Courts & Crime

Reaction to guilty verdict in Tiller abortion murder trial

WICHITA, Kan. — The two sides in the abortion debate agreed on one thing Friday: A Wichita jury delivered the only verdict it could in the Scott Roeder murder trial.

Beyond that, their reactions diverged sharply.

Abortion rights supporters, fearing more violence, want authorities to continue investigating Roeder's killing of abortion provider George Tiller, while abortion opponents want to move on.

National Organization for Women president Terry O'Neill said she was relieved that Roeder was going to jail, probably for life. But she was concerned about District Judge Warren Wilbert's decision to entertain the possibility of lesser charges, even though he ultimately didn't allow the jury to consider those charges.

"It creates a climate in which more health care providers can be murdered," O'Neill said.

"I believe that violence is in fact ratcheting up against health care and abortion providers," she said.

O'Neill and others said Roeder's case revealed the existence of a network of violence-prone abortion foes that must be exposed and halted.

"He himself testified about conversations he had with other people about murdering Dr. Tiller," O'Neill said.

Society must denounce such terrorism, and authorities must disrupt the network's funding, she said. And those who provide funds for it must be prosecuted and jailed "for a very, very long time."

Troy Newman, leader of Operation Rescue, said the anti-abortion movement isn't about violence, which he denounces. He said the movement is vibrant, strong and healthy, and has grown to become a force in Washington, D.C.

"Pro-life was not on trial," he said. "It was an insane man doing insane things."

But abortion foe Randall Terry, the Operation Rescue founder who is now director of a group called Insurrecta Nex, accused anti-abortion leaders of "running like frightened schoolgirls" from Roeder.

"If we condemn him too severely it undermines the premise of everything we stand for," Terry said.

Anti-abortion leaders should be able to say that they don't condone what Roeder did, but that he did it because Tiller had "murdered 60,000 babies," Terry said.

National Right To Life, a federation of 50 state groups, said in a written statement that Roeder's actions are antithetical to the work of the anti-abortion movement and that the organization will continue to work in educational, legislative and political activities "to ensure the right to life for unborn children, people with disabilities and older people."

On the other side, Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, who attended the trial, praised the jury's verdict but said the federation has spoken with the Department of Justice about the importance of continuing to investigate whether anybody else aided and abetted Roeder.

After Tiller was killed, the department announced that it had begun an investigation into whether others were involved in the shooting. Justice Department officials said the investigation is continuing. Agency officials attended the trial.

Kathy Spillar, executive vice president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said she hoped the trial would propel the investigation.

"Our sincere hope now is that with the door thrown wide open by the district attorney and her cross examination of Scott Roeder and by his own testimony of his relationship with other extremists who promote the murder of doctors, that a thorough and rigorous investigation will be conducted into whether or not this murder was part of a conspiracy to kill Dr. Tiller and to kill other doctors," said Spillar, who also attended the trial.

Roeder supporters said they weren't surprised by the verdict. But Michael Bray, a long-time abortion foe from Ohio who visited Roeder in jail this week, said he was disappointed with the jury.

"It took a lot of courage for the fellow to say, 'I want to stop abortion,'" said Bray, a convicted abortion clinic arsonist. "When a man does that, there's an obligation for those who see that he did right to say so."

One Roeder supporter was encouraged by the trial.

"The whole nation has seen a trial where the justification of force to stop abortion has been expressed," said Dave Leach, an anti-abortion activist from Des Moines. "And for a brief window, the very idea that force might be justified to stop abortion was taken seriously."

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