Wichita The clinic run by slain abortion provider George Tiller will be the focus of the issue again today, with a vigil and counter-demonstrations planned at the now-closed facility for the first time since his death.
Operation Rescue plans a gathering and prayer vigil led by Rev. Patrick Mahoney, who helped lead the 1991 “Summer of Mercy” protests in Wichita that sparked mass demonstrations and arrests.
Abortion opponents plan to lay hundreds of flowers in remembrance of the more than 60,000 abortions performed at the clinic, one of the few in the nation where third-trimester abortions were available, since abortion was legalized. A memorial service there will be followed by a prayer walk across Wichita and vigils at a local church.
Tiller’s family said it would permanently close the clinic after he was gunned down May 31 in the foyer of his church while serving as an usher at Sunday morning services. Scott Roeder, 51, faces first-degree murder and aggravated assault charges.
“We deliberately scaled it back. Nobody is going to bring any signs or anything. We are going to be somber,” Mahoney said. “At a time when emotions are most raw, that would be a critical time to pray. We are praying for no more violence to enter the city of Wichita.”
Operation Rescue has repeatedly denounced Tiller’s shooting, saying Roeder was not a member.
Tiller’s supporters, though, are rankled that Operation Rescue is holding a service at his clinic and claiming they will pray for his family. Dozens of abortion rights supporters plan to confront Operation Rescue at the clinic, said Marla Patrick, state coordinator for the National Organization for Women.
“It is highly insulting, especially considering it is their type of rhetoric that contributed to Dr. Tiller’s death,” Patrick said.
Abortion rights advocates said they struggled with the decision to demonstrate at Tiller’s clinic, but ultimately thought it was necessary.
“We know they are not doing this to heal anything,” Patrick said. “They are using it as a way to further their agenda and to turn the attention on them.”
Operation Rescue has become the fulcrum of increasingly heated rhetoric on the issue since the name and phone number of the group’s senior policy adviser, Cheryl Sullenger, was found in Roeder’s car when he was arrested. A television crew zoomed in on the scrawled note inside the car in images that made their way to the Internet.
Sullenger, who was convicted in 1987 of conspiracy to bomb an abortion clinic in San Diego, said Roeder’s calls to her were related to court hearings about a misdemeanor case filed against Tiller for allegedly not obtaining independent second opinions for some late-term abortions.
Tiller was ultimately acquitted of that.
She said she has learned that violence doesn’t work and doing things in a legal way accomplishes much more. She does not plan to attend today’s events.
“This is about peace, not stirring up controversy,” she said. “Nobody wants a problem.”
Last week, Operation Rescue President Troy Newman posted on his Facebook page, “My new favorite past time: De-friending people who think killing abortion doctors is a good thing.”