It took the Sedgewick County, Kansas, jury only 37 minutes of deliberation to convict Scott Roeder, 51, of first degree murder. Roeder gunned down Dr. George Tiller, one of the few physicians who performed late abortions, while serving as an usher in his church on May 31, 2009.
When this guilty verdict was announced on Jan. 29, I felt relieved and proud that Kansans had done the right thing. I lived in Kansas for 31 years and knew Dr. Tiller as a very caring and compassionate doctor. He was greatly appreciated and loved by his patients and, of course, his staff, family and friends.
It is an interesting story how Dr. Tiller came to do abortions.
He had planned on being a dermatologist, but his life changed in 1970 when his parents, sister, and brother-in-law were tragically killed in a small plane crash. That is when George Tiller came home to Wichita to take care of his grandparents and wind down his father’s family medical practice. He and his wife, Jeanne, adopted his late sister’s son and raised him as one of their kids.
Two years later, a Supreme Court decision (Roe V. Wade, 1973) made abortion legal in all states, but for years before that, there had been doctors throughout the U.S. who quietly helped desperate women who came to them for help in ending unintended pregnancies. Dr. Tiller’s father was one of those doctors. Soon, George Tiller was faced with patients who asked for his help as well, and, like his father, he just couldn’t turn them away. He found out only after his father died that his father had been helping women in trouble.
Since 1973, when George Tiller did his first abortion, he has provided women in need with safe and legal abortions. That decision to be there for women who desperately needed help made him a target of anti-abortion violence. His clinic was bombed and vandalized several times and in 1993, he was shot in both elbows by an anti-abortion fanatic. My husband and I happened to be in Wichita the night the clinic was bombed in 1986, and we stood helplessly with George and Jeanne Tiller as the crews of fire and police worked to restore order and safety to the building. How is it right for a doctor who is providing a legal and very needed service, to have to construct his office as a military fortress, to have to wear a bullet proof vest under his clothes at all times, to have to pay for around-the-clock armed guards and bomb-sniffing dogs?
With this kind of expense and risk to life, it is no wonder that fewer and fewer doctors are willing to provide abortion services. So even though it maybe perfectly legal for women to choose abortion, in many communities the anti-choice extremists have won because there are no more doctors available. Eighty-seven percent of counties in the U.S. have no abortion providers.
For those of us who believe that women can be trusted to make their own reproductive health decisions, it is simply outrageous that a man who calls himself “pro-life,” can take the life of a law-abiding doctor, especially one who many women have expressly said “saved” their lives. Letters from his patients thanking Dr. Tiller and his supportive staff were framed and hung on the walls of the clinic as testimony to his compassionate work. His most hateful critics, such as Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, repeatedly called Tiller a cold-hearted, money-grubbing baby killer. They should have read the hundreds of heartfelt letters on his office walls. I knew Dr. Tiller and I read many of those letters. I also know that when my patients were too poor to pay for an abortion, Dr. Tiller helped them anyway. He was the opposite of money-grubbing.
As a pregnancy counselor, I supported whatever choice my patients made, whether it was to have a baby and keep it, have a baby and place it for adoption, or end a pregnancy they couldn’t handle at that time. If their choice was abortion, I made sure that they got to a medical doctor who would take care of their physical health as well as provide the kind, caring support a woman needs when she is emotionally vulnerable. Dr. Tiller and his staff got the highest marks from my patients on both counts.
I was surprised, but pleased, that the jury only deliberated for 37 minutes and found Roeder guilty of first degree murder. Good for those intelligent Kansas jurors. They were not confused or duped by Roeder’s warped rationale for his demented action.
We who knew and respected Dr. Tiller miss him tremendously and we worry about all the women who won’t be able to get the help they need any more. Our hearts go out to Jeanne Tiller and their four kids (two daughters are physicians). Let us hope our law enforcement people can prevent another doctor being murdered by taking this domestic terrorism seriously. – Marian Shapiro, MSW; Santa Barbara