President Obama has attempted to elevate the abortion debate. In multiple speeches (including his commencement address at Notre Dame) he has called for pro-choice and pro-life camps to find common ground; working together to reduce the number of abortions and address the underlying social maladies that lead to unwanted pregnancies.
But the murder of George Tiller reminds us that relative civility will not be easily achieved in this most contentious of issues. The Kansas doctor performed late-term abortions and as such was a high-profile foe of pro-life groups including Operation Rescue which staged steady protests at his clinic near Wichita.
At the center of a renewed war of words is Fox News star Bill O’Reilly, who has inveighed against Tiller on his top-rated cable news program. O’Reilly’s words were immediately culled into video montages on various liberal web sites including Salon.com, The Huffington Post and The Daily Kos. The clips show O’Reilly using the moniker given the doctor by factions of the movement: Tiller the Baby Killer.
Pro-life groups including the National Clergy Council and Catholics United were quick to condemn the murder.
O’Reilly responded on his program Monday night, saying in part: “Clear-thinking Americans should condemn the murder of late-term abortionist Tiller. Even though the man terminated thousands of pregnancies, what he did was within Kansas law.”
O’Reilly added that he could have predicted that Tiller’s murder would lead “pro-abortion zealots and Fox News haters” to “blame us for the crime.”
Sadly, Tiller’s murder, while shocking, was not without foreshadowing. He was the target of regular death threats. He had received protection from US Marshall’s multiple times and often wore a bullet proof vest. And he was shot in both arms in 1993.
The man in custody for the murder, Scott Roeder, has been linked to anti-government groups including the Freeman, according to the Kansas City Star. He has run afoul of the law before. In 1996, the Star reported, he was stopped in Topeka for not having a valid license place on his vehicle. An ensuing search of his car turned up ammunition, a blasting cap, a fuse cord and gunpowder.
He seems to fit to a T the profile of the home-grown terrorists and extremists alluded to in that U.S. Department of Homeland Security report that was greeted with such derision when it was released in April.