Do I even need to say that murder is pro-crazy, not pro-life? Apparently, yes: George Tiller, the nationally known late-term abortion doctor whose support of Kathleen Sebelius nearly scotched her appointment to Obama's cabinet, was murdered in the lobby of Lutheran Reformation Church in Wichita, Kansas on Sunday morning. He was a regular usher at the church, and had just finished handing out bulletins ahead of the morning service. Even there, he usually wore a bullet-proof vest.
Dan Monnat, who was Tiller's lawyer (and my best friend's brother -- yes, the world is small as well as violent) said Tiller's wife, Jeanne, was singing in the choir at the time of the shooting, just after 10 a.m. By the time the ambulance arrived, the doctor was dead. "It's really, really tragic,'' Monnat said in a phone interview. "Despite the fact that his clinic had been bombed and despite the fact that he'd been shot before, and put on trial...he was always willing to get back up the next morning and serve his patients, who were his first concern. He'd had patients move in with him and his wife until they could deliver. You can't imagine a more dedicated professional, and his view -- Why did he persist? -- was, "If I'm not there to do it, who else will do it?'' There was only one other clinic in the country doing this; all the rest have been scared away by protesters and terrorists.''
Yet he was never really afraid, Monnat said -- or never showed it, anyway. "I never detected fear in him,'' he said. "He knew what he was doing was morally right, and right under the Constitution.'' He drove a custom-made bullet-proof SUV, had an elaborate security system at his clinic, security around the clock and usually, a bodyguard at his side. His family never expressed fear either, his lawyer said. "He had a wife of 45 years who's always supported him, and three daughters and a son who were behind him 100 percent.'' Now that the worst has happened, Monnat said, his family's greatest hope is this: "They don't want this to be politicized.'' Kind of amazing that after suffering this kind of loss, they still think that's a possibility.
In Witchita, Monnat said, "the whole town is grieving for a man who stood up for what he knew was right and who stood up for women. He was the 100-percent real deal, committed to rights that are not very popular with a lot of people.''
The shooter -- described as a 220-pound white man in his 50s or 60s -- fled the scene in a powder-blue 1993 Ford Taurus registered to someone in Merriam, Kan., a Kansas City suburb. The Wichita Eagle reports that a 51-year-old suspect has been arrested. Police stopped the man on Interstate 35 near Kansas City about three hours after the shooting.
Tiller, who was 67, had been shot in both arms in a past attempt on his life, and his clinic has been the site of protests for decades. It was bombed in 1986, and vandalized earlier this month. Through Monnat, Tiller's family released a statement: "Today we mourn the loss of our husband, father and grandfather. Today's event is an unspeakable tragedy for all of us and for George's friends and patients. This is particularly heart-wrenching because George was shot down in his house of worship, a house of peace.''
Tiller was tried and acquitted two months ago on charges that he got most of the second opinions for the late-term abortions from a doctor who worked for him rather than from an independent source, as required by law. During the trial, he and his legal team had to be escorted into the courthouse by armed guards.
He had also been in the news recently as a donor and supporter of former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. When Obama nominated her to serve as his Secretary of Health and Human Services, some abortion opponents made an issue of her ties to Tiller. And Obama's support for someone supported by Tiller is often cited as evidence -- weak evidence, in my view -- that the president is more "pro-abortion'' than any of his predecessors.
The anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, which had organized massive protests against Tiller, almost immediately issued a statement decrying the violence: "Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice.'' But Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry was last seen brandishing dolls covered with fake blood to protest the visit of our pro-choice president to the University of Notre Dame. And when hate speech meets insanity, this is the result. It's frightening to all who support abortion rights, a disaster for all who oppose them -- and not the common ground either side had in mind.