As police in Wichita, Kan., question Scott Roeder of Merriam, Kan., in the Sunday killing of abortionist George Tiller, pro-life activists are responding to the murder of one of the few people known to perform late-term abortions in the United States.
Police say Tiller was acting as an usher in the foyer of Reformation Lutheran Church Sunday morning when a gunman shot and killed him. Services had just begun, and Tiller's wife was in the church's choir loft. The gunman fled, and police later arrested Roeder nearly 170 miles away near Kansas City. They brought the suspect back to Wichita overnight for questioning, and said authorities could file murder charges against Roeder later today.
As questions surfaced about Roeder's ties to pro-life causes, prominent pro-life leaders braced for damage to a decades-long, peaceful pro-life movement in America. They also worked to strike a tense balance: Condemning Tiller's murder while also condemning his life's work.
Albert Mohler, the pro-life president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., called Tiller's murder "a wicked deed," but also "a crucial moral test" for the pro-life movement, asking, "Will we condemn this murder in unqualified terms?"
By early-morning, prominent pro-life leaders were doing just that. National Right to Life Executive Director David O'Steen said his group "unequivocally condemns" Tiller's murder. James Dobson of Focus on the Family said, "We categorically condemn the act of vigilantism and violence that took [Tiller's] life." Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said, "We strongly condemn the actions taken today by this vigilante killer. . . ."
But pro-life groups didn't ignore Tiller's life work, which included over 30 years of performing abortions, many after 22 weeks of pregnancy. Pro-life activists had organized protests outside Tiller's abortion complex in Wichita for years. On March 27, a Kansas jury acquitted Tiller of 19 counts of violating state conditions for performing late-term abortions, but he still faced a possible investigation by the state's medical board.
Wendy Wright of Concerned Women of America said, "We denounce this act of violence against George Tiller, just as we denounce the violence he committed against unborn babies and women."
Mohler struck a similar note, writing on his blog, "Abortion is murder. . . . Abortion is a moral scandal and a national tragedy and a blight upon the American conscience." But he added that pro-lifers must act within the limits of the legal system: "Violence in the name of protesting abortion is immoral, unjustified, and horribly harmful to the pro-life cause."
Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission agrees, calling Tiller's murder "a bizarre and grotesque way to pledge your allegiance to the sanctity of all human life." Land said responding to Tiller's murder is a critical moment for the pro-life movement. "There will be attempts by pro-abortionists to paint all the pro-life movement with this broad, bloody brush," he said. "How successful they are will depend on how convincing we are in our denunciation of this action."