Scott Roeder, who was seen by eyewitnesses to shoot and kill Dr. George Tiller in his church last May, is set to stand trial in Wichita next week. After having his “necessity defense” rejected (that’s based on the idea that he was preventing some greater harm by killing Dr. Tiller and preventing future abortions) Roeder will plead Not Guilty, and his lawyers seem to be hoping for a lesser sentence than First Degree Murder.
The New York Times reports that most Pro-Life advocates like Troy Newman of Operation Rescue are staying far away from the trial.
“This trial isn’t meaningful for the movement,” Mr. Newman said last week. “What happened is antithetical to the Christian cause and to the stated foundation principles of pro-life.”
But for a contingent of abortion opponents — those who argue that the killing of an abortion doctor can be considered justified by the abortions it prevents — Mr. Roeder’s case has become a rallying point.
“He’s a hero,” said Regina Dinwiddie, a longtime abortion opponent from Kansas City, Kan., who was once ordered by a federal judge to stop using a bullhorn within 500 feet of abortion clinics. “His case is certainly the most important in my lifetime,” added Ms. Dinwiddie, who said she and several others intended to travel to Wichita for the trial.
In a way, Mr. Roeder’s trial would appear open and shut: prosecutors plan to call church members who say they saw Mr. Roeder walk into the church foyer, fire a gun into Dr. Tiller’s head and run away. And though jurors may not be told as much in court, Mr. Roeder has admitted to the shooting in jailhouse interviews and, as recently as last week, in a 104-page legal memorandum he filed himself to the judge.
Yet Mr. Roeder, who has pleaded not guilty, and his supporters have made it clear that they hope the trial will focus less on who killed Dr. Tiller than why — in essence, an effort to send the jury on a broader examination of abortion and the practices of one of the few doctors in the country who was known to provide abortions into the third trimester of pregnancy.
Mr. Newman appears in the film “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” (as do Dr. Tiller and his advocates.) In months of filming, we never heard any Pro-Life activist advocate or condone violence against anyone — in fact, their genius was in adopting the nonviolent tactics of the Civil Rights movement. But the Pro-Life movement does make generous use of violent and bloody imagery, and absolutist language about a “holocaust” and “mass murder.” It’s not hard to see where that kind of thinking could lead.
A sort of moral clarity was central to the appeal of the Pro-Lifers: abortion is murder, and murder is wrong, period. And as long as protestors restricted themselves to lying down on sidewalks, they could claim a moral high ground. So the movement is clearly put in a bind by Mr. Roeder’s crime, and surely wish he’d never pulled the trigger.