Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Family closes murdered doctor's abortion clinic

A clinic run by murdered late-term abortion doctor George Tiller will shut forever, his family said.

The announcement was a tainted victory for America's anti-abortion movement which had for years made Dr Tiller the focus of protests, legislation and legal attacks.

Dr Tiller, who argued that women with access to pre-natal testing needed options in case those tests uncovered severe foetal abnormalities, was shot dead on May 31 while serving as an usher at his Lutheran church in Wichita, Kansas.

Abortion opponent Scott Roeder, 51, is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated assault.

Dr Tiller's death reignited a public debate over some abortion opponents' tactics and left many wondering how it would transform the abortion battleground.

Kansas has long been a lightning rod in the highly controversial social issue. In 2002 the leader of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue even moved his organisation to Wichita to wage an aggressive campaign.

Now, with the clinic's doors closed, the movement loses one of its key protest symbols.

"Part of what is a tragedy about this is that violence has achieved its objective," said Nancy Northup, president of Centre for Reproductive Rights.

"There is a concerted, ongoing effort at harassment and restriction with an aim to make doctors leave the field."

Operations at Women's Health Care Services in Wichita were suspended following Dr Tiller's death last month. In a statement released by his lawyers, his family said relatives had chosen to honour him with charitable activities instead of reopening the clinic.

"We are proud of the service and courage shown by our husband and father and know that women's health care needs have been met because of his dedication and service," the family said in the statement.

Operation Rescue said it had no plans to leave Wichita and the group's leader, Troy Newman, called the family's decision to close the clinic "bittersweet".

He said his group wanted to close abortion clinics but "I want to see them close through peaceful, legal non-violent means".

Dr Tiller's clinic had long served as a rally point for abortion opponents. Most protests were peaceful, but his clinic was bombed in 1986 and he was shot in both arms in 1993. In 1991, a 45-day "Summer of Mercy" campaign organised by Operation Rescue drew thousands of abortion opponents to Wichita and there were more than 2,700 arrests.

Dr Tiller's clinic was one of a handful of clinics across the US that perform third-term abortions.

Kansas state law allows abortions on viable foetuses after the 21st week only if carrying the pregnancy to term would endanger the mother's life or cause a "substantial and irreversible impairment" of a major bodily function. Courts have interpreted a "major bodily function" to include mental health.

Colorado doctor Warren Hern, Dr Tiller's long-time friend who also performs late-term abortions, called the closing an "outrage" and said for the rest of his life, he would also be a target of the anti-abortion movement.

"How much can you resist this kind of violence?" he said. "What doctor, what reasonable doctor would work there? Where does it stop?"

At least one doctor, LeRoy Carhart, had expressed an interest in reopening Dr Tiller's clinic. Following the family's decision, the Nebraska doctor said he would not abandon his effort to make sure third-term abortions were available.

"I completely understand and sympathise with this decision," he said. "I am currently exploring every option to be able to continue to make second and early medically indicated third trimester abortions available."

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