Friends and co-workers were not surprised Friday when Dr. George Tiller returned to work at his abortion clinic despite being shot the night before.
“That’s just the way he is. He believes in what he is doing,” said Peggy Jarman, his spokeswoman.
The attack Thursday night in which Tiller was wounded was not the first time the 52-year-old physician has faced physical threats.
A pipe bomb blast heavily damaged his clinic in 1986. He hung a sign outside the rubble reading “Hell, No. We Won’t Go!”
He has been the frequent focus of anti-abortion demonstrations, including six weeks of protests in 1991 that resulted in more than 2,700 arrests. “They’re not going to run me out of town,” Tiller responded at the time.
Although he refused requests for comment Friday, Tiller has made his views clear in occasional interviews since 1986.
“I am not a victim,” he said during the 1991 protests. “I am a willing participant in this conflict. I choose to be here because I feel that it is the moral, it is the ethical thing to do.”
He said the fundamental question is whether the pregnant woman or her fetus is his patient. He believes the woman is the patient.
Tiller has been a lightning rod for protests because he is one of a half-dozen or so U.S. physicians who will do third-trimester abortions. He said he does abortions after the 26th week of pregnancy only when a fetus is deformed or a mother’s life is in danger.
Abortion protesters have accused him of performing abortions up until the moment of birth. He denies that accusation.
He also keeps a book of photographs in his desk showing some of the fetuses he has aborted.
“Hydrocephalus, spina bifida, fused legs, open spine, lethal chromosome abnormality. Nature makes mistakes,” he said, looking at the photos, which also included babies with misplaced limbs, no brains and other abnormalities.
Tiller said he never intended to become an abortion provider.
He became interested in medicine as a boy in Wichita when he went with his father, Dr. Dean Jack Tiller, on house calls.
The younger Tiller got his medical degree from the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Kansas City in 1967. He joined the Navy, where he interned for four years and worked more than a year as a flight surgeon.
In 1970, a plane crash killed his father, mother, sister and brother-in-law. He returned to Wichita to care for his sister’s 1-year-old child and his ailing grandmother.
Tiller took over his father’s family practice and gradually began doing more abortions until it became his primary specialty.
He is married and has three daughters and a son. When one of the daughters married about two years ago, the family kept the wedding secret and did not allow a newspaper announcement to be published until after it had taken place to prevent anti-abortion demonstrators from showing up.
Protesters have picketed Tiller’s Butler County home and his church in east Wichita.
In May, Tiller received the national Faith and Freedom Award from the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights.