Slain abortion provider's clinic closing

June 9, 2009 2:23:40 PM PDT
The Wichita clinic of slain abortion provider George Tiller, one of only a handful of clinics in the country that provides third-term abortions, will be permanently closed, his family said Tuesday. Operations at Women's Health Care Services Inc. had been suspended since Tiller's death last month, and the clinic's future was uncertain. In a statement released by his attorneys, Tiller's family said it will close permanently, and relatives would honor Tiller with charitable activities instead.

"We are proud of the service and courage shown by our husband and father and know that women's health care needs have been met because of his dedication and service," the family said. They did not elaborate on their reasoning.

Tiller, who had said he believed women with access to prenatal testing needed options in case those tests showed severe fetal abnormalities, was shot to death May 31 while serving as an usher at the Lutheran church in Wichita that he regularly attended. Abortion opponent Scott Roeder, 51, is being held on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated assault in Tiller's death.

Dr. Warren Hern, one of the few remaining doctors in the country who perform late-term abortions, said the closure of the clinic was an "outrage" and he feels the loss for Dr. Tiller's family and the patients he served.

"How tragic, how tragic," Hern said when contacted by phone at his Boulder, Colo., clinic. "This is what they want, they've been wanting this for 35 years."

Asked whether he felt efforts should be made to keep the clinic open, he said: "This was Dr. Tiller's clinic. How much can you resist this kind of violence? What doctor, what reasonable doctor would work there? Where does it stop?"

Nebraska doctor LeRoy Carhart, who had worked at Tiller's clinic and expressed interest in keeping it open, said he had no immediate comment Tuesday when reached by The AP.

Tiller's clinic had been a target of regular demonstrations by abortion opponents. Most were peaceful, but his clinic was bombed in 1986 and he was shot in both arms in 1993. In 1991, a 45-day "Summer of Mercy" campaign organized by Operation Rescue drew thousands of abortion opponents to Wichita, and there were more than 2,700 arrests.

Randall Terry, who founded the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, said "Good riddance" when he heard Tiller's clinic would be shuttered. Terry stopped using the Operation Rescue name following numerous lawsuits in 1990. He said history would remember Tiller's clinic as it remembers Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps.

"What set him apart is that he killed late-term babies," Terry said. "If his replacement was going to continue to kill late-term children, the protests would continue, the investigations would continue, the indictments would continue."

CNN said that in an interview Tuesday, Roeder refused to answer questions about his alleged involvement in Tiller's death but added that if he is found guilty, the motive would be protecting unborn children. Roeder refused to discuss Tiller's death or his alleged involvement in it during a jailhouse interview earlier Tuesday with The Associated Press.

Troy Newman, who resurrected the Operation Rescue name and based the group in Wichita in 2002 called the announcement that the clinic would close permanently "a bittersweet moment." He had condemned Tiller's killing as vigilantism.

The group had filed numerous complaints before the State Board of Healing Arts, which licenses and regulates doctors in Kansas. The board initiated an administrative action alleging that Tiller violated a state law that required him to obtain a second opinion from an independent physician. It also accused Tiller of engaging in unprofessional or dishonorable conduct. A spokeswoman for the board has said since Tiller's death that the case likely would be closed.

"Operation Rescue was just two months away from getting Tiller's medical license revoked, and that would have accomplished the same goal," Newman said in an e-mail.

Tiller's family members said they wanted to assure his previous patients that the privacy of their medical histories and patient records will remain "as fiercely protected now and in the future" as they were during Tiller's lifetime.

A former Kansas attorney general who was investigating Tiller's clinic obtained, through a judge, access to redacted medical files that did not include patients' names. Some of those records were used in the recent misdemeanor criminal case against Tiller over whether he obtained an independent second opinion for late-term abortions. Tiller was cleared of those criminal charges.

Kansas state law allows abortions on viable fetuses after the 21st week only if carrying the pregnancy to term would endanger the mother's life or cause a "substantial and irreversible impairment" of a major bodily function. Courts have interpreted a "major bodily function" to include mental health.

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