Commentary: America can't shy away from abortion debate

At the Notre Dame commencement, President Barack Obama called on people of good will to come together and "bridge the divide" to find ways to make abortion the last resort in family planning. It was a welcome olive branch over an issue that has divided America for decades.

Last Sunday one man with a gun mocked the good will of people on both sides of this debate when he killed Dr. George Tiller inside the Kansas church the physician attended. Dr. Tiller, one of the few doctors in the nation who provided late-term abortions, long had been in the crosshairs of the anti-abortion movement's fringe. The 67-year-old doctor was the target of decades of often violent protests, including a 1986 bombing at his Wichita clinic. In 1993, a protester shot the doctor in both arms.

The debate now has turned to whether the doctor's accused killer, 51-year-old anti-abortion protester Scott Roeder, acted alone or if his actions were the result of strident, often erroneous, demagoguery by anti-abortion forces. They include some cable news hosts, such as Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, who mentioned Dr. Tiller dozens of times during segments on his show over the years, often using "baby killer" as part of the introduction, as well as some anti-abortion activists who have gone so far as to compare abortion clinics to Nazis murdering Jews at Auschwitz.

Americans should not turn away from this debate.

Abortion remains legal in this country, and the sad irony is that Dr. Tiller's work performing late-term abortions was not a "choice" the women who came to him made with any pleasure. It was foisted on those women by the circumstances of their pregnancy. By law in each state, late-term abortions are rare – between 1 and 2 percent of all abortions nationwide – because they involve life-and-death situations for the mother's health and often painful decisions about aborting severely deformed fetuses who could not survive outside the womb.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.