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'Law & Order' bases episode on George Tiller's shooting

A television drama loosely based on the slaying of abortion provider George Tiller is rubbing nerves on both sides of the abortion divide in Wichita.

Today's episode of the NBC show "Law & Order" is plotted around the shooting of a late-term abortion provider in a church — paralleling circumstances in the real-life Tiller case.

The drama brought some rare agreement between Cheryl Sullenger, senior policy adviser to the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, and Diane Wahto, a friend of Tiller and longtime advocate for abortion rights.

Both said they think the television drama may be coming too soon after the slaying of Tiller, who was shot to death May 31 while serving as an usher at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita.

A January murder trial has been scheduled for the man charged in the case, Scott Roeder, 51, a Kansas City airport shuttle driver and abortion opponent.

According to a preview of the drama, which will air at 7 p.m. on Kansas NBC affiliates, the plot centers on the case of a "Dr. Walter Benning," a late-term abortion provider who is "shot once in the back of the head during opening prayers."

The preview indicates that the actors will be grappling with differing positions on abortion through the dramatized investigation and prosecution.

"Oh my gosh," said Sullenger, when she learned of the plot of the episode.

She said she doesn't watch the show but plans to tune in tonight to see how the issues are handled.

"On first blush hearing about it, it seems tasteless — and a little grim," she said. "It gives me the creeps just hearing about it."

Operation Rescue was drawn into the real-life Tiller story because Roeder had been in contact with the group to obtain information on Tiller-related court hearings before the slaying.

Sullenger and Operation Rescue president Troy Newman have said Roeder made them nervous and was not a member of their group.

Sullenger said she doesn't see a point to basing an entertainment program on the Tiller slaying and "it seems to me they're trying to sensationalize it."

Wahto is a regular viewer of "Law & Order" and knew of the plot of tonight's show from seeing a promo on NBC.

She said she understands that the program's writers often draw ideas from news headlines and that they generally handle volatile issues tastefully.

But feelings over the Tiller shooting are "still pretty raw as far as the family is concerned" — and throughout Wichita, she said.

"It's really hard for people in the community who knew him and know his family," she said. "At this point, I wish they (the show's producers) had waited."

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