Slain abortion doctor George Tiller’s clinic to close

Los Angeles Times

Tiller had been the only abortion provider in Wichita, Kan., and his family’s decision to close the facility leaves only two other clinics in the country that perform late-term abortions.
By Robin Abcarian
10:54 AM PDT, June 9, 2009

Reporting from Wichita, Kan. — A long, difficult chapter in the struggle over legalized abortion came to an end today, when the family of slain physician George Tiller announced this morning that it would permanently close his Wichita abortion clinic, Women’s Health Care Services.

Tiller, 67, was shot to death in the vestibule of his Lutheran church on May 31, where he served as an usher.

The shuttering of his clinic means there are no abortion providers left in the Wichita area, and only two other clinics in the country that perform late-term abortions, Tiller’s specialty.

In a statement released by attorneys Dan Monnat and Lee Thompson, Tiller’s wife, Jeanne, and their four adult children said that the family was “ceasing operation of the clinic and any involvement by family members in any other similar clinic.

“We are proud of the service and courage shown by our husband and father and know that women’s healthcare needs have been met because of his dedication and service,” the family said in the statement. “That is a legacy that will never die. The family will honor Dr. Tiller’s memory through private charitable activities.”

In the statement, the family assured Tiller’s past patients that their privacy and records “will remain as fiercely protected now and in the future as they were during Dr. Tiller’s lifetime.”

Abortion rights supporters said the clinic’s closing did not represent a defeat for the movement.

“It’s what the extremist wing of the antiabortion movement wanted,” said Katherine Spillar, executive vice president of the group Feminist Majority. “But this is not a victory for them.”

She said that although the closing would be disruptive in the short term — women who expected to have second- and third-term abortions at Tiller’s clinic will have to seek them elsewhere — she expected it to spur more doctors nationwide to begin providing late-term abortions.

“I think that you will see a regrouping and a determination on the part of the medical community in this country,” she said. “In the meantime, we are working to ensure that all women in this country have access to the medical care they need.”

Spillar said she understood the Tiller family’s decision to close the clinic. “The family has just suffered the loss of the husband and father at the end of 30 years of harassment and violence,” she said. “That’s the reality.”

Abortion foes were muted in their response to today’s announcement. Many have said Tiller’s death robs them of the opportunity to put him out of business using legal means. On the day he was acquitted of criminal charges in March, the Kansas State Board of Healing Arts announced it was investigating Tiller on similar charges.

“Dr. Tiller’s clinic was probably going to close soon anyway because of actions by our Board of Healing Arts, not to mention several serious lawsuits,” said Mary Kay Culp, director of the group Kansans for Life, “and it’s just really tragic that it had to happen because he was murdered.”

Scott Roeder, a 51-year-old abortion foe with ties to anti-government groups who had once been arrested with bomb-making materials in his car, has been charged with first-degree murder in the case.

Abortion opponents had long made Tiller’s clinic — a plain, but fortified one-story structure next to a freeway — a center of protest and, sometimes, violence. In 1986, the clinic was firebombed and extensively damaged.

In 1993, Tiller was shot in both arms by a woman who was convicted of attempted murder.

Tiller was also pursued through the courts by abortion opponents.

In March, he was acquitted of criminal charges that he broke Kansas abortion laws. And last month, Monnat said, his clinic was vandalized by someone who cut wires to security cameras, tore up part of the roof and stuffed stones into the downspouts. Monnat said Monday that he had asked the FBI in May to investigate whether federal laws had been broken in that incident.

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