May 31, 2009: The Murder of George Tiller


On May 31, 2009, a physician from Wichita, Kansas who was known for performing late-term abortions named George Tiller was murdered by anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder. Tiller was serving as an usher at his Sunday morning church service when he was shot and killed. This was the second attempt on his life, as he had previously survived an assassination attempt by another anti-abortion extremist, Shelley Shannon.

Roeder was arrested within hours of the shooting, and publicly confessed to the murder saying that unborn children's lives were in imminent danger because of Tiller. He was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years.


George Tiller was the medical director of Women's Health Care Services in Wichita, Kansas, one of the 23% of abortion clinics nationwide that provided late term abortions. Because of his career path, he was often targeted with protests and violence by anti-abortion groups and individuals. His clinic had been firebombed, and he had been shot in both arms by an anti-abortion extremist before he was ultimately murdered.

Tiller had studied at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, and he held an internship with the United States Navy, serving as a flight surgeon. In 1970, he planned to become a dermatologist.

On August 21, 1970, his parents, sister and brother-in-law were all killed during an aircraft accident. He gained custody of his 1-year-old nephew. When his father, who had a family practice that performed abortions, died, he took over the family practice for what was going to be a temporary amount of time, but took over full time after hearing about a woman who had died from an illegal abortion.

Tiller became a target for anti-abortion extremists because he performed post-viability abortions. He treated patients who discovered late in pregnancy that their babies had severe or fatal birth defects, or healthy fetus' who's birth or to-term pregnancies would cause the mother substantial or irreversible harm or death. I'll say this once: He was not aborting full-term babies because the mother decided she didn't want it. They were exclusively performed for serious medical purposes.

Kansas law prohibits abortions after fetal viability, unless 2 doctors outside of the doctor doing the abortion, who are in no way financially affiliated, certify the severity of the pregnancy. Tiller was, in 2003, charged with 19 misdemeanors for allegedly consulting a 2nd physician who was not "unaffiliated", but he was found not guilty of any wrongdoing.

Tiller struggled with substance abuse, but after being arrested for driving under the influence, he overcame his addiction and served on the Kansas Medical Society's impaired physicians committee.

In 1986, his clinic was firebombed. They rebuilt, refusing to be intimidated. On August 19, 1993, anti-abortion extremist Shelley Shannon shot him 5 times while he was in his car. Shannon had referred to convicted murderer Michael Griffin who had killed another abortion provider, so she is a pretty terrible person. She was sentenced to 11 years in prison for attempted murder, and got an additional 20 years for her involvement in fires and acid attacks on abortion clinics.

Tiller was a grandfather of 10 and known as a gracious, gentle healthcare provider who was devoted to protecting reproductive rights for his patients.


Scott Roeder was 62 years old at the time that he took Tiller's life. His ex-wife claimed that he had been suffering from mental illness, perhaps schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Despite this, is brother, David, said that he never seemed like someone who could, or would want to, take someone else's life.

Roeder was involved in an anti-government group, and drove around with no driver's license, an anti-government placard in place of a license plate, and no proof of insurance, which were all bad when he was pulled over. They also found explosives, a fuse cord, a pound of gunpowder and nine-volt batteries in his car. He was sentenced to 24 months probation because of this.

His ex-wife, Lindsay Roeder, claimed after his 2009 murder arrest that the explosives in his car during his 1996 arrest were intended to bomb an abortion clinic.

As he continued to grow more and more anti-government, he met with David Leach, who had said that the killing of abortion providers was justifiable homicide. Leach published a manual that actually advocated for the killing of abortion providers and contained bomb-making instructions to blow up abortion clinics.

Even before his eventual killing, he was obsessed with Tiller and had told other members of his anti-government or anti-abortion groups that he planned on killing him, believing that he held a burden for all of the children that he murdered. He referred to George Tiller as a concentration camp.


George Tiller was shot in the head by Roeder while at church on Sunday, May 31, 2009. His killer was arrested about 3 hours after.

Roeder was charged with first degree murder on June 2, 2009.

Tiller's murder was condemned pretty much across the board, by people on both sides of the abortion debate. Barack Obama said he was "shocked and outraged", while the director of the Right to Life Committee condemned acts of violence against abortion providers.

Even the anti-abortion group, Operation Rescue, who had sought to bring him down and protested him at every turn, made a statement that they were shocked and disturbed by the news, and wanted to see him "brought to justice" peacefully and through legal means. They wished comfort and healing to his family.

However, of course, some people hailed him as a hero, including anti-abortion extremist Randall Terry who referred to Tiller as a mass murderer. Though he did not specifically say more abortion providers should be murdered, he said that they should be exposed in communities and peacefully protested in their offices, homes and churches. Southern Baptist minister Wiley Drake said that he was glad Tiller was dead and compared him to Adolf Hitler.

And of course, the Westboro Baptist church attended the funeral with tasteful signs such as "God sent the shooter" and "Baby Killer in Hell".

The clinic, Women's Health Care Services, was supposed to reopen after 1 week to mourn his death, but his family ultimately announced that it would be closed permanently.


The Rolling Stone interviewed Calla Hales, the executive director of a women's health center that oversees various clinics that provide abortions. Hales is the daughter of an abortion provider who knew Tiller, and was 19 when she got the call that an abortion provider had been murdered, thinking it could have been her father.

Her father remembered Tiller as an incredibly kind man who wanted the best for people, and was so shaken up by his murder that he retired a few years later. His death had the opposite effect on Calla, who decided to become an abortion provider after Tiller's assassination.

In the recent years, now in a Trumpian era where things are more black and white than ever before, Calla says that where there used to be about 30 protesters on weekends at her clinics, now there's up to 300. In 2016, Calla was sexually assaulted by an anti-choice protester, leading her to carry a gun with her at all times for self protection. A group that used to be "little old ladies counseling on the sidewalk" is no longer. They are "militant men" who are hostile and violent.

Calla also says that doing your work anonymously is nearly impossible now, and abortion providers are easy to track down by name. She says her parents are worried about her safety every day. But she is fueled by the hatred and the violence against people like Tiller, becoming a better person and doctor because of it. She has buttons around her office with things Tiller used to say, like "Trust women" to keep his legacy alive.

Tiller, nor Calla, nor any other abortion provider, are doing their job because they hate babies. They are doing their job because they want to provide the best healthcare possible to their patients. And yes, sometimes that requires a late-term abortion. To consider yourself pro-life, but also believe that murdering an abortion provider is okay, is hypocrisy that makes my head spin.

George Tiller was a good man. He was a beloved grandfather, a respected doctor, a church-goer and an all around good human being. He was killed for doing his job, a job that saves the lives of many women. A job where he is consistently seeing women and couples on the most difficult day of their lives. In most of these cases, the couple wanted the baby. Had announced the baby, was preparing for their child. And then got news that no parent should have to hear, and had to make a decision. They aren't just aborting viable fetuses for the fun of it.

George Tiller worked a dangerous job and died doing what he believed was right: providing good healthcare to women. And anyone who believes he deserved to die for that is not pro-life.





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