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Anti-abortion activist takes stand in murder trial

(CNN) -- An anti-abortion activist charged with gunning down a Wichita, Kansas, doctor took the stand in his own defense Thursday, testifying calmly over prosecutors' vigorous and frequent objections.

Scott Roeder, 51, is charged with one count of first-degree murder in the death of Dr. George Tiller, who was shot to death at his church on May 31. Tiller ran a women's clinic where he performed abortions.

Roeder testified that his anti-abortion beliefs "go hand in hand" with his religious beliefs. He said he became born again in 1992 after watching an episode of "The 700 Club."


Roeder said he thought abortion could be acceptable if the mother's life was in "absolute" danger. "I struggle with that decision," he said, "because I believe that ultimately, it is up to our heavenly father. But if there was a time, that would be it."

When defense attorneys asked about his belief regarding abortion in the case of rape, Roeder said, "I do not believe that is justified. You are taking the life of the innocent. You're punishing the innocent life for the sin of the father. Two wrongs don't make a right."

Asked about incest, he said his beliefs were the same. "It isn't our duty to take life, it's our heavenly father's," he said.

Tiller, 67, was one of the few U.S. doctors who performed later-term abortion procedures. He had already survived one attempt on his life before he was slain.

Sedgwick County Judge Warren Wilbert said he does not want the trial to become a forum on abortion.

In a conference out of the presence of jurors, Wilbert cautioned Roeder about his testimony, saying specifics on medical procedures would not be allowed. Roeder's testimony will proceed, Wilbert said, "on a question-by-question basis."

Roeder recounted conducting what he called "sidewalk counseling" at Kansas City women's clinics, handing pamphlets and other literature to women as they went inside. "Some of them did ultimately change their mind," he said.

Defense attorney Steve Osburn, in opening arguments, told jurors Roeder "killed Dr. Tiller because he believed that was the only way necessary to save the lives of the unborn."

Earlier Thursday, Wilbert refused to allow former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline to testify on behalf of the defense. On Wednesday, he refused to allow testimony from current Deputy Attorney General Barry Disney. Kline attempted unsuccessfully to file charges against Tiller in 2006. Disney charged Tiller with 19 misdemeanor counts, but a jury acquitted the doctor.

Wilbert said Roeder can testify about the cases and how they affected his beliefs, but to allow testimony from Kline would "get into legal matters that do not concern this jury."

And, the judge said, the cases do not give Roeder a basis to state absolutely that Tiller's actions were illegal, since the doctor had never been convicted.

Defense attorneys claim Roeder was led to shoot Tiller in part because of authorities' failure to punish him through the judicial system.


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