About 500 people gathered in Wichita’s Old Town Square last night in a vigil to remember the life of murdered Wichita doctor George Tiller.
Tiller was notable as one of the few doctors in the United States who performed late-term abortions.
One speaker at the vigil said that Tiller was the victim of a hate crime. One spoke of Wichita’s “sense of community.” “We’re a city that brings people together … we’re all pro-community.”
One person attending the vigil said “This is grass roots terrorism.”
Another person in the audience told me that it’s a shame that Wichita — and the city’s image — will be in the news for the next several days because of this story. Another wanted to make sure that I reported how peaceful the vigil attendees were, perhaps drawing a contrast with a small group of protesters from Westboro Baptist Church who carried anti-abortion signs and shouted before the vigil started. There, a group of abortion rights supporters returned the insults in kind.
I agree with the assessment of Bud Norman that last night’s vigil was more a demonstration for abortion rights than anything else. Part of the problem, as Norman noted, was the lack of sound reinforcement equipment. That, coupled with the water fountain noise — not to mention the street traffic and trains — meant that only some of the people who attended the vigil heard the speakers. That didn’t seem to bother many of the people who attended.
The politics of abortion are impossible to separate from this murder, and those politics are emotionally charged.
At this time, it seems that neither side is willing to trust the other. Some pro-choice people are not willing to accept pro-life groups’ condemnations of Tiller’s murder, claiming instead that pro-lifers are secretly glad that Tiller is dead.
There is also an attempt to blame all pro-life demonstrators for Tiller’s death. One Kansas blogger wrote “… blame for that tragedy is at the feet of every person who has ever called a pro-choice person or a doctor who performs abortions a baby killer or who has ever marched at clinics or rallies holding signs with pictures of dismembered fetuses. Those words and those pictures are intended to elicit violent reactions like revulsion, hate, and, in their most extreme, murder.”
Language like this fails to recognize the sincerity of the beliefs of many pro-life people, including those who protested peacefully nearly every day at Tiller’s clinic. Truly believing that abortion is equivalent to murder, they acted on their strongly-held beliefs — just as pro-choice people act on theirs.
Despite President Obama’s recent call for “open hearts, open minds, fair-minded words” he recognizes that “the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable.” The murder of George Tiller will likely provide another example of how true this is.