The trial of Scott Roeder, the man accused of shooting late-term abortion doctor George Tiller is now underway in Kansas.
Roeder, who is charged with first degree murder, confessed to shooting Dr Tiller on May 31st last year – although he has now pleaded not guilty. The physician, whose clinic was one of only three US clinics providing abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy, was shot at his church in Wichita. He had already survived one assassination attempt and endured years of anti-abortion violence.
Roeder’s attorneys are pressing for the charge to be changed to voluntary manslaughter, defined by Kansas law as “an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force”. In his confession last November, Roeder claimed that he was “defending innocent life” which he believes justified his actions.
While anti-choice organisations – some of which had branded Dr Tiller a “murderer” and an “evil man” - are pleased that Roeder has been able to state his case, pro-choice groups have spoken out to say that a voluntary manslaughter verdict would pave the way for yet more violence against abortion providers.
Since the 1970s, anti-choice extremists have waged war on clinics and doctors across the USA. A feature on late-term abortionist Dr Warren Hern in last Sunday’s Observer put the total of violent acts to date at eight murders, 17 attempted murders, 406 death threats, 179 assaults, and four kidnappings. Dr Hern, now the only practitioner in the US performing late-term abortions, summed up Dr Tiller’s murder:
“This was a cold-blooded, brutal, political assassination that is the logical consequence of 35 years of hate speech and incitement to violence by people from the highest levels of American society…”
The Tiller murder trial comes at a time when the abortion debate is once again making plenty of headlines both in the newspapers and across the blogosphere. January 22nd saw the 37th anniversary of Roe vs Wade, when people all over the globe blogged for choice and anti-abortion protestors took part in the annual March For Life. President Obama also issued a statement reaffirming his support for a woman’s right to choose and the issue continues to play a key role in the debate on healthcare reform.
Even the Super Bowl is caught up in the most recent controversies – next month’s broadcast of the game will feature an advertisement - sponsored by Christian group Focus on the Family - which is expected to involve an anti-abortion message.
The 30 second slot will feature college football star Tim Tebow and his mother. Several online petitions have called for CBS to pull the ad and critics quite rightly say that a prominent sports event should not be used as an excuse to promote an issue which is one of the most divisive in US politics.
Dr Tiller’s murder reminds us that the public profile of the anti-choice movement in the US continues to be defined by violence and extremism.
Alongside the murders and the death threats, there’s the shouting of abuse at women entering family planning clinics, the posters emblazoned with photos which supposedly show aborted foetuses, the lies that abortion causes cancer and mental illness and repeated attempts to further restrict women’s access to safe, legal terminations.
The majority of anti-choice individuals and groups are religious and make much of their belief in the ‘sanctity of life’ and other Christian values. The fact that some demonstrate these loving, caring values by committing murder and assault, screaming abuse at people and putting women’s lives in danger makes it impossible to respect them.
In fact, it only serves to highlight further why they must not be allowed to exert further influence - so that reproductive rights do not end up being restricted more than they already are.