Wednesday, June 03, 2009

the cross-hairs of american extremism

Washington Post | GEORGE TILLER knew the danger of providing late-term abortions. His home was picketed, his office was blown up and in 1993 he was shot in both arms by an anti-abortion zealot. He never considered stopping his work, because he knew there were women who needed his help. His murder is a tragedy for his family, his patients and his profession. It should serve as a wake-up call that more must be done to ensure that women have access to this legal procedure.

Mr. Tiller was shot to death Sunday as he handed out bulletins in his Kansas church and as his wife sang in the choir. Yesterday, authorities charged Scott Roeder with first-degree murder, and they are investigating what have been described as his virulent anti-abortion views. Mr. Tiller is the fourth abortion provider to be killed since 1993; the attacks he and his Wichita clinic endured are not isolated events. The National Abortion Federation has catalogued 6,143 such incidents of violence in the United States and Canada between 1977 and 2009, including arson, bombings and butyric acid attacks.

It is unclear how this violence has affected decisions by health-care providers. What is known is that the number of places where women can go for abortions has been declining since 1982. About one-third of women live in a county with no abortion providers, reports the Guttmacher Institute, and as a result a growing number of women have difficulty receiving the services in a timely manner.

The vast majority of abortions are performed in free-standing clinics like that run by Mr. Tiller. Very few are performed in hospitals -- a sign that mainline medicine is not living up to its responsibility. What has been overlooked since Mr. Tiller's appalling murder is what will happen to women who need his services. Mr. Tiller was one of the few doctors who performed abortions in the third trimester, and the stories of these women are heartbreaking because, in large measure, they desperately wanted children but were dealing with something gone horribly awry in their pregnancies.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is offering U.S. Marshals Service protection for abortion clinics and the doctors who staff them. It's the right call, but one that underscores the urgency of coming up with better solutions for the delivery of abortion services.