Monday, June 1, 2009

Doctor Who Performed Abortions Shot to Death


(CNN) -- Dr. George Tiller, whose Kansas women's clinic frequently took center stage in the U.S. debate over abortion, was shot and killed while serving as an usher at his Wichita church Sunday morning, police said.

Wichita police said a 51-year-old man from the Kansas City, Kansas, area was in custody in connection with the slaying of Tiller, who was one of the few U.S. physicians who still performed late-term abortions.

The killing, which came about 16 years after Tiller survived a shooting outside his Wichita clinic, took place shortly after 10 a.m. Sunday at Reformation Lutheran Church. Officers found the 67-year-old dead in the foyer, police said.

Witnesses provided a description of the car and a license number of the killer's getaway vehicle, Wichita police spokesman Gordon Bassham said. Police stopped a blue Ford Taurus matching the description about three hours later in Gardner, about 30 miles southwest of Kansas City, and took the driver into custody.

No charges had been filed Sunday evening and no motive for the killing was immediately known, but Wichita police Detective Tom Stoltz told reporters: "We think we have the right person arrested."

"We will investigate this suspect to the Nth degree -- his history, his family, his associates -- and we are just in the beginning stages of that," Stoltz said.

Tiller's slaying drew condemnation from supporters, from some of those who tried to shut down his practice and from President Obama, who just two weeks ago urged Americans to seek "common ground" on the issue of abortion.

"However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence," Obama said in a statement issued by the White House.

The shooting prompted U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to direct federal marshals to "offer protection to other appropriate people and facilities around the nation," according to a statement from the Department of Justice.

Tiller had been practicing medicine for nearly 40 years, said Peter Brownlie, president of the Kansas City-based regional Planned Parenthood office. His patients were "almost always in circumstances where something had gone horribly wrong with a pregnancy," and where a woman's health would be endangered if the pregnancy continued, Brownlie said.

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