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In Memory of Dr. George Tiller

Alexa Kolbi-Molinas,
Deputy Director, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
Talcott Camp,
ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
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May 28, 2010

A year ago on Memorial Day, we lost a true friend to women and a true American hero: Dr. George Tiller. While Dr. Tiller’s death was violent and borne of hate, we know — from the witness of his patients and family — that he lived a life of love, compassion, and courage.

The person who murdered Dr. Tiller, Scott Roeder, never once denied that he killed Dr. Tiller; he admitted to years of planning and to finally stalking Dr. Tiller to his church on May 31, 2009, and shooting him there, in front of friends and family, as he handed out programs for that Sunday’s church service. But in spite of all that, Roeder still argued that he should be found to be less culpable — that he should be treated more leniently for his crime. Make no mistake: Roeder was not arguing that the killing was an accident, that he misunderstood the circumstances in the church that morning, or that he was suffering from mental illness or delusion at the time of the shooting. Roeder was arguing that he was less culpable for Dr. Tiller’s murder because he honestly believes that the constitution should not protect the right to abortion. In other words, that vigilantism is ok if you really mean it.

In response, the ACLU and the National Abortion Federation (NAF) submitted a friend of the court brief asking the court to prohibit Roeder from arguing that his anti-abortion beliefs, no matter how genuine, meant he was less culpable for the killing. The judge agreed, and Roeder was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. We can expect that Roeder will make this argument again on appeal and, if he does, the ACLU and NAF will continue to fight to ensure that doctors who provide abortions — who devote their lives to ensuring that women can get the health care they need — enjoy the full protection of the law.

No one can replace Dr. Tiller’s remarkable constellation of gifts. Nonetheless, inspired by his generosity and commitment to women’s lives, other physicians have indeed stepped up to honor Dr. Tiller’s legacy and provide the care women need. We thank them for doing exactly what Dr. Tiller would ask of them: trust women, and serve them with kindness, courtesy, justice, love, and respect.

We will always thank Dr. Tiller for his immeasurable service, and his immeasurable sacrifice.

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