Abortion-rights groups remember George Tiller on fifth anniversary of his death

05/31/2014 12:00 AM

05/31/2014 3:03 PM

The political climate for abortion providers and their patients has deteriorated since the murder of Wichita physician George Tiller five years ago Saturday, abortion groups say.

Trust Women founder Julie Burkhart, who last year opened the South Wind Women’s Center in the building where Tiller practiced in Wichita, and other abortion-rights leaders remembered Tiller during a conference call Friday with journalists.

“All of us collectively wanted to take the opportunity to remember Dr. George Tiller … on the fifth anniversary of his assassination,” Burkhart said.

Scott Roeder shot Tiller to death May 31, 2009, at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita. Tiller long had been a target of abortion protestors because he offered late-term abortions at his clinic near Oliver and Kellogg. South Wind provides abortions up to 14 weeks.

Opening South Wind last year “did not come without hardships. It took me two years to find a medical director who would sign on and join the practice,” Burkhart said.

David Gittrich, state development director for the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life, said in April that he was “very disappointed” the clinic was still open. He could not be reached for comment Friday.

The clinic’s medical director, Cheryl Chastine, who practices in Illinois, and Burkhart have faced “harassment at our homes,” Burkhart said.

“Although we haven’t had another murder since Dr. Tiller’s assassination, in some ways, we’ve just been lucky,” said Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the Nation Abortion Federation.

She mentioned Ralph Lang, whose plan to shoot a doctor at a Planned Parenthood clinic was thwarted when he accidentally fired his gun while cleaning it in a hotel room in Madison, Wis. A jury convicted him of attempted first-degree intentional murder last year.

“We’ve had two bomb threats just this year in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and New Orleans, Louisiana,” Saporta added. “And we’ve had two reported death threats in Minnesota.”

Abortion providers have been stepping up reports of trespassing, vandalism and online harassment, she said. She said Roeder had been gluing locks at clinics before he shot Tiller.

“We keep our members and law enforcement informed about the criminal activity that takes place around the country,” Saporta said.

Megan Peterson, deputy director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, said that group created the George Tiller Memorial Abortion Fund. It helps women pay for later abortion care and helps those who need to travel out of state for an abortion or who live in a state without an abortion fund, the network’s website says.

Peterson said the group has taken almost 2,300 calls from women in 39 states and the District of Columbia and helped 424 women since July.

“With each woman we help, we honor the legacy of Dr. Tiller,” she said.

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