You turn to us for voices you won't hear anywhere else.

Sign up for Democracy Now!'s Daily Digest to get our latest headlines and stories delivered to your inbox every day.

Dr. George Tiller (1941-2009): Murdered Abortion Provider Remembered for Lifelong Dedication to Women’s Reproductive Health

Media Options

Supporters of reproductive rights are mourning the killing of the abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. The sixty-seven-year-old Tiller was shot Sunday as he attended services at his Wichita, Kansas church. The gunman fled the scene, but a suspect was later caught in a Kansas City suburb. The suspect, fifty-one-year-old Scott Roeder, has a history of involvement in anti-abortion activism and was once arrested and jailed on explosives charges. He has ties to the right-wing separatist group known as the Freemen. We look at the life of Dr. Tiller with five women who worked alongside him to uphold reproductive rights: two women doctors who fly into Wichita every month to work alongside him performing abortions; two of the attorneys who defended him through years of legal harassment, one in Wichita and one in New York; and Ellie Smeal of the Feminist Majority Foundation, who knew him for twenty years. [includes rush transcript]

Related Story

StoryOct 19, 2011Colleagues of Slain Kansas Abortion Doctor George Tiller Continue His Fight for Reproductive Rights
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Supporters of reproductive rights are mourning the killing of the abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. The sixty-seven-year-old doctor was shot Sunday as he attended services at his Wichita, Kansas church. The gunman fled the scene, but a suspect was later caught in a Kansas City suburb.

The suspect is fifty-one-year-old Scott Roeder. He has a history of involvement in anti-abortion activism. He was once arrested and jailed on explosives charges. He has ties to the right-wing separatist group known as the Freemen.

Wichita Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz said Roeder will be charged with murder and aggravated assault.

    DEPUTY POLICE CHIEF TOM STOLZ: And within minutes, we had a fifty-one-year-old suspect stopped outside of Johnson County, Kansas. He’s in custody at this time. He is en route back to Wichita, where we will interview him and continue our investigation. At this particular time, we believe at the end of the day we will book him for one charge of murder and two counts of aggravated assault on two other adult males who were at the church who he threatened and pointed a gun at.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Tiller’s clinic is one of just three in the nation performing late-term abortions after the twenty-first week of pregnancy. Dr. Tiller faced constant threats and incidents of violence and vandalism. His clinic was bombed in 1985. In 1993, Dr. Tiller survived an assassination attempt with gunshot wounds to both arms. Two years earlier, thousands of anti-abortion activists tried to block his clinic during the “Summer of Mercy” protests organized by the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. He had recently asked prosecutors to increase legal action against anti-abortion activists who targeted the clinic.

The National Abortion Federation says Dr. Tiller is the eighth abortion provider to be assassinated in the United States since 1977. Seventeen other abortion providers, they say, have been targeted for murder.

President Obama said he’s “shocked and outraged” by Dr. Tiller’s killing. Attorney General Eric Holder later announced he would order the deployment of US Marshals to protect women’s health clinics as well as doctors across the nation.

In a statement, Tiller’s family said, quote, “George dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality heath care despite frequent threats and violence. We ask that he be remembered as a good husband, father and grandfather and a dedicated servant on behalf of the rights of women everywhere.”

Today, we’ll look at the life of Dr. George Tiller with five women who worked alongside him to uphold reproductive rights.

We go to Wichita, Kansas, where we’re joined by two guests. Laura Shaneyfelt was one of Dr. Tiller’s attorneys in several legal efforts against his practice. And Dr. Shelley Sella is also with us. She’s an obstetrician/gynecologist from Oakland, California, who worked with Dr. Tiller in his clinic for the last seven years. She flew in from California to Wichita every month. They’re joining us from just outside Wichita’s Reformation Lutheran Church, where Dr. Tiller was shot and killed yesterday. Neither of them want to go on camera right now, so we’re going to be showing for our TV audience just the video of the whole area outside the church. I know that satellite trucks have gathered there as people have been mourning the death of Dr. Tiller. Also, there have been anti-abortion activists who have been protesting there last night, as well.

Joining us from California, Dr. Susan Robinson is on the line with us. Along with Dr. Sella, she has worked in Dr. Tiller’s clinic. Dr. Robinson, a gynecologist specializing in abortion care.

Joining us from Washington, DC, Ellie Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. She worked with Dr. Tiller for more than two decades on the Clinic Defense Project to protect women’s health clinics and prevent anti-abortion violence.

And here in our firehouse studio, we’re joined by Bonnie Scott Jones. She is a senior attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights, which works to protect reproductive choice. She is deputy director of the US program at the Center for Reproductive Rights. She represented more than 2,000 of Dr. Tiller’s patients in a case seeking their medical records. It was a class action suit.

Well, we want to start in Wichita, Kansas, at the church where Dr. Tiller was an usher, where he was killed yesterday as he went to attend church. Dr. Shelley Sella, you had just flown from Wichita to Oakland when you got the news. And last night we spoke to you in the airport in Oakland, where you were flying right back. You’re now in Wichita, but you don’t want your face to be shown. Explain why not.

DR. SHELLEY SELLA: I really would like to focus on Dr. Tiller, on the amazing work that he did, on the incredible bravery that he had, the wonderfully compassionate care that he gave to women and his service that he provided to women from all over the country and all over the world. And I think — I don’t want to do anything that would detract from him and just the work that he did.

AMY GOODMAN: Your reaction to his murder yesterday?

DR. SHELLEY SELLA: Well, I think all of us are bereft, absolutely bereft. Dr. Tiller, I always thought, was just a quintessential American hero. He was patriotic. He loved — he loved his country. And he did everything out of kindness, justice, love and respect. Those were some of the words that he used to describe the doctor-patient relationship that he thought was so important, but those are words that describe him and the way that he provided care.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain exactly what you did, why you flew in from California to Kansas to work alongside Dr. Tiller.

DR. SHELLEY SELLA: The reason I did was not just because of what —- the work that Dr. Tiller did, which was to provide first—, second- and third-trimester abortion, but the way that he provided the care. He was an exceptional man, an exceptional caregiver. He trusted women. He had faith in women. And that came through in his work and in his life and the way that he treated patients and the way that he treated everyone who worked with him. And that’s really what drew me to work with him: his philosophy and his approach to women’s healthcare.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you learn about him? How did you learn about him, Dr. Sella?

DR. SHELLEY SELLA: We actually met at a conference. And he was talking about his philosophy toward women, and — which is that he often had different axioms that he would say, and one of them — and this is how we met: he was speaking, and he said, “The woman’s body is smarter than the doctor. Time, patience, and the baby will come. Respect the woman’s rhythm. And if you forget the second and third rule, remember the first. The woman’s body is smarter than the doctor.” When I heard him say that, I said — I just piped up, “Oh, that’s a midwifery,” meaning that’s a midwifery, woman-centered approach to care. And we started talking, and within five minutes he had offered me a job.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back. That’s Dr. Shelley Sella. She’s an OB/GYN, works in Oakland, California, but flies into Wichita to work beside Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated yesterday. We’ll speak about Dr. Tiller’s life. We’ll also hear some of the video excerpts of a speech he recently gave about his life’s work. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: We are spending today’s broadcast in Wichita as well as around the country with the colleagues of Dr. George Tiller, who was killed yesterday in his Lutheran church in Wichita, Kansas, has run a clinic for decades that he inherited from his father, where he provides women’s healthcare, provides abortions, provides late-term abortions, as well.

We just spoke with Dr. Shelley Sella, who is in Wichita, just flew back in last night. Dr. Susan Robinson is on the phone with us from California. She is an OB/GYN who has worked with Dr. Tiller for years.

Dr. Robinson, can you tell us Dr. Tiller’s story, how he ended up with a women’s health clinic in Wichita, Kansas?


Yeah, he was in the Navy. He was a surgeon, a flight surgeon, in the Navy. And his dad was killed in a plane crash, along with his, I think, sister and brother-in-law and his mom. And so, he went back to Wichita to close the practice, because his intention was to be, I think, a dermatologist. And he just couldn’t leave. The patients kind of kept him there.

And eventually, he was doing family medicine. And eventually, a patient needed an abortion, and he said, “Well, I don’t do abortions.” And the patient said, “You have to do abortions. Women need abortions, and you have to do them. Your dad did them, and you have to do them.” And then he did. And he started doing abortions, because the patients said they desperately needed them. And eventually that became pretty much all of his practice, although he did still have a couple family medicine patients.

AMY GOODMAN: And how did you end up working with him?

DR. SUSAN ROBINSON: Oh, God, he’s — I started doing abortion care after the Salvi shootings in Brookline, because I thought the doctors are going to all get scared away, so I better get doing this.

And then — so he was known to every — he’s known to everybody who does abortions here. And one time I was at a meeting, and I walked up to him, and I said, “Are you George Tiller? I want you to know you’re my hero.” And he said, “You’ll have to come and visit us sometime in Wichita.” And so, that’s what I did. I applied for my Kansas license that day, and then I went to visit it. And a couple of years later, he needed somebody to help, and he hired me. I had my license all cranked up and ready to go.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, how often did you go to Wichita from California?

DR. SUSAN ROBINSON: I went there one week — I went — I was going to say “I go there.” I went there one week out of three. I was there for a week, and then I’d be home for two weeks, and there for a week and home for two weeks. Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And your reaction to his death yesterday? Did the murder of Dr. Tiller surprise you?

DR. SUSAN ROBINSON: Oh, well, I mean, in a way, it didn’t surprise me, because, of course, he knew that this could happen, and everybody knew it could happen. But I — did it surprise me? Yes, I didn’t think it was going to happen; I just knew it could happen. I’m stunned. I’m shocked.

And what’s going to happen to all those patients? Where are they going to go? We’ve had patients from all over the world. We have patients that — the walls of that clinic are lined with letters from people who said, “You saved my life.” You know, what about those patients in New Zealand, who are happily pregnant and find out at thirty weeks that their baby doesn’t have a brain or, you know, that their baby has something horribly wrong? We took care of those people from all over the world. What’s going happen to them?

AMY GOODMAN: Will you continue going to Wichita to the clinic?

DR. SUSAN ROBINSON: Well, I certainly — I will, as long as the clinic is open. I just don’t know if the clinic can survive this, because Dr. Tiller was — he had roots in the Wichita community that went back two generations. You know, it took that to keep — to keep that clinic sort of operative in the environment of Wichita, where, you know, the mayor is anti-choice, the city attorney is anti-choice, and the law enforcement, you know, had their hands tied. They couldn’t enforce the law. And I don’t know if —- I don’t think that clinic can go on for too long without Dr. Tiller to sort of interface with the community. I have no roots in that community. You know, I don’t [inaudible] -—

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Ellie Smeal into this conversation, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, and read you the comments of Randall Terry, the head of Operation Rescue. They said after Dr. Tiller’s murder, Dr. — Randall Terry said, “Dr. Tiller was a mass murderer. I grieve for him that he did not have an opportunity to properly prepare his soul to face his Maker. Unless some miracle happened, he left this life with his hands drenched with the innocent blood of tens of thousands of babies that he murdered. Surely there will be a dreadful accounting for what he has done.”

Ellie Smeal, your response? You worked with Dr. Tiller for decades.

ELLIE SMEAL: Well, Randall Terry doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and that’s one of our problems, is that there’s such ignorance on this subject.

And, you know, Dr. Tiller saved countless women’s lives. Just as Dr. Robinson said, every day he was thanked by women whose lives he saved. He was a humanitarian, a person who — I think his family said it so well. He was dedicated to women and to women’s rights everywhere. And he did what he knew he should do as a skilled physician.

And Randall Terry has been a person who has been outside these clinics, screaming and hollering, but he doesn’t know anything about really medicine and women’s health.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you first meet, Ellie Smeal? How did you meet Dr. Tiller? What has your work been with him over the decades?

ELLIE SMEAL: Well, I was — right. The one I — the encounter I remember the most is when his clinic was being so heavily picketed in ’91. And I talked to him extensively about — I felt that he shouldn’t close the clinic and that they wouldn’t honor — they said if he closed in a week, that they would go away or something. And, of course, he did, and that just gave them more steam, and they were outside his clinics for weeks. It was horrible. And he said, “Will you come?” Because I had wanted to organize, because I know that the public support is with us and with him, and so we did.

And he was amazing every time I talked to him on the phone, every time I’ve been with him in person. He is a gentle, unassuming person. I think often he really thought that these folks were just misguided, or they didn’t understand, or they were being driven by a religion. He sometimes was too generous to them. But he always had courage. I don’t even think he thought it was courage; he thought he was doing the right thing.

And so, anyway, we’ve been organizing. We do clinic defense work all over the country. We’ve tried to help him. I’m just so sad that we were not successful in — you know, our country shouldn’t — this shouldn’t happen in our country. The laws have got to get tougher, because you shouldn’t be allowed to plague a clinic and clinic workers and a doctor like Dr. Tiller, picking at him day and night, screaming at him, when if they only understood what good he was doing. But I think that we have to say that story more. People got to understand why this is necessary.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to a clip of Dr. George Tiller, who was speaking at an event organized by your group, Ellie Smeal, Feminist Majority Foundation. In this speech, Dr. Tiller talked about a patient that had a profound influence on his practice.

    DR. GEORGE TILLER: I’m a chromosomally disadvantaged person: I am XY, women are XX, and I am a woman-educated physician. This picture here is to indicate that, one of the first people who taught me about the devastation that can occur in a family as a result of alcoholism, drug addiction. This is Haddie Mueller [phon.]. She’s been dead for about thirty years now. But she was one of my father’s patients, and she did have three terminations of pregnancy before it was legal. And she explained all of those things to me. She explained about poverty, and she explained about abuse, and she explained about alcoholism and drug addiction and how it impacted negatively the family. So, I am a woman-educated physician in every aspect of my understanding about abortion and about responsibility of women in the family, both socially and financially.

    There are pivotal patients in everyone’s practice. This girl on my left is nine-and-a-half years old. She can from Southern California with her mother and her aunt for a termination of pregnancy. I told them that I — she was too far along, and I couldn’t help. There were some stories in the newspaper about Dr. Tiller is getting ready to kill babies for a nine-year-old. I don’t know how that happened. But I was trying to explain to my daughters, who were ten and nine at the time, about why I had planned to do this procedure. My ten-year-old daughter said, “Daddy, you’ve got” —- I was about thirty seconds into explaining about this, because, you know, these are nine— and ten-year-old girls that I’d had. And what they said —- what Jennifer said was, “Daddy, a ten-year-old girl, a nine-year-old girl shouldn’t be pregnant, and simply not by her father or her grandfather or her uncle.” My ten-year-old daughter already knew about sex, about babies. And I, of course, thought that she could car date when she was thirty-five years old by herself.

    What one of the things that my father taught me was that to be credible in medicine, you must require for your patients the same care that you would require for your family. I made a decision that if my nine— and ten-year-old daughters at that time were in that situation, I would do the procedure. I did it for this girl. It turned out marvelously. There were no problems, no complications. And I made that decision at that time that I was going to help as many people as I possibly could. And age was — if a woman was or a girl was able to get pregnant, we should be able to do a termination of pregnancy.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Tiller, speaking to the Feminist Majority Foundation. He also discussed the threats and attacks on him personally and on his clinic.

    DR. GEORGE TILLER: While I was developing this practice between 1973 and 1985, I thought I was just Joe Blow family physician, raising my kids, stamping out disease, and taking family vacations. But that’s not true. There are a lot of — it has been impressed on me that there are a lot of people in the United States that don’t like what we do.

    And this is what an office looks like when it’s been bombed at about midnight. Our response was and still continues to be, “Hell, no, we won’t go!” I put up $10,000 as a reward. Nobody ever collected on it. That was 1986.

    We tried to get back to being a normal clinic, but we had to put up some gates and take other security arrangements. And again, I had my head in the sand. I’m taking care of people, one patient — you know, we were trying to make the world a better place to live, one woman at a time. And I said, “No, this stuff isn’t going to happen again in Wichita.” Well, I was wrong. We began to have people arrested outside our office. The clinic was blocked. People couldn’t get in. Federal marshals finally had to take over. After six weeks, they had to take over the clinic. And things got back to relatively normal.

    The phrase “a shot in the arm” will have an entirely different — has had an entirely different meaning to me. I was leaving the clinic, and I was shot. I was shot twice as I left the clinic. The good news was that there was no major damage. But what I found out was I wasn’t nearly as tough as I thought I was.

    I hired a Brink’s armored car to take me to and from — the first time I came back into the — I drove my car back into the parking lot a couple of days later, I thought, “This won’t bother me.” I was wrong. It did bother me. Although it’s not on here, for six weeks I hired a Brink’s armored truck to pick me up at 7:00 in the morning and take me home at 5:00 in the — as you know, that was the only time in my life I’ve been able to leave the clinic on time. You know, I can’t — you know, just sort of on the side, I can’t imagine the enormous stress that our boys have coming home from Iraq and the enormous amount of post-traumatic stress syndrome. But at any rate, after six weeks, I felt well enough to drive myself in and out from the clinic, but I never drove that car again.

    We built a new building, put on an ambulatory surgical center. There are no — there are no windows in this building. It has a metal detector. People have to have airport-like security to get in and out of the clinic. There’s an anti-abortion clinic right next door. We are picketed all the time.

    In August of 1994, I was the first on the anti-abortion hit list or assassination list. And Janet Reno and President Clinton assigned federal marshals to me for thirty months. They came to the house, got me, took me to the office, stayed at the clinic. And they did that for about thirty months.

    In 1991, Susie Gilligan — poor Susie — came to Wichita as — to help us put down the — or help us get through the anniversary celebration of the Roe — of the 1991 Summer of Mercy. OK, the Summer of Mercy. I got to experience a Federal Witness Program protection. Ashcroft, at the behest of National Abortion Federation, Planned Parenthood and the Fund, they broke his arm, and they supplied Federal Witness Protection Program protection for two weeks.

    During this time, we developed a new Declaration of Reproductive Independence, which says, for every woman, each pregnancy is an invited guest into her body and a welcome addition to her family. Every woman, everywhere, invited guest into her body and a welcome addition to her family. We won. They went home. And all of my staff got to stand on the top rung of the winners’ stand. They received, for getting me — getting through this, a dozen roses, a memorial or a commemorative flag that flew over our office, and, in the best history of the Olympic Committee, $100 in small bills passed under the table.

    Oh, we had a year of retribution, where they harassed our employees at home, stalked my wife, harassed business and vendors, and they tried to close us down. They published a list of all of our vendors on the internet. They put crosses that are exactly illegal in the eaves way.

    But the good news is, we still live in the United States of America. The good news is that in Kansas, we are able to use the wide definition and the full implementation of the Roe v. Wade decision, which allows us to do post-viability terminations of pregnancy.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. George Tiller addressing the Feminist Majority Foundation last year. This is Democracy Now!, We’ll be back with our guests from around the country in a minute.



Ani DiFranco singing “Birmingham,” about the bombing of a women’s health clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, ten years ago, about eleven years ago, 1998. Robert Sanderson, an off-duty police officer, worked as a security guard at the clinic in Birmingham, was killed when his workplace was bombed. Eric Robert Rudolph, also responsible for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing, was charged with the crime and received two life sentences as a result.

We’re talking about Dr. George Tiller, his killing yesterday. He was in church at the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas, where we have two guests right now who worked closely with him. Dr. Shelley Sella, who is an OB/GYN, flew in from California, as did Dr. Susan Robinson, who’s in California, to perform abortions by his side. Also in Wichita, Laura Shaneyfelt, attorney for Dr. Tiller. She, too, is not going on camera. We’re just showing images of the Reformation Lutheran Church.

Laura Shaneyfelt, can you talk about the cases you worked on with Dr. Tiller in both your town, Wichita?


Yes, certainly. It seemed, as you just heard Dr. Tiller describing from that audio clip, that his clinic was sieged several times on the street. And it seemed that starting in about 2006, that the protesters were taking their fight from the street into the courts, and they were successful in getting several investigations of Dr. Tiller started.

And Dr. Tiller, being the great American that he is, always believed in the court system and always believed that justice would prevail. And he, of course, was right. He was investigated by two separate grand juries. He was investigated by the district attorney’s office at the behest of protesters, and then he faced criminal charges this past year and was always acquitted of everything. Both the grand juries found that he had done absolutely nothing wrong, as did the local district attorney’s office, and then his — a jury of his peers similarly found in March of 2009 that he was not guilty of any of the charges against him.


We’re joined here in New York by Bonnie Scott Jones, who’s the deputy director of the US program for the Center for Reproductive Rights. You also worked very recently with Dr. Tiller. Tell us about this class action suit.


Sure. Well, this was actually related to one of the cases that Laura Shaneyfelt talked about. A group of citizens, by petition, organized a grand jury to investigate Dr. Tiller. And that grand jury subsequently subpoenaed the medical records of thousands of Dr. Tiller’s patients.

When that happened, patients — many of Dr. Tiller’s patients, as you already heard, are incredibly grateful and appreciative of all that he did for them. Patients came forward wanting to help Dr. Tiller. And we ended up representing some of those patients on behalf of all of the patients involved, in trying to protect the confidentiality of their medical records. Dr. Tiller was incredibly committed to protecting the confidentiality of his patients and to protecting their safety, their health and their well-being. And so, we represented those patients in trying to block the turning over of their medical records to the grand jury.

And ultimately, as Dr. Tiller always had faith in, justice did prevail. And the Kansas Supreme Court quashed the subpoenas that were in place, substantially limited them, and allowed only very limited information, and none of the patients’ names or any identifying information to be turned over to the grand jury.


I wanted to play a clip of Bill O’Reilly. Dr. Tiller was vilified in the right-wing media, which often called him “Tiller the Baby Killer.” According to, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly mentioned Dr. Tiller on twenty-nine episodes of his program, The O’Reilly Factor, often with scathing attacks. This is an excerpt of an O’Reilly broadcast from June of 2007.

    BILL O’REILLY: No matter what you think about the abortion issue, you should be very disturbed by what continues to happen in Kansas. This man, Dr. George Tiller, known as “Tiller the Baby Killer,” is performing late-term abortions without defining the specific medical reasons why.

    Let’s be more blunt: Tiller is executing fetuses in his Wichita clinic for $5,000. And records show he’ll do it for vague medical reasons. That is, he’ll kill the fetus, viable outside the womb, if the mother wants it dead. No danger to the mother’s life, no catastrophic damage if the woman delivers.

    Now, some Kansas politicians want to stop the madness. But incredibly, Governor Kathleen Sebelius is protecting Tiller, citing privacy. The governor vetoed a bill a few weeks ago that would have forced Tiller to provide a specific medical reason for destroying a viable fetus.

    Now, America is a great country, but this kind of barbaric display in Kansas diminishes our entire nation. Tiller has killed thousands, thousands of late-term fetuses without explanation. And Governor Sebelius is allowing him to continue the slaughter. How the governor sleeps at night is beyond me.

    There are Americans who believe that babies that are about to be born are not human beings — how they form that conclusion is interesting — and only a handful of doctors in the USA who will perform late-term abortions for any reason, because doctors know a viable life when they see it.


That was Bill O’Reilly in 2007. Dr. Shelley Sella, you’re standing outside the Reformation Lutheran Church, where Dr. Tiller was gunned down yesterday in church. He served as an usher in his church. Your response to Bill O’Reilly?


Well, I think I’d like to respond by quoting Dr. Tiller, and what he has often said was, “Women are spiritually, morally and intellectually capable of struggling with complex, ethical decisions and arriving at the correct decision for themselves and their family.”


Dr. Shelley Sella, you provide late-term abortions, certainly very controversial. Your thoughts about this?


My thoughts about —


About late-term abortions.


— providing late-term abortions?




Well, I am completely in harmony with Dr. Tiller’s view that — just as I quoted him. And I think that there will always be a need for abortion. There will always be a need for first trimester abortion, second and third trimester abortion.


Bonnie Scott Jones?


And the important thing is to provide that service — I’m sorry?


Go ahead. Go ahead, Dr. Sella.


And I think it’s important to provide that service competently and compassionately. And that is exactly what Dr. Tiller did.


Can that term, “late-term abortion” — let me put that to you, Bonnie Scott Jones. What does it mean?


Well, it’s actually a term without a defined meaning. I mean, there is no meaning. There are first trimester, second trimester abortions. There are third trimester abortions, some of which are pre-viability, some of which are post-viability.

Dr. Tiller — I mean, I just want to make a point that the clip is utterly false, in that investigators, over and over again, grand juries, juries of Dr. Tiller’s peers, found that he was innocent, that he performed his abortions in compliance with the law. What the law permits in terms of post-viability abortions are abortions to protect a woman’s life or health.

I just want to say that what I hope Dr. Tiller’s tragic death will awaken in our policymakers and in the public is a recognition that enough is enough. We, as a country, have to stop tolerating the villainization of abortion providers. Abortion is a significant part of healthcare in this country. It will continue to be. One in three women will seek abortion services in their lifetime. It’s part of healthcare. And we cannot allow the villainization of abortion providers. The doctors who provide those services must be respected and protected, not vilIainized, not ghettoized, not segregated, and not subject to conditions that would be considered utterly intolerable in any other area of medicine. So I really hope this is a wake-up call to our lawmakers and our government to come forward and protect these doctors.


I wanted to read an excerpt from the Kansas City Star that just came out. It says, “The suspect in custody for the slaying of Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller was a member of an anti-government group in the 1990s and a staunch opponent of abortion.

“Scott [P.] Roeder, [51,] of Merriam, Kan., a Kansas City suburb, was arrested on Interstate 35 near Gardner in suburban Johnson County, Kan., about three hours after the shooting. Tiller was shot to death around 10 a.m. inside Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita.

“In the rear window of the 1993 blue Ford Taurus that he was driving was a red rose, a symbol often used by abortion opponents. On the rear of his car was a Christian fish symbol with the word ‘Jesus’ inside.

“ Those who know Roeder said he believed that killing abortion doctors was an act of justifiable homicide.”

And it quotes Regina Dinwiddie, saying, “I know that he believed in justifiable homicide.” She’s “a Kansas City anti-abortion activist who made headlines in 1995 when she was ordered by a federal judge to stop using a bullhorn within 500 feet of any abortion clinic.” She said, “I know he very strongly believed that abortion was murder and that you ought to defend the little ones, both born and unborn.”

“Roeder also was a subscriber to Prayer and Action News, a magazine that advocated the justifiable homicide position,” according to Dave Leach, an anti-abortion activist in Des Moines, Iowa.

“Leach said he met Roeder in Topeka when he went there to visit Shelley Shannon, who was in prison for the 1993 shooting of Tiller. […]

“Roeder, who in the 1990s was a manufacturing assemblyman, also was involved in the ‘Freemen’ movement.”

Again, I’m continuing to read from the Kansas City Star.

“‘Freemen’ was a term adopted by those who claimed sovereignty from government jurisdiction and operated under their own legal system, which they called common-law courts. Adherents declared themselves exempt from laws, regulations and taxes and often filed liens against judges, prosecutors and others, claiming that money was owed to them as compensation.

“In April 1996, Roeder was arrested in Topeka after Shawnee County sheriff’s deputies stopped him for not having a proper license plate. In his car, officers said they found ammunition, a blasting cap, a fuse cord, a one-pound can of gunpowder and two 9-volt batteries, with one connected to a switch that could have been used to trigger a bomb. […]

“Morris Wilson, commander of the Kansas Unorganized Citizens Militia in the mid-1990s, said he knew Roeder fairly well.”

He said, “I’d say he’s a good ol’ boy except he was just so fanatic about abortion…He was always talking about how awful abortion was. But there’s a lot of people who think abortion is [awful].”

“In recent years, someone using the name Scott Roeder has posted anti-Tiller comments on various Internet sites. One post, dated Sept. 3, 2007 and placed on a site sponsored by Operation Rescue called, said that Tiller needed to be ‘stopped.’”

It went on to say, “It seems as though what is happening in Kansas could be compared to the 'lawlessness' which is spoken of in the Bible…Tiller is the concentration camp 'Mengele' of our day and needs to be stopped before he and those who protect him bring judgment upon our nation.”

I’d like to ask Ellie Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, to respond.


Well, it’s breathtaking. Of course, he’s wrong in so many ways. But you notice he doesn’t believe in — when he was in the Freemen, whatever that is, Society — in any laws. And here, Dr. Tiller followed the law. He was investigated repeatedly, and he didn’t do — all these clips, which says he’s wantonly doing things, it wasn’t true. He was doing it because it was necessary for the life and health of the women. And he was a very careful physician.

We have a fairytale going on, Amy, that there aren’t troubled pregnancies, that every fetus has a brain. I mean, he — some did not. What I mean that is they don’t have a well — they don’t have a head that’s developed. To carry that to term would only hurt the woman. We pretend that women don’t have cancer when they’re pregnant and that the carrying it to term will kill her.

We pretend — I’ll never forget him telling me about a woman who he brought — had to fly in from Manhattan. She was a doctor’s wife, and yet she had a fetus that was growing a tumor that would not only kill her, it would kill the fetus. And there was no — there was no possibility of survival, but he saved her. Why, in a civilized society, would it be necessary to fly her in from Manhattan?

We have allowed ideologues to ignorantly discuss these things, and we have to have doctors — and he did. That speech he gave was to — in our group was to our campus group. And he tried — he had film, slides. He tried to explain what all the medical reasons are for these terminations.

And I really feel we need an education in this country, so that commentators who —- you know, that was really a diatribe against then-Governor Sebelius. It wasn’t really about what a medical reason for abortion is. We’ve got to take this out of the political arena. And more doctors and nurses have to stand forth and say why this is necessary for women’s survival and health. I mean, this is -—


I think it might surprise people to know —


— impossible.


— that the National Abortion Federation says Dr. Tiller is the eighth abortion provider since 1977, in twenty-two years, to be murdered, to be killed.


Well, what I think they mean by that is not only the doctor, but the healthcare workers. When you said that — remember, there’s been four doctors, but there’s also been workers in clinics that have been killed and — in this country. And there’s been terrible terrorism. I believe this is domestic terrorism.


I want to end in Wichita with Dr. Shelley Sella. Your last conversation — we only have thirty seconds — with Dr. Tiller? Dr. Sella?


Well, he was on vacation. Yes, yes. Dr. Tiller, last week, when I was working in the clinic, he was on vacation with his family and with his grandchildren, which, in retrospect, of course, I’m just so happy that he had that opportunity to spend time with his family, because that was so important to him. And we just spoke about a patient. We had a slight different view on how to care for this person —


We have twenty seconds.


And he just said, “Do what you think is best. I trust you, and I have confidence in you.” And that’s who he was, a wonderful, wonderful man.


We’re going to leave it there. Dr. Shelley Sella, speaking to us from Wichita, Kansas, along with Laura Shaneyfelt, attorney for Dr. Tiller. Neither of them would come on camera in Wichita. We’ll continue to cover this story. We’ve been joined by Dr. Susan Robinson on the phone, also worked with him, Ellie Smeal, as well as Bonnie Scott Jones.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Up Next

Colleagues of Slain Kansas Abortion Doctor George Tiller Continue His Fight for Reproductive Rights

Non-commercial news needs your support

We rely on contributions from our viewers and listeners to do our work.
Please do your part today.
Make a donation