The New York Times today published a lengthy and detailed story about Dr. George Tiller’s career and reactions of Kansas Pro-Life activists to his murder. Its fascinating reading for anyone who hasn’t gotten enough of this strange and tragic story.
The most notable facet of Dr. Tiller’s story is that he performed the rarest and most controversial of abortion services in a city where abortion opponents are well-organized and the public largely agreed with them. The Times notes that among 1200 mourners, no Kansas politicians of statewide prominence attended Tiller’s funeral.
Mark Gietzen, the Pro-Life activist quoted in the story, is also featured in “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” and our extended coverage of the abortion issue. We got to know him well enough to see that although his commitment to his cause was resolute — like many activists we met, he consistently described abortion in terms like “killing” and “murder” and refused to refer to abortionists as “doctors.”
However, we are also confident that neither Gietzen nor the other Pro-Life activists we covered would have ever condoned or encouraged murder in service of their ends. Which is not obvious, in a culture which routinely shows muscle-bound heros gunning down bad guys. If the authorities stand by idly, why not kill a mass murderer before he kills again?
Still, Tiller was so brave, so principled, that even his opponents took notice:
[After Tiller's murder closed his clinic] Mr. Gietzen said his feelings were more complex. Many years ago, he explained, he had wrestled with the question of whether it would be moral to kill Dr. Tiller. Only after months of reading and praying, he said, did he conclude that violence could never be justified. Killing men like Dr. Tiller, he said, will only put off the day when abortion is outlawed altogether.
“He has killed more babies than he has saved,” Mr. Gietzen said of Mr. Roeder [who's accused of Tiller's murder.] “I don’t care how much fan mail he is getting.”
As he explained himself, Mr. Gietzen did something unexpected. He spoke admiringly of the man he reflexively referred to as “Abortionist Tiller.” He said he was “very smart” and a “great businessman.” He said that if he had been in town he would have attended Dr. Tiller’s funeral to pay his respects.
“A worthy adversary,” he said. “He was right back at us.”