The Wichita, Kan., clinic of slain abortion provider Dr. George Tiller will be "permanently closed," his family said Tuesday, as the niece of Martin Luther King Jr. denounced a comparison of Dr. Tiller and King made by another provider of late-term abortions.
"Effective immediately, Women's Health Care Services Inc. will be permanently closed. Notice is being given today to all concerned that the Tiller family is ceasing operation of the clinic and any involvement by family members in any other similar clinic," the family said in a statement, adding that the clinic's medical records will remain secure.
"We are proud of the service and courage shown by our husband and father and know that women's health care needs have been met because of his dedication and service," the Tillers stated.
Dr. LeRoy Carhart of Omaha, Neb., one of several doctors who traveled to Wichita once every three weeks to help at Dr. Tiller's practice, said he would try to continue to provide late-term abortions, though Nebraska law forbids post-viability abortion.
"I completely understand and sympathize with this decision" by the Tillers, he said. "I am currently exploring every option to be able to continue to make second- and early-third-trimester abortions available."
But Dr. Carhart's comments at a Monday news conference, calling the Tiller death "the equivalent of Martin Luther King being assassinated," and comparisons of pro-life displays to the Ku Klux Klan brought an outraged response from Alveda King, niece of the slain civil rights leader.
"For LeRoy Carhart to mention the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who worked through peaceful and nonviolent means, in the same breath with that of George Tiller, whose work ended peace and brought violence to babies in the womb, is offensive beyond belief," she told The Washington Times on Tuesday. "The analogy is just wrong."
Ms. King, a notable pro-life advocate, has called abortion a "racist, genocidal act." About 36 percent of the abortions in the United States are performed on blacks, who comprise just 17 percent of the live births.
"Dr. Carhart also speaks of hate crimes," Ms. King added, alluding to his denouncing pro-life protesters as hate criminals and comparing cross displays to the Ku Klux Klan. "I would simply ask him: Is it not hateful to regard an entire class of people as nonhuman because they're unwanted?"
Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider, released a statement calling the closing "a very difficult decision for the Tiller family."
"As the last week has shown, Dr. Tiller helped women facing some of the most difficult and tragic circumstances imaginable," the group continued. "We share in the Tiller family's grief and respect the family's wish to not comment on the closing of the center any further."
Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, was less circumspect, calling it "unacceptable that anti-abortion intimidation and violence has led to the closing of Dr. Tiller's clinic."
The fortresslike Wichita facility attracted thousands of protesters because it specialized in late-term abortions. The method used involved a lethal injection of digoxin into the fetus' heart, killing it before inducing delivery.
"Dr. George Tiller personally boasted of performing 60,000 abortions," said Shaun Kenney, executive director of the American Life League. "We are working actively for the day when the remaining 731 abortion clinics across America shut their doors and end the culture of violence against the most innocent of human beings."
The American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists commended the family for closing the clinic.
"In the rare instance where delivery is necessary to save the life of the mother, it is never necessary to purposefully kill the infant in the process of delivery," said Dr. Joe DeCook, vice president of the association. "No woman will be denied medically indicated and necessary health care because this clinic is closed."
Despite the Tiller family statement, the legislative director for Kansans for Life, which has been trying to close the Tiller clinic for more than two decades, said the organization fears that another group might try to fill the gap.
"This facility was on the verge of being closed by the Kansas State Board of Healing Arts so it was especially tragic that George Tiller was murdered," Kathy Ostrowski said. "Kansans for Life is still concerned that unless this state shows it stands behind its 1998 ban on post-viability abortions, other practictioners ... will have their eye on reopening the facility."
Several doctors who worked in the Tiller clinic - including Drs. Carhart, Kristin Neuhas, Shelly Sella and Susan Robinson - are still licensed to perform abortions in Kansas, she said.
In March, Dr. Tiller was acquitted of 19 misdemeanor violations of state abortion statutes only to have the state's medical board say it would bring up new charges concerning him and Dr. Neuhaus.