Commentary: More protection needed for abortion providers

One of the great tragedies of the murder of Wichita doctor George Tiller is that it enables public policy to be shaped by a bullet.

This is a horrible notion, and must be rejected by all.

Tiller was known throughout the United States, worldwide even, as one of the few remaining U.S. doctors willing to perform late-term abortions.

How few? Back in 1990, doctors in at least seven clinics would terminate late-term pregnancies. After a rash of abortion-related murders and other violence, the number had dwindled to three, with clinics in Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska.

If no physician steps forward to replace Tiller, there will now be two clinics, both run by aging doctors.

"If you're a woman who needed the care he provided, there are few options," said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation. "It's a devastating loss."

Criminals and extremists cannot be allowed to shut down a legal medical practice. The federal government must do a better job of enforcing laws and policies put in place to protect abortion providers.

The U.S. Justice Department should revive a task force that was created in 1998, after the murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian. The task force coordinated information on extremist groups, helped train local police agencies and funded clinic safety measures.

Protecting abortion providers faded as a priority during the Bush administration, and the task force went largely dormant. Barack Obama's justice department should get the effort back on track.

Tiller had survived assassination attempts in 1986 and in 1993. He spent years under guard, and always knew he was at risk.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Kansas City Star.