Political Fallout From Tiller Murder Uncertain

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Groups on both sides of the abortion debate are condemning the murder of Dr. George Tiller. 

But pro-life groups says they don't want Tiller's death to be made into something political.

Dr. Tiller served as an usher at the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas.  He was standing inside the church foyer Sunday, when police say he was shot and killed by 51-year-old suspect Scott Roeder around 10 a.m. Tiller was 67.

"I am totally in shock," said Vivian Farha. "I don't believe in abortion, but I don't believe we have the right to take anyone's life, including Dr. Tiller's.

Tiller operated the Women's Health Services Clinic in Witchita. It is one of just three abortion clinics in the country that performs abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy when the unborn baby is considered viable.  It is a highly controversial procedure sometimes referred to as partial birth abortions.

Tiller was the target of protests and threats throughout his career.

Ed Cero, one of Tiller's neighbors, said he wasn't surprised to hear about the doctor's murder.

"Wasn't surprised at all," he said.  "You know, he lives across the street.  I'm sure he looked behind him everywhere he went."

Tiller survived a shooting 16 years ago and suffered gunshot wounds to both arms. His clinic was bombed in 1985.  As a result, the doctor often wore a bullet-proof vest and drove an armored car.

"I have a right to go to work," Tiller said. "What I am doing is legal. What I am doing is moral, ethical and you're not going to run me out of town."

President Obama responded to Tiller's murder in a statement saying, "however profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence."

Pro-life groups also immediately denounced the violence. The president of Operation Rescue released a statement saying, "We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place."

But some fear abortion supporters will use the shooting to paint pro-life groups as extremists and to stifle questions about abortion during Judge Sonia Motomayor's upcoming confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate. Sotomayor does not have a judicial record on abortion and lawmakers on both sides of the debate are anxious to find out where she stands.

"Do not take this personal tragedy and try to use it for political gain," said the Christian Defense Coalition's Rev. Pat Mahoney.

Meanwhile, Tiller's family and fellow parishoners nurse their grief as police look for answers. 

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Jennifer Wishon is the White House correspondent for CBN News based in the network’s Washington, D.C. Bureau.  Before taking over the White House beat, Jennifer covered Capitol Hill and other national news, from the economy to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferWishon and "like" her at Facebook.com/JennWishon.