I have known Dr. George Tiller’s name for a long time. I have been pro-choice for as long as I have known what abortion was, and have volunteered and worked at Planned Parenthood and other women’s health clinics. Dr. Tiller has always been a hero of mine. Here is a man who has dedicated his life to women’s health, to providing legal services to women who need them and to treating his patients with dignity and respect. Here also is a dedicated father of four, grandfather of ten, husband and friend to many.
And now here is a man who has given his life for his work, murdered at his place of worship. No one should be killed simply for doing their job. No one should be singled out for a campaign of harassment and violence as Dr. Tiller was for years. I am so sorry for his family.
Dr. Tiller fought for women’s rights every day. As one of only a handful of doctors in the United States who provide late term abortions, he has been a constant target of the fanatic anti-abortion movement. He has been shot in both arms. His clinic has been bombed. He and his family have suffered death threats. Yet he has persisted through all of this to serve those women who need him, who have nowhere else to turn. And that, my friends, is true courage. He was a real hero.
Blogger loree920 posted a moving tribute to Dr. Tiller on DailyKos, describing her family’s long relationship with Dr. Tiller. Her tribute shows that Dr. Tiller’s work was about more than abortion – he was an OB/GYN, and has cared for women through all stages of life.
So now let’s talk about those late-term abortions that Dr. Tiller performed and made him such a target of the anti-choice movement. The Guttmacher Institute has an excellent article about the limits of abortion statistics in the U.S., but based on CDC data and their own research, the Guttmacher Institute estimates that only 1% of all abortions occur after 20 weeks and only 0.08% occur after 24 weeks, which is when a fetus is considered viable (potentially able to survive – with medical intervention – outside of the mother’s womb).
Anti-choice extremists would have you believe that all of these women who chose to terminate their pregnancies in their third trimester were simply lazy and unfeeling, probably ‘welfare queens,’ suddenly deciding that after 6 months or more of pregnancy they – woops! – really didn’t want to be pregnant and would rather be partying, so it’s off cross-country for a major medical procedure just like that. But in reality, women know all too well what pregnancy means from the beginning, and the vast majority of those who choose a late term abortion are either facing a terrible diagnosis for their much-wanted baby or a life-threatening turn of events in their pregnancy. These women and their families were able to turn to Dr. Tiller and his clinic for compassionate care in their time of grief and crisis.
Much will be said in the coming days and weeks about what a loss Dr. Tiller’s death is for his patients, for women’s health and for the abortion rights movement. All of this is true. Already today I have received moving and heartfelt tributes from Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America and other wonderful pro-choice groups. But as a mother of two, my heart is just breaking for his family. He has four kids. Ten grandkids. A loving wife who must be incredibly strong to have suffered through all that these anti-choice extremists have put Dr. Tiller and his family through over the years. Dr. Tiller was so much more than a hero to women and pro-choice activists. He was “daddy” and “grandpa.”
I can’t help but fear that Dr. Tiller’s murder marks the beginning of a new round of deadly clinic violence in America, as anti-choice extremists feel their control of the nation’s agenda slipping away. And I know he will become a symbol of this divide, even more in death than he was in life. But I want to keep remembering Dr. Tiller as a good doctor, a family man, a friend – a real person with a very real family that misses him terribly. So much more than a hero.
Please send a note of condolences to the men and women who worked along side Dr. Tiller at Women’s Health Care Services in Kansas.