Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Necessity' Defense: Did Abortion Doctor Need to Die?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Necessity' Defense: Did Abortion Doctor Need to Die?

Article excerpt

Scott Roeder insists he was justified in killing an abortion doctor because it prevented more abortions. His lawyers argue they should be allowed to use the so-called necessity defense. Jury selection is expected to take place this week.

The killing of an abortion doctor in Kansas has set the stage for a

closely watched trial that could affect how future abortion- related

cases are tried.

Scott Roeder has admitted to gunning down George Tiller in the

vestibule of his church in May 2009. Mr. Roeder is charged with

first-degree murder, but late last week, his defense lawyers

persuaded the judge in the case, Warren Wilbert, to allow them to

argue that their client's actions warrant the lesser charge of

voluntary manslaughter.

Voluntary manslaughter is applied in cases when a defendant acts

believing that his or her actions are justified. Roeder has insisted

his actions were justified because they prevented Dr. Tiller from

performing further abortions. Some call this a "necessity

defense" argument.

Judge Wilbert will not rule on whether the jury can consider a

voluntary manslaughter charge until after the trial begins. Jury

selection was supposed to take place in Wichita, Kan., on Monday, but

it was postponed until probably Wednesday.

The necessity-defense argument has not been permitted in other

high-profile abortion-related trials, including that of Paul Hill,

who received the death sentence for killing an abortion doctor in

1994; and James Kopp, who is serving a life sentence for killing an

abortion doctor in 1998.

In the Kansas case, it is premature for antiabortion forces to

declare a victory, says Tom Brejcha, chief counsel of the Thomas More

Society, a public-interest law firm in Chicago that has been involved

in right-to-life issues including abortion and euthanasia.

The judge is "just saying he's approaching it with an open

mind," Mr. Brejcha says. Wilbert is using "ordinary sound

judgment before awaiting the presentation of the evidence. …

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