The murder of Dr. George Tiller, who was shot to death as he stood in the foyer of his church in Wichita, Kan., on Sunday morning, was a reprehensible act of domestic terrorism directed toward the dwindling cadre of physicians who risk their safety to perform legal medical procedures.
Dr. Tiller’s death, the fourth killing of an American abortion provider since 1993, was the first since 1998 when a sniper gunned down Dr. Barnett Slepian in his home in the Buffalo area. For Dr. Tiller, and physicians like him, the threatening protests and incidents of violence and harassment never really stopped.
For his principled devotion to women’s health and constitutionally protected rights, Dr. Tiller was the target of protests at his clinic, his house and his church. In 1986, his clinic was bombed, and, in 1993, an abortion opponent shot him in both arms. He was forced to fend off trumped up legal challenges aimed at shutting down his operations. Last month, vandals attacked his clinic. Nevertheless, he somehow persevered in a state that is one of the battlegrounds in the fight to restrict abortion.
Responding to Dr. Tiller’s slaying, President Obama expressed shock and outrage and said that profound differences over issues like abortion “cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence.” Mr. Obama recently called for Americans to find common ground on reducing the need for abortions. In that spirit, abortion opponents should refrain from the “baby killer” rhetoric that inflames an already heated debate.
Attorney General Eric Holder says the United States Marshal Service will begin protecting certain abortion clinics and doctors. Mr. Holder should consider taking the additional step of revitalizing the National Task Force on Violence against Health Care Providers that former Attorney General Janet Reno established during the Clinton years. There must be a sustained focus by federal and state officials to prevent further acts of violence and intimidation. If it turns out that additional laws are needed, Congress should take action.
Over time, the combination of anti-choice restrictions and ongoing harassment by protest groups even short of violence have served to make abortions harder and harder to obtain. That trend must be stopped.
* EDITORIAL New York Times (NYT), June 2, 2009