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Protests say: abortion is a woman’s right to choose!
Vigils condemn killing of clinic doctor in Kansas
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 73/No. 23      June 15, 2009

(lead article)
Protests say: abortion is a
woman’s right to choose!
Vigils condemn killing of clinic doctor in Kansas
AP photo/Orlin Wagner
Hundreds gather for vigil at Old Town Square in Wichita, Kansas, May 31 to protest killing of Dr. George Tiller earlier that day. Tiller was one of only a handful of doctors in United States who perform late-term abortions

WICHITA, Kansas—Just hours after Dr. George Tiller was shot to death, about 400 people joined a candlelight vigil here May 31 to protest his killing and defend a woman’s right to choose abortion.

In nearby Lawrence 150 people participated in a similar vigil that night. In the days following the doctor’s death, similar events took place throughout Kansas and the Midwest, and across the country.

Tiller, 67, a physician at the Women’s Health Care Services clinic here, was killed during services at the Reformation Lutheran Church where he was ushering. A longtime rightist, Scott Roeder, has been arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

Trina Wheeler, 49, co-president of the Wichita chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), told the Militant, “The next action is the defense on Saturday for the funeral services for Tiller. The antiwoman forces will be there.” Wheeler encouraged all who can to come to the funeral and join in the defense.

Tiller, one of the few doctors in the United States who performed late-term abortions, had been the target of rightist attacks for many years. His clinic was bombed in 1986, and in 1993 antiabortion rightist Rachelle Shannon shot him in both arms. Shannon was convicted for the assault, and later confessed to setting fires at abortion clinics in Oregon, California, Idaho, and Nevada.

In the summer of 1991 rightist forces carried out mobilizations aiming to shut down Wichita abortion clinics, including Tiller’s.

Liberal politicians who claim to be pro-choice have made recent overtures to opponents of abortion rights, talking about “common ground.” In her campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton called abortion a “tragedy.”

Just weeks before Tiller’s death, President Barack Obama gave the commencement address at Notre Dame University, reaching out to antiabortion forces to “work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions,” giving the green light to antiwoman forces.

Members of Tiller’s Lutheran church congregation reported that the presence of antiabortion protesters outside the church had been a regular occurrence for several years.

Dan Monnat, one of Tiller’s attorneys, said that on May 2 staffers at Tiller’s clinic reported substantial vandalism to the building. Two days later Tiller reported receiving a letter threatening his life.

Operation Rescue, an antiwoman outfit whose trademark is harassing abortion clinics and their clients, had a “Tiller-watch” section on its Web site. While the organization’s president, Troy Newman, condemned Tiller’s killing and disassociated the organization from Roeder, it was reported that Roeder had posted comments attacking the doctor on the group’s Web site.

Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, said that Tiller was “a mass murderer.”

Roeder had been active in the 1990s in the “Freemen,” an ultrarightist outfit with many conspiracy theories. The group also calls for independence from governmental jurisdiction. Roeder was arrested in April 1996 for having ammunition and bomb components in his car.

Supporters of women’s rights had scored a victory in March when jurors here took only 45 minutes to acquit Tiller of charges that he broke a Kansas law restricting how late-term abortions should be handled.

On the day Tiller was killed, reaction was swift. Dustin Deckard, a gay rights activist in Wichita, said, “I was disgusted and shocked that it had happened, and immediately looked around for any vigil being organized. Nothing was planned, so I began putting one together.” Deckard and others used Twitter and Facebook to get the word out, and hundreds responded.

Rightists responded as well. Fred Phelps, minister of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, and his followers came, holding a banner reading “Burn in hell” and signs that said, “God hates fags.”

Willow Eby, a nurse who worked at Central Women’s Services in the 1990s, attended the vigil. “At the vigil I decided to be in their face. They’re not going to make me cover up my opinions and feelings or stop fighting for what I believe in," she said. "The harassment and murders are all meant to make people stop defending the right to choice.”

Eby added, “I was putting bumper stickers on my car to legalize abortion when I was in high school” before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision decriminalizing abortion.  
Response at Wichita State campus
Reaction to Tiller’s death among students and staff at Wichita State University was mixed.

Shannon Kraus, 37, a student and staff member, said, “I’m pro-choice, even though it’s not my moral compass.” Women should be able to have abortions “in a place that’s safe and medically skilled where they can get what they need," she added. "Hopefully with Dr. Tiller gone they can still have that option.”

“It was a pretty bad way to kill him—in his church,” Kindra White, 40, an administrative assistant at Wichita State University, told the Militant, “but I’m pro-life, and I didn’t agree with what he did for a living… . They’re painting him as a hero, and in my eyes he was not.”

Deepa Jayaraman, 22, a graduate student in electrical engineering, said, “I really felt bad at first. I don’t know what to do. I support a woman’s right to have an abortion.”

Arman Mazhar, 26, a graduate student born in Pakistan, said the violence against Tiller “was terrible. It is like Germany in the 1930s.”

Dr. Leroy Carhart, a physician who operates a women’s health clinic in Bellevue, Nebraska, and has been carrying out monthly duties at Tiller’s clinic, said he would be willing to keep the Wichita clinic open if Tiller’s family wishes.

The funeral will take place at the College Hill United Methodist Church, 2930 E. First Street in Wichita at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, June 6. It is open to the public.

Wheeler, a veteran of the fight against the antiabortion siege of 1991, said, “I believe this will solidify our movement. Since Tiller’s death on Sunday, I’ve been hearing from people wanting to join NOW. One woman told me, ‘I don’t want to just sit back and watch anymore. I want to get involved.’”

Vigils and protest actions took place throughout the United States in the days following the killing, including Chicago, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Miami, Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

Joe Swanson from Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this article.
Related articles:
How attempts to shut abortion clinics were defeated
Mobilize to defend abortion rights!

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