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Tiller had been focus of nation's struggle over abortion

Beloved by some, hated by others, Dr. George Tiller died Sunday a central figure in the nation's emotional, fiery and sometimes violent debate over abortion.

Dr. Tiller -- recently acquitted of violating the state's late-term abortion laws -- was shot and killed Sunday morning in the lobby of Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita.

Since first performing abortions after the monumental U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, Dr. Tiller had been threatened, shot, his Women's Health Care Services clinic bombed.

Despite the assaults against him by people who believed what he did was murder, he continued to make available what he thought was right, friends say: a woman's right to choose.

"He was far too committed to what he did to let all of those situations -- and there were many and they were constant -- stop him because he had a commitment to his patients," said Peggy Bowman, who served as his spokeswoman in the 1990s.

Bowman said one only had to read the hundreds of thank-you letters lining the walls of his clinic, Women's Health Care Services, to know how he helped people facing decisions that others never face.

"Dr. Tiller always used to say that women are under the most stress at two times in their lives: when they are pregnant and don't want to be and when they want to be and can't," Bowman said.

A career in medicine

Dr. Tiller hadn't planned to practice in Wichita.

But he returned after a 1970 plane crash killed his parents, sister and brother-in-law, according to a 1986 story in The Wichita Eagle.

Following in his father's footsteps, Dr. Tiller studied medicine at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. He joined the Navy, working as an intern for four years in aerospace medicine and spending more than a year as a Navy flight surgeon.

"I'd never planned to come back to Wichita. I'd never planned to be a family physician," Dr. Tiller said in the 1986 story.

After much of his family died, Dr. Tiller returned to Wichita to take over his father's clinic and care for his grandmother and his sister's 1-year-old child.

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