Thursday, February 4, 2010

Justice Served

Thirty seven minutes. That is how long a jury deliberated the charges against Scott Roeder, 51, in the murder of Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider in Wichita, Kansas. After five days of testimony it ended with one sentence: "In the state of Kansas versus Scott Roeder, 2009-CR-1462, we the jury find the defendant, Scott Roeder, guilty of the crime of first-degree murder."

Roeder was also found guilty of two counts of aggravated assault and faces life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years (prosecutors are seeking the "hard 50" which would make him ineligible for parole for 50 years). The facts of the case were never disputed. Roeder admitted on the stand that on May 31, 2009 he approached Dr. Tiller, who was serving as an usher in his church, placed the gun to his head and shot him. While fleeing the church Roeder threatened two additional church members with his gun before driving away.

But the events of that Sunday were not by chance. Jurors learned of the years of calculated plotting and surveillance by Scott Roeder. While "sidewalk counseling" patients of Dr. Tiller's clinic (including sending them to the nearby crisis pregnancy center) he monitored the patterns and security measures of Dr. Tiller. On the stand, Roeder admitted to considering other ways of killing Dr. Tiller, including a sniper shooting, cutting off his hands, and a car accident, but none of them would guarantee his death. And that had to be certain.

His decision to kill Dr. Tiller in his church was his only possible window of opportunity to ensure his plan would succeed. Frequently protesting outside of the church, Roeder attended services to learn the lay out and exits. He planned to kill Dr. Tiller the weekend before but he was not in attendance. Dr. Tiller, a father and grandfather, was at Disneyland with his family.

Roeder's testimony also detailed what we have always known to be true: that he did not act alone. He regularly visited Shelly Shannon, who shot Dr. Tiller in both hands in 1993, in jail and received information, including Tiller's home address, from organizations like Operation Rescue. A pan of the courtroom audience was a who's who of anti-abortion extremists. Individuals who have been convicted of clinic arsons, authors of the Army of God manual, and signers of the justifiable homicide petition sat in the courtroom every day.

Roeder, whose life was detailed in an extensive piece in GQ magazine, distrusted the government and had little income. So how did he find the money for the murder weapon, his frequent hotel stays, gas, or even the pizza he ate just minutes after assassinating Dr. Tiller? From other anti-abortion extremists.

The Feminist Majority Foundation has called on the Department of Justice to fully investigate the connections of Scott Roeder and the very realy threats they pose to doctors across the country. “We can only hope that the network will be dismantled, and until it’s dismantled, we’re waiting for the next murder,” stated Kathy Spillar, Exectuive Vice President of the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Just days after the conviction of Scott Roeder, Shelly Shannon released a statement from prison issuing a warning that abortion providers will "continue to be stopped." In an interview with the Associated Press before his trial Roeder also warned of "many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal."

Dr. Tiller faced these attacks of harrassment, stalking, and violence for years. He was known to wear a bullet proof vest, drive an armored vehicle and lived in a gated community. He routinely changed his patterns and had personal security guards. His clinic was routinely attacked and was equipped with bullet proof glass and metal detectors. All this, just to perform a legal medical procedure.

But we all know that abortion is more than just another medical procedure. Abortion providers like Dr. Tiller save the lives of women. They trust women. And that trust is the thing that scares men like Scott Roeder the most. Today many clinics are currently under attack and we must continue to stay vigilant in the fight against clinic violence and ensure that our law enforcement agencies enforce the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE). Dr. Tiller was a champion for women and his legacy lives on in every activist who writes a thank you note to their local clinic, becomes trained as a clinic escort, donates to an organization that supports safe access to abortion, and chooses to go to medical school and become an abortion provider. We all must remember the power of collective action to stand up for justice.

This article was featured in our February 2010 monthly Choices eZine. Sign up for our alerts to stay up-to-date with the latest feminist news and to receive the monthly eZine.

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