The notorious late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was killed inside his church Sunday morning.
He was shot by a gunman while serving as an usher at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kan. Although Tiller had been the focus of many pro-life activists, they were quick to distance themselves from the killing and condemn it as a "cowardly" act of violence.
"We are shocked at this morning's disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down," said Troy Newman, president of the Operation Rescue, on Sunday. "We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning."
Newman had moved his Christian pro-life group from California to Kansas years earlier just to shut down Tiller's clinic. He emphasized his organization worked only through "peaceful, legal means" to stop abortion, and sent his condolences to the Tiller family.
Likewise, the national pro-life women's group Susan B. Anthony List strongly condemned the "anti-life act." They argue that the only way for "authentic progress" in women's rights to occur is through protecting everyone's human rights.
"The rights of one human being can never be honored by diminishing or ignoring the rights of another," said Susan B. Anthony List president Majorie Dannenfelser. She said members will pray for Tiller's family.
Tiller was the most prominent provider of controversial late-term abortions in the nation. He has been accused of performing abortions even the day before a baby is due. His close friend and fellow physician Warren Hern of Colorado told the Los Angeles Times that after Tiller's death he was now "the only doctor in the world" who provided very late-term abortions.
During Tiller's many years of practice, he is said to have performed over 80,000 abortions, according to Priests for Life.
Prior to Sunday's shooting, Tiller had been the target of other acts of violence, including being shot in both arms in 1993. Earlier in 1986, his clinic was bombed. And more recently there were acts of vandalism on his clinic.
His death comes just two months after the Kansas court acquitted him on 19 charges of illegal abortions. Each of the 19 counts carried a possible penalty of one year in prison and a $2,500 fine.
While most anti-abortion activists expressed complete abhorrence at the murder of Tiller, some modified their responses by highlighting the kind of life he led.
"George Tiller was a mass-murderer," stated Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue. "We grieve for him that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God."
Now after Tiller's death, Terry and other pro-life activists are fearful that abortion proponents will use the incident to their advantage and that there will be a public backlash to the pro-life movement.
Several pro-life leaders expressed concerns that the Obama administration and Democratic leaders will use what they call an "isolated episode" to "demonize" the whole pro-life movement, according to the Times.
Wichita police have arrested a 51-year-old man near Kansas City suspected in the murder.