An anti-abortion extremist who shot a Kansas doctor and attacked abortion clinics across the US during the 90s has been released from prison, Associated Press reports. Rachelle “Shelley” Shannon spent 25 years in prison after being convicted of the attempted murder of Dr. George Tiller and a series of attacks on abortion clinics, including six firebombings and two acid attacks.
The US Bureau of Prisons confirmed that Shannon was released from the Portland, Oregon halfway house that she had been staying in since May. She’ll be on supervised release for three years, although the conditions of her release have not been made public.
Shannon’s attack on Tiller made headlines around the world. On August 19, 1993, she shot Tiller in both arms outside his Wichita clinic. As a high-profile supporter of reproductive rights and one of the few doctors in the US who performed late-term abortions, Tiller was a frequent target of anti-abortion violence. His abortion clinic was firebombed in June 1986 and, in 2009, Tiller was murdered by anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder.
Shannon was a member of Army of God, a domestic terrorist group that believes that God has given them permission to murder abortion providers. Portland Mercury reports that she even advised other members on how to carry out attacks while incarcerated for her crimes.
Some are fearful that Shannon could incite hatred of abortion providers and more violence against clinics. “We’re extremely concerned,” Feminist Majority Foundation executive director Katherine Spillar told AP. “We’re alerting providers, briefing them and making sure they have enough security precautions in place.”
Attacks on abortion clinics and abortion providers have intensified such Donald Trump was elected on a pro-life platform with the support of the evangelical Christian right. A 2017 report from the National Abortion Federation found that threats of death or other harm to abortion providers doubled compared to the previous year. Acts of trespassing in clinics have also nearly tripled from 247 in 2016 to 823 in 2017.
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The former assistant US attorney who prosecuted Shannon in 1995 also expressed concern that she would encourage other anti-abortion extremists. “She’s completely unrehabilitated and totally incorrigible,” Stephen Peifer said. “She has the same mentality and goals that she had when she was convicted.”
In 2015, Broadly reported on the wave of violence against Planned Parenthood clinics initiated by anti-abortion extremists. "It's very difficult to be an abortion provider in today's climate, and these people should be praised for what they do, not demonized,” Vicki Saporta of the National Abortion Federation said at the time. “They are true heroes who put their lives on the line to make sure that women have access to abortion care that they need."
Shannon has never expressed any remorse for her actions. Whilst on trial for Tiller’s attempted murder, Shannon testified that there was nothing immoral about trying to kill the doctor. After the shooting, police found a letter in Shannon’s car in which she described her murder attempt as a “holy, most righteous thing I've ever done.” The judge presiding over her 1995 trial for firebombing multiple clinics described her as a “terrorist” who could pose a threat even from behind bars.
One of Tiller’s former employers was dismayed by Shannon’s release. “She tried to murder my boss,” Julie Burkhart told the AP. “And I absolutely do not believe under any circumstances that Shelley Shannon is reformed. She is still as dangerous today as she was in August of 1993.”