WICHITA — The bullet that killed George Tiller on Sunday did what lawmakers, prosecutors and grassroots activists never could: end the career of the nation's most prominent abortion provider.
But those who long fought against Tiller's work now worry Sunday's act of vigilantism will set back efforts to restrict abortion and will poison the debate — possibly for years.
"I think he (Tiller) was a lawbreaker," said Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican who supports more abortion restrictions. "But this is not how you win … you win by winning hearts, not by stopping them from beating."
Until Sunday, Kansas' abortion debate looked to be settling into a staid middle age. Sure, Tiller's clinic was still subject to daily protests. Sure, every year saw new attempts to restrict abortions in the Legislature. But the debate more and more hinged on hypertechnical changes to state statute.
It was a battle waged with news releases and legislative hearings, not bullets or bombs.
That changed Sunday when Tiller's death left both sides looking for answers, and speculating about the future.
Abortion-rights supporters said Sunday's killing shows the danger of heated ideological rhetoric, and the continued need to protect women's right to abortion.
"We're not going to let the terrorists win," said Peter Brownlie, president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.
Anti-abortion leaders denounced Sunday's shooting as a vicious and unpardonable act.
One of Tiller's most dogged critics, Phill Kline, former attorney general and former Johnson County district attorney, sent a statement to reporters saying he was "stunned by this lawless and violent act, which must be condemned and should be met with the full force of law."
Mark Gietzen of Wichita, who has organized 1,846 consecutive days of protests outside Tiller's clinic, said Sunday's killing could deal a significant public relations blow to abortion opponents.
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