Special Reports

Closing of Tiller clinic is hailed and mourned

George Tiller's clinic will close in the wake of the Wichita abortion provider's shooting death, his family said Tuesday through its lawyers.

As abortion rights proponents decried the loss of one of the few clinics in the nation that performed late-term procedures, abortion opponents called the clinic's closing a bittersweet victory.

Lee Thompson and Dan Monnat, the family's lawyers, said in a statement that the clinic, Women's Health Care Services, which had ceased operations after Tiller's death, will be permanently closed.

Tiller family members will not be involved in any other similar clinic, the statement said. There was no indication what would happen to the building at 5107 E. Kellogg or its equipment.

The family said the privacy of patients' medical records would "remain as fiercely protected now and in the future as they were during Dr. Tiller's lifetime," but would not elaborate.

Tiller was shot to death May 31 in the foyer of the Wichita church he attended. Scott Roeder, 51, has been charged with first-degree murder.

"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, adding that they plan to honor Tiller's memory through private charitable activities.

No concrete plans

The Kansas National Organization for Women responded to news of the clinic's closing in a statement, saying it was "confident that another provider will step forward and pick up the torch in continuing to provide reproductive health services in Wichita."

With the Wichita clinic closed, the closest abortion providers are now in Overland Park, about a three-hour drive each way.

Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, which runs a clinic that provides abortions in Overland Park, would not comment on the closing.

Peter Brownlie, Planned Parenthood president and CEO, said the organization "will not speak publicly on plans, if any, to provide comprehensive women's health care in Wichita."

According to statistics from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, 1,406 women in Sedgwick and adjacent counties had abortions last year.

Tiller was known for being one of the few doctors in the nation who would perform late-term abortions.

Of the terminated pregnancies in Kansas last year, 3 percent occurred after 22 weeks, according to the KDHE.

Six of every 10 abortions in Kansas were performed less than nine weeks into gestation, according to KDHE.

'Bittersweet moment'

A leader of an anti-abortion group that often protested Tiller's work called the closing of Women's Health Care Services a "bittersweet moment."

"We are thankful that Tiller's clinic will not reopen and thankful that Wichita is now abortion-free," said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, a Wichita-based anti-abortion group.

"We have worked very hard for this day, but we wish it would have come through the peaceful, legal channels that we were pursuing," he said.

Operation Rescue had led failed attempts to convene grand juries to charge Tiller criminally.

The group also filed a complaint with the Kansas Board of Healing Arts against Tiller. The board in December found sufficient evidence to convene a hearing, but that case closed with Tiller's death, a spokeswoman for the licensing board said Tuesday.

The facts of the complaint were identical to those in a trial involving Tiller this spring.

A jury found the Wichita physician not guilty of violating a Kansas law regulating late-term abortions. He was charged with having an improper business relationship with a doctor from whom he sought second opinions during some late-term abortions.

Tiller had been charged with 19 misdemeanors in a case brought by the Kansas Attorney General's Office.

Effect on others

Tiller had long been a focal point of protests by abortion opponents. He was shot and wounded in both arms at his clinic in 1993.

Abortion-rights supporters worried about the message the clinic's closing might send to those who could plot violence against other doctors.

Tiller's death and the clinic's closing "illustrates the ongoing harassment endured by abortion providers," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, based in New York.

Northup added in a statement that the closing of Women's Health Care Services "leaves an immediate and immense void in the availability of abortion."