Today, May 31, is the anniversary of the murder of Dr. George Tiller, one of the last remaining doctors in the country who would provide late-term abortions. Dr. Tiller was shot in the foyer of his church on a Sunday morning. His killer, Scott Roeder, was sentenced to life in prison, but a year later, the impact of Dr. Tiller’s life and death still resonate throughout the reproductive justice community.
This year has been full of encroachments on the reproductive freedoms that Dr. Tiller so passionately devoted his life to protecting. In Oklahoma, Florida, Nebraska and Georgia, legislators have proposed – and in some cases, passed – laws that limit women’s ability to access abortions without guilt, trauma or needless expense. Health care reform led to bitter debates over the ease with which lawmakers ignore women’s health and our right to control our bodies. A new resurgence in the rhetoric of “pro-life feminism” has led some to question the efficacy of the “pro-choice” label. And those who work on the ground in abortion clinics across the country noticed an upsurge in the virulence of the protesters who daily threaten their lives.
But I’m grateful, all the same, for the warmth and intensity of the response from the pro-choice community on the one-year anniversary of Dr. Tiller’s death. Robin Marty (who you may know from her fabulous writing on Care2) has a round-up on RH Reality Check, detailing the many ways that Dr. Tiller’s life has been honored over the past week. Harry Reid spoke out against Dr. Tiller’s murder on the Senate floor, saying, “He was murdered by an unrepentant assassin who took a life in the name of protecting life. It was an indefensible crime and an incomprehensible excuse.” In a remarkable post, a woman recounts her experiences with Dr. Tiller after discovering that she was pregnant from rape, writing,
“I had to be escorted into the health center through a throng of protesters who screamed the most hateful things at me, pounded on my car windows, shook gruesome signs at me and told me that I would burn in hell. And at the time, I believed them…[But Dr. Tiller] was kind, soft-spoken and caring. He comforted me as I cried that I was a Catholic and that I wasn’t even sexually active. He asked me to trust him and was completely without judgment. He told me that he was going to help me and that he would make sure that I would be OK. And he was right.”
On IAmDrTiller.com, people have been reflecting on what this anniversary means to them. One man writes, in an incredibly moving post, “I am thankful for Tiller – for without women and men like Tiller – the lives of my mother, sisters, friends, classmates, lovers and fellow Soldiers would be less enhanced; and because the quality of my life is a direct reflection of the freedoms and opportunities the women in my life are afforded, George Tiller enhanced my life, too. In short, in fighting for women, George Tiller also fought for me.”
If you would like to add your own thoughts, you can do so here.
Amanda Robb of Alternet points out the damaging effects of the inaccurate rhetoric that painted Roeder, Dr. Tiller’s killer, as a “lone gunman,” when in fact he and others who threaten violence against abortion providers are part of a large, well-organized and well-funded network. And here, it’s crucial to remember that Dr. Tiller’s death, as well as his life, meant something larger for the reproductive justice community – that women’s freedoms are under threat, not just from legislation, but from actual physical violence against those who try to protect them.
But as a young pro-choice activist, I also take inspiration from Dr. Tiller’s life. Although I never knew a time before Roe v. Wade, I have worked within the pro-choice community since I was fourteen, and continue to watch legislators in my home state, Virginia, chip away at my power over my body. I have escorted women into abortion clinics in New Jersey and understand the terror and shame that is inflicted on the women who are told, as they walk into health centers, that they are going to hell. And I know that within my generation, there are men and women who are as angry, and as passionate, as I am – and that we will strive to carry on Dr. Tiller’s legacy. It’s the least we can do to honor his work, and the work of every other person who has stepped forward to fill his place.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.