JACKI LYDEN, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.

The prominent and polarizing abortion doctor George Tiller was killed today, gunned down during morning services at his church in Wichita, Kansas.

Dr. Tiller ran one of the few clinics in the country that performs late-term abortions. For decades, he was a key figure in the battle over abortion in Kansas and on the national stage.

A suspect has been arrested. Police haven't identified him, but a deputy chief said he was 51 years old and will be charged with murder.

I talked earlier with reporter Stan Finger who's covering the story for the Wichita Eagle newspaper.

Mr. STAN FINGER (Reporter, Wichita Eagle): We're told that Dr. Tiller was serving as an usher at the church this morning, and a man approached him and opened fire. Apparently Dr. Tiller was the only one shot, and then the suspect challenged another person at the church and left.

LYDEN: And Dr. Tiller was pronounced dead?

Mr. FINGER: Yes. He was pronounced dead at the scene right there at the church.

LYDEN: I understand that someone is now in custody. What do we know about the suspect?

Mr. FINGER: We don't know much at this point, just that someone was taken into custody just south of Kansas City.

LYDEN: So that's about three hours away.

Mr. FINGER: Yeah, just about. Apparently this is someone that has been seen at the church before because abortion opponents would protest outside the church where Dr. Tiller attended services on a fairly regular basis, and this is someone that members of the congregation have seen before.

LYDEN: Dr. Tiller's clinic was bombed in 1986. And in the early '90s, he was shot in both arms. And just a few months ago, he was acquitted in a criminal case. He'd been charged with violating a Kansas law that required two independent doctors to agree that a late-term abortion is necessary. What made Dr. Tiller literally such a target?

Mr. FINGER: I believe he was targeted because he was one of the few doctors in the country that performed late-term abortions. Over time, he became a lightning rod for opponents of abortion. And accordingly, those who supported abortion rights would rally to his defense. So in many ways, he was at the forefront of the abortion debate in the country.

LYDEN: So how have abortion rights opponents in Kansas reacted to today's shooting?

Mr. FINGER: Universal shock and dismay. I spoke with the president of Operation Rescue, which organized the 1991 Summer of Mercy campaign in which they blockaded Dr. Tiller's clinic, and he was so stunned, he was virtually speechless. Other groups that oppose abortion have expressed dismay, and they're very upset that this happened.

LYDEN: And supporters?

Mr. FINGER: Well, they're grieving profoundly. The National Organization for Women called him a champion of women. Other organizations that support abortion rights are praising him for his services and are expressing outrage at what's taken place.

LYDEN: Well, we'll keep following this story. Reporter Stan Finger of the Wichita Eagle, we thank you for taking the time.

Mr. FINGER: You're welcome.

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