News Articles

Land, other pro-lifers condemn Tiller’s killing

WASHINGTON (BP)–Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land and other pro-life leaders quickly condemned the May 31 killing of abortion doctor George Tiller.

Probably the best-known abortion provider in the United States, Tiller was shot to death on Sunday morning inside the building of Reformation Lutheran Church, the Wichita, Kan., congregation of which he was a member.

Scott Roeder, 51, of Merriam, Kan., was arrested the same day on suspicion of committing the crime. Roeder is a member of the Freemen, an anti-government group, and strongly opposed abortion, according to The Wichita Eagle. He believed the killing of abortion doctors was justified, other abortion opponents told The Eagle.

The entire pro-life community “must swiftly and soundly repudiate” the one who killed Tiller if he “was acting in the name of the pro-life movement,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in a statement released the day of the murder.

Tiller’s slaying “is a human tragedy,” Land said. “Murdering someone is a grotesque and bizarre way to emphasize one’s commitment to the sanctity of human life. People who truly believe in the sanctity of human life believe in the sanctity of the lives of abortion providers as well as the unborn babies who are aborted.”

Land said, “Clearly the killing of abortion providers is unbiblical, unchristian and un-American. Such callous disregard for human beings brutalizes everyone.

“For people to take the law into their hands in this fashion and to attempt to be judge, jury and executioner of a fellow human being is reprehensible and must be condemned by all civilized citizens,” he said.

The country’s major pro-life organizations denounced Tiller’s murder. Among those making statements decrying the killing were representatives of the National Right to Life Committee, Americans United for Life, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, Care Net, Susan B. Anthony List, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, American Life League, Operation Rescue, Christian Defense Coalition, 40 Days for Life, Stand True, Priests for Life and Pro-life Action League.

Tiller, 67, gained notoriety among pro-lifers as the leading late-term abortion provider in the country. His Wichita clinic, Women’s Health Care Services, is a major reason Kansas has been described as “the late-term abortion capital of America.” It has advertised on its website it has “more experience in late abortion services over 24 weeks than anyone else currently practicing in the Western Hemisphere, Europe and Australia.” Women traveled to his clinic from throughout the United States and various foreign countries in order to have abortions even in the third trimester.

Pro-life activists regularly kept a peaceful vigil outside Tiller’s clinic and sought to persuade pregnant women not to go through with their abortions.

Tiller, who was shot in both arms in 1993, became the fourth abortion doctor killed in the United States in murders related to the profession, according to The Eagle. David Gunn was shot to death in 1993 and John Britton in 1994, both outside abortion clinics in Pensacola, Fla. In 1998, Barnett Slepian died in his New York home at the hands of a sniper.

After the killings of Gunn and Britton, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission convened a group of Southern Baptist ethicists and theologians to draft and issue a statement regarding the use of violence against abortion providers. The 11-page document, issued in September 1994, condemned the killing of abortion clinic personnel. It said, “We strongly contend that killing abortion doctors is not a moral option for Christians.”

The statement — titled “The Struggle Against Abortion: Why the Use of Lethal Force is Not Morally Justifiable” — became known as the “Nashville Declaration of Conscience.” It is available at http://erlc.com/documents/pdf/statement_of_conscience.pdf.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was one of the statement’s drafters, along with Land and four others.

Mohler said on his weblog June 1, “[V]iolence in the name of protesting abortion is immoral, unjustified and horribly harmful to the pro-life cause.

“Murder is murder. The law rightly affirms that the killing of Dr. George Tiller is murder. In this we must agree. We cannot rest until the law also recognizes the killing of the unborn as murder. The killing of Dr. George Tiller makes that challenge all the more difficult.”

Other pro-life leaders also expressed concern that Tiller’s murder could set back the effort to protect unborn children.

Land called for prayer for Tiller’s wife and other family members, as well as “all those who were forced to witness the terrible act of violence in a house of worship. The perpetrator of this violence should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, called for government action against more than the killer or killers. In a statement, she urged the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security to “root out and prosecute as domestic terrorists and violent racketeers the criminal enterprise that has organized and funded criminal acts for decades.”

President Obama said in a statement he was “shocked and outraged” by Tiller’s killing. “However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence,” the president said.

Tiller used his medical skills to abort many babies who could have survived outside the womb. His clinic’s website advertised late-term abortion services for unborn children diagnosed with abnormalities and those who had no health problems. In the case of “fetal anomaly,” the clinic website said the unborn child would be injected with a lethal medication to make sure he was dead when labor was induced after the mother’s cervix was dilated. The goal, the website said, was to cause a “premature delivery of a stillborn.”

While this method was reportedly Tiller’s preference, he also reported using the partial-birth abortion procedure, according to a 2002 study. Partial-birth abortion, which involves the killing of a nearly totally delivered baby normally in at least the fifth month of pregnancy, was banned by federal law in 2003. Federal appeals courts invalidated the law, but the Supreme Court upheld the measure in 2007.

As typically used, the partial-birth procedure begins with an intact baby being delivered feet first until only the head is left in the birth canal. The doctor pierces the base of the infant’s skull with surgical scissors before inserting a catheter into the opening and suctioning out the brain, killing the baby. The technique provides for easier removal of the baby’s head.

A Kansas county jury acquitted Tiller in late March of 19 misdemeanor counts of failing to obtain another independent doctor’s opinion before performing late-term abortions. The Kansas Board of Healing Arts, however, announced an investigation into similar allegations against Tiller immediately after his acquittal.
Tom Strode is Baptist Press Washington bureau chief.