Kansas abortion clinic won't reopen after murder

KANSAS CITY, Missouri Tue Jun 9, 2009 4:36pm EDT

Scott Roeder, charged with killing 67-year-old George Tiller, a Kansas doctor reviled by anti-abortion groups for his work providing ''late-term'' abortions, appears via video in Sedgwick County District Court in Wichita, Kansas, June 2, 2009. REUTERS/KSN TV

Scott Roeder, charged with killing 67-year-old George Tiller, a Kansas doctor reviled by anti-abortion groups for his work providing ''late-term'' abortions, appears via video in Sedgwick County District Court in Wichita, Kansas, June 2, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/KSN TV

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KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - The family of a murdered Kansas doctor said on Tuesday they would not reopen his clinic, which was one of only a few in the United States willing to provide late-term abortions.

George Tiller, 67, died in the foyer of his church, shot once in the face as he served as an usher at Sunday services on May 31.

Police quickly arrested anti-abortion protester Scott Roeder, 51, and have charged him with first-degree murder and aggravated assault in the killing.

A statement released by attorneys for Tiller's family said they were "ceasing operation of the clinic and any involvement by family members in any other similar clinic."

Tiller had been a top target of anti-abortion activists for years, and had been shot before. His clinic in Wichita, Kansas had also been bombed and was the site of regular protests.

The killing re-ignited debate in the United States over abortion, which was legalized in a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision but has remained a bitterly divisive political and social issue.

Abortion rights advocates say Tiller's killing and the closing of his clinic, which provided services to women wanting to abort fetuses with severe abnormalities even after the 22nd week of pregnancy, is a blow to women's rights. They say there are only two other such clinics in the country.

"The closing of his clinic leaves an immediate and immense void in the availability of abortion," the Center for Reproductive Rights said in a statement. "Persistent harassment including violence, threats, and intimidation, and legal restrictions on abortion, deter new doctors from entering the field and force skilled physicians out."

Opponents of abortion said the murder undermined their legal efforts to overturn Roe V. Wade because it could tarnish them with an image of violence. Still, they welcomed the news of the clinic's closing.

"We are glad that Kansas will not be referred to as the abortion capital of the world," said Kansans for Life spokesman David Gittrich. "But abortion is still legal so we still have our work cut out for us."

(Reporting by Carey Gillam, Editing by Frances Kerry)

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