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Doctor who performed abortions shot to death

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Dr. George Tiller, whose Kansas women’s clinic was the epicenter of the state’s battles over abortion for nearly two decades, was shot and killed at his church Sunday morning, his family said.

Tiller, 67, was one of the few U.S. physicians who still performed late-term abortions. He survived a 1993 shooting outside his Wichita clinic.

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He was fatally shot shortly after 10 a.m. Sunday at Reformation Lutheran Church, Wichita police said.

Sunday afternoon, authorities took a man into custody near Kansas City after stopping a car that matched a description of the killer’s getaway vehicle, according to sheriff’s deputies in Johnson County, Kansas. No charges had been filed.

Wichita police said they were searching for a powder-blue Ford Taurus in connection with the killing. Witnesses provided a license number of the car the killer used to speed away from the church, police spokesman Gordon Bassham said.

Tiller “dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality heath care despite frequent threats and violence,” his family said in a written statement.

“We ask that he be remembered as a good husband, father and grandfather and a dedicated servant on behalf of the rights of women everywhere,” the family said.

Abortion is one of the hottest buttons in U.S. politics, with opponents arguing the practice is tantamount to the murder of an unborn child. Abortion rights supporters argue the decision to terminate a pregnancy is best left to the woman.

The anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, which has led numerous demonstrations at Tiller’s clinic, condemned the shooting as a “cowardly act.”

“Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice,” the group said in a statement. It offered its prayers for Tiller’s family, “that they will find comfort and healing that can only be found in Jesus Christ.”

In March, Tiller was acquitted of 19 counts of performing procedures unlawfully at his clinic. In 2008, a probe initiated by abortion opponents who petitioned state authorities to convene a grand jury ended without charges.

On its Web site, Operation Rescue refers to Tiller as a “monster” who has “been able to get away with murder.” And Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, who is no longer affiliated with the group, called Tiller “a mass murderer.”

“We grieve for him that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God,” Terry said in a written statement. “I am more concerned that the Obama administration will use Tiller’s killing to intimidate pro-lifers into surrendering our most effective rhetoric and actions. Abortion is still murder, and we still must call abortion by its proper name.”

The 1993 attack on Tiller left him wounded through both arms. An ardent foe of abortion, Shelley Shannon, was convicted of attempted murder and is serving a 20-year sentence in federal prison for the shooting.

If Tiller was slain because of his work, he would be the fourth U.S. physician killed by abortion opponents since 1993. In addition, a nurse at a Birmingham, Alabama, clinic was maimed and an off-duty police officer was killed in a 1998 bombing by Eric Rudolph, who included abortion among his list of anti-government grievances.

Rudolph admitted to that attack and three other bombings — including the 1996 attack on the Olympic games in Atlanta, Georgia — and is serving life in prison.

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Doctor who performed abortions shot to death