Controversial U.S. abortion doctor shot dead in Kansas church

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Sunday, May 31, 2009

George Tiller, a controversial doctor who performed late-term abortions, has been shot dead in a church in Kansas, United States. A man is in custody over the killing.

67-year-old Tiller had been the target of many previous attacks. In 1986 his clinic was seriously damaged in a bombing and in 1993 he was shot in both arms. In 1991 his clinic saw summer-long protests that resulted in 2,000 arrests and he said that in 1994 he was put under police protection after FBI agents uncovered an anti-abortion 'hit list' naming him as a top target. The clinic was vandalized earlier this month.

The controversy stemmed from the fact that his clinic is one of just three in the United States that performed late-term abortions, which are abortions of fetuses which are capable of surviving outside of the womb. This is legal in Kansas so long as two doctors agree the mother is in serious danger if she were to give birth.

Tiller was recently tried on charges of performing nineteen illegal abortions in 2003; he was cleared of any wrongdoing at the end of a trial described by his lawyer as a 'witch-hunt'. It was alleged that there were irregularities and a financial involvement in his relationship with the doctor who gave second opinions in the abortions.

Another controversy was sparked by donations Tiller made to support Kathleen Sebelius, then governor of Kansas. The donations, coupled with Sebelius' abortion-rights views, caused anti-abortion groups to oppose her nomination as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, but the Senate confirmed her in a 65 to 31 vote in April.

Tiller was killed at 10 a.m. local time in the Reformation Lutheran in Wichita. A white man was witnessed with a handgun killing the doctor before fleeing in a blue Ford Taurus. The vehicle's number plate was traced to Kansas City, 200 miles from Wichita.

State police and the FBI were involved in the hunt for the gunman. A suspect is now in custody.


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