Wichita — A Sedgwick County jury that in April acquitted Dr. George Tiller of violating the state’s abortion laws had a special message for Tiller before they left the courtroom.
Jury members told Judge Clark Owens that they wanted to tell Tiller they were “very happy to know that there is someone with a clean, safe, secure facility, where women can have an abortion without having to go to the back alleys or hotel rooms like they used to,” Tiller’s attorney, Dan Monnat, told The Wichita Eagle.
Little more than a month after Tiller’s acquittal on 19 misdemeanor counts of performing illegal abortions, he was shot to death inside his church in Wichita.
The day after Tiller’s killing, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder ordered increased security for abortion clinics. And federal authorities have launched an investigation into a possible conspiracy in Tiller’s killing.
Monnat, who represented Tiller for five years, said federal reaction to possible threats at Tiller’s clinic changed after President Obama took office. Federal authorities are authorized to protect abortion clinics under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances, or FACE Act.
“I think there had been other requests during the previous administration for Dr. Tiller’s clinic to be protected under the FACE Act and nobody had done anything,” Monnat said.
But when Tiller’s clinic, Women’s Health Care Services, was vandalized May 1, Monnat said federal authorities quickly agreed to investigate. The investigation had not gone far when Tiller was killed.
The clinic is closed and Tiller’s family has said it will not reopen.
Monnat recalled learning of Tiller’s death when Eagle reporter Tim Potter called him May 31. He said he initially hoped that Tiller was only wounded and would survive, as he did when he was shot in the arms in 1993.
Monnat called his wife, and then alerted other lawyers who might be in danger.
“Who knew how concerted an attack this might be?” Monnat said.
The death affected Tiller’s lawyers.
“You look over your shoulder more than you used to,” Monnat said.