues to worry that Tiller's death will derail their focus on Sonia Sotomayor's position on abortion rights.

Two days after the murder of Kansas women’s health care provider Dr.
George Tiller, more details emerge about the suspect’s hate-mongering,
clinics across America tighten their security, and the religious right
continues to worry that Tiller’s death will derail their focus on Sonia
Sotomayor’s position on abortion rights.

The Washington Post describes the scene in Wichita: "In Wichita, dozens of mourners left flowers outside Tiller’s clinic,
where an American flag flew at half-staff. Across town, the man accused
of killing the doctor awaited formal charges in the Sedgwick County
jail."  Mourners in Wichita and in cities across the country gathered for vigils honoring Tiller’s life and recommitting to the struggle for reproductive freedom.

USA Today has more details about suspect Scott Roeder:

Scott Roeder called himself a citizen of the Republic of Kansas
who didn’t want to pay income or Social Security taxes or register his
car. In the 1990s, he belonged to a group that said its members were
not subject to federal or state laws…

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Roeder was arrested in Topeka
in 1996 for having an improper license plate that declared his vehicle
sovereign private property. Police found bomb-making materials during a
search of his car.

He was sentenced to 24 months in prison for
criminal use of explosives and ordered to end contact with
anti-government groups. An appeals court overturned the conviction,
calling the search illegal.

In 2007, someone identified as Scott Roeder from
Kansas City posted comments on the web pages of Operation Rescue and, both groups that oppose abortion.

"Tiller is the concentration camp Mengele of our
day," the person wrote, referring to Josef Mengele, a Nazi doctor who
conducted experiments on prisoners.

"Scott Roeder harbored a burning,’eye-for-an-eye’ anger toward abortion
doctors. He once subscribed to a magazine suggesting ‘justifiable
homicide’ against them, and apparently likened Dr. George Tiller to the
Nazi death-camp doctor Josef Mengele," reports the AP.  "’The anti-tax stuff came first, and then it grew and grew. He became
very anti-abortion,’ said Lindsey Roeder, who was married to Scott
Roeder for 10 years but ‘strongly disagrees with his beliefs.’"

Roeder had recently harassed another Kansas clinic, the AP adds: 

Roeder was also known by sight and license plate number to personnel
at a clinic in Kansas City, Kan., where he had put glue in backdoor
locks – twice in 2000 and twice this year, most recently the day before
Tiller’s death, a clinic worker said Monday night.

The worker,
who spoke on condition that his name not be used because of fears for
his safety, said another employee was in the kitchen at Central Family
Medicine early Saturday morning and spotted Roeder approaching the back

"She saw his shadow and knew who it was," the worker said.
"She chased him away and caught up with him and had a conversation with
him. He just kept repeating, ‘Baby killer.’"


Meanwhile, the Times reported that "Mr. Roeder, 51, had not been among the people considered most worrisome
to some abortion rights groups, some of which keep a close eye on
anti-abortion groups and their Web sites to monitor what they consider
threats, leaders here said."

Physician Robert Crist described a past interaction with Roeder to the Post:

One doctor remembers Roeder confronting him inside a Planned Parenthood
clinic in Kansas City in the 1990s after first asking for him by name.

"I came out and he stepped up about six inches from me and said,
‘Now I know what you look like,’ and turned and walked out of the
building," said Robert Crist, 73, adding that he had put the incident
out of his mind until Sunday. "It really does send a chill down my
spine. You wonder, ‘Was I a target?’ "

Clinics in the Boston area and around the country are tightening security, reports the Boston Herald: "Abortion clinics in the Boston area
tightened security and moved to calm workers yesterday as U.S. Marshals
were dispatched to clinics across the country in the wake of the murder
of a church-going Kansas doctor."

The anti-choice movement continues to worry that Tiller’s
murder will distract from their attempts to draw attention to Sonia
Sotomayor’s position on abortion rights, the Boston Globe reports. "But they also worried that the murder will damage the credibility of
the antiabortion movement at a time when they are anxiously pressing
for an aggressive inquiry into Sotomayor’s views on Roe v. Wade, the
1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, as well as other
regulations limiting the procedure."

The LA Times
provides statistics about the occurrence of late-term abortions,
pointing out that, "Most doctors don’t perform late-stage abortions.
Nationally, only 1.3%
of all reported legal abortions occurred at 21 weeks or more gestation.
A slightly higher percentage, 3.7%, occurred at 16 to 20 weeks

On Feministe, Jill Filipovic has a fiery, must-read reaction to Will Saletan’s absurd "Is it wrong to kill an abortionist?" headline:

First: "Abortionist" is a word made up by right-wing fanatics. They use it to downplay the fact that abortion providers are doctors,
often OB/GYNs. It would be like calling a dermitologist an "acne-ist."
It doesn’t really make sense, and there’s already an actual term for
what those doctors do. "Abortionist" is a loaded and totally incorrect
word, and it’s appalling to see it used over and over again in an
article written by a supposedly pro-choice person.

Second: Tiller is not the pro-choice equivalent of Scott Roeder, and Saletan should be ashamed for suggesting as much.

Third: The headine "Is it wrong to murder an abortionist?" suggests
that there’s actually some debate amongst reasonable people on that
issue. There is not.


Here’s how Saletan describes Tiller’s work:

Several years ago, I went to a conference of abortionists. Some of
the late-term providers were there. A row of tables displayed forceps
for sale. They started small and got bigger and bigger. Walking along
the row, you could ask yourself: Would I use these forceps? How about
those? Where would I stop?

The people who do late-term abortions
are the ones who don’t flinch. They’re like the veterans you sometimes
see in war documentaries, quietly recounting what they faced and did.
You think you’re pro-choice. You think marching or phone-banking makes
you an activist. You know nothing. There’s you, and then there are the
people who work in the clinics. And then there are the people who use
the forceps. And then there are the people who use the forceps nobody
else will use. At the end of the line, there’s George Tiller.

Nothing about the heart-breaking circumstances faced by the of the women Tiller served.  Nothing about the fact that the abortions he performed weren’t ones women could have prevented.

In The American Prospect, Michelle Goldberg offers a deeply moving assessment of Tiller’s work, an antidote to Saletan’s dismissive treatment:

abortion is often spoken of as the most morally dubious aspect of the
abortion debate. Many people who are nominally pro-choice, particularly
politicians, are quick to condemn it, to treat the work that Tiller did
as repugnant even if it’s legal.

Ironically, though, many of the
procedures Tiller did were as far away from the much-reviled concept of
"abortion on demand" as one could get. Unwanted pregnancy can, to some
extent, be prevented. A pregnancy that goes horribly wrong cannot.
Almost anyone of child-bearing age could end up needing Tiller’s
services. And now some of them will be forced to carry pregnancies to
term against their will even when their fetuses can’t survive outside
the womb…

course, not all of Tiller’s cases were as morally clear-cut as those
recounted on A Heartbreaking Choice. Tiller performed abortions at 26
or 27 weeks for developmentally disabled abuse victims or girls who’d
hidden their pregnancies and then become suicidal. Harrison himself is
uncomfortable with such late abortions. When patients of his sought
them, "Unless they were a real threat to the mother’s life, and I
consider suicide a threat to her life, we would talk about having a
baby and putting it up for adoption," he says. But it was precisely
because such abortions are so grueling for everyone involved that
Harrison admires Tiller’s willingness to do them. As everyone who knew
Tiller points out, Tiller’s motto was "trust women." He had the phrase
printed up on buttons.

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