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Anti-abortion extremists unleash 'reign of terror'

THE patients are gone and so are the protesters. Once the site of daily anti-abortion picketing, the Kansas clinic in the United States, run by murdered doctor George Tiller is busy only with workers shutting down the facility.

But as an uneasy peace settles over Wichita, abortion rights supporters say the fatal gunshot that closed Tiller's clinic is part of a wave of attacks threatening to and, in some cases, succeeding in stopping women's access to abortion.

Tiller's murder on May 31 was one of more than 60 threats and incidents of violence so far this year, according to the National Abortion Federation, an association of North American abortion providers.

"It's a reign of terror against abortion providers," said Vicki Saporta, the federation's chief executive.

Saporta is part of a coalition of abortion rights leaders who met last week with Justice Department officials to plead for more protection for abortion clinics. In recent years, US clinics have been bombed, set on fire, threatened with anthrax and acid, and physicians have been stalked and patients harassed.

During the first half of 2009, along with 67 burglaries, assaults and other violent incidents, there have been 1,400 reports of hate mail and harassing phone calls received by clinics, the highest level in a decade.

Debate over abortion intensified this spring when Tiller was prosecuted on charges he illegally performed some late-term abortions, in the third trimester of pregnancy.

Opponents hoped Tiller would be convicted and his clinic closed, but he was acquitted in March.

Tiller was shot dead while attending church, and an anti-abortion activist was charged for the murder.

Last Wednesday, a Memphis women's clinic was evacuated because of a bomb threat. That same day, two men were convicted of fire-bombing an Albuquerque abortion clinic.


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