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On The Anniversary of Murdered Abortion Doctor’s Death, His Legacy Remains

On The Anniversary of Murdered Abortion Doctor’s Death, His Legacy Remains

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, 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.

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Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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10:42AM PDT on Jun 23, 2010

Also, Kacey, your quote becomes even more insignificant when one reads the entire paragraph it was in:
"Is [birth control] an abortion? Definitely not. An abortion requires an operation. It kills the life of a baby after it has begun. It is dangerous to your life and health. It may make you sterile so that when you want a child you cannot have it. Birth control merely postpones the beginning of life."

Given that sentences #5 and 6 are now known to be untrue, makes PP's stance at the time a bit less credible.

10:25AM PDT on Jun 23, 2010

So PP changed their position on something. What exactly is this proof of?

7:06PM PDT on Jun 15, 2010

Live Action NO JOKE: Planned Parenthood in 1952: Abortion “kills the life of a baby” (for those that haven't seen this before- proof

6:06PM PDT on Jun 15, 2010

Why don´t they put doctors in place with obligatory medical examinations we are not in the camps of some regimes of the past century

2:47PM PDT on Jun 14, 2010

I am 100% prolife and 100% against abortion, but killing this man was NOT the answer. My condolances for his family and friends. This was not the idea we as prolifers should be trying to get across.

3:29PM PDT on Jun 7, 2010

Thank you, Heather, for your kindness.

9:29AM PDT on Jun 7, 2010

Well, Jen, it sounds like justice is being carried out for these terrible actions, which is good to know. Thanks for sharing your stories, and I hope these court cases will have a good outcome for your family, and that your cousin makes a complete recovery.

11:26PM PDT on Jun 4, 2010

Heather, thank you so much for your compassion and comfort. I think I confused you by writing about two separate acts on the same day.

My cousin's attackers were expelled from school (they were all under 18, she is 14), but I'm sure her mom will be prosecuting to the full extent of the law .

The other event was the Nazi recruiting package. I actually turned it into state evidence against them. I am so grateful for the loving support I get from people like you instead of certain other people who said, "it wasn't on my internet so it didn't happen," or "it wasn't in the newspapers so it didn't happen," My family decided to keep it quiet so that when it goes to court they will have an unbiased jury.

The biggest shame in all of this is that some people teach their children to be hateful and violent, and they are grooming a resurgence of the horrible atrocities. I think the parents of these kids who beat up my cousin should also be prosecuted, but that's up to her mom and her lawyer.

Again, to all, we all must be very aware that every word and act we make affects the whole world one way or another.

10:29PM PDT on Jun 4, 2010

I'm glad your cousin is doing alright. I wasn't sure what you meant when you said she was no longer on life support, so I didn't want to say anything...but it's good to hear that she'll make it. I hope her attackers go to prison for this. My first thought upon reading about the package you got in the mail was that I'd have made it into a nice backyard campfire in your place, but it'd be good if it was useful in prosecuting your cousin's attackers. It absolutely disturbs me that these things still happen...I mean, I knew there was a neo-Nazi movement out there, but I'd never have thought they'd have the nerve to commit an act of violence now that it's illegal for them to do so.

3:25PM PDT on Jun 4, 2010

To all, please be careful in your dealings with others,. I am as guilty as anyone else of spouting off my strong feelings, We can't afford to put negative energy into the universe. Groups like the American Nazi Party and KKK are on the rise, and looking for people to blame for this horrible economic mess we're in. Add that to the bad feelings some of us cause (including myself) and you have a fire that can burn out of control, opening the door for the rise of the most horrifying hate towards all nonAryans -- probably even stronger than under Hitler. Let's try to remember that we are all people and we are all different, and that can be a really great thing. We don't have to agree, but we do have to respect each other and not make each other feel bad, for which I apologize to anyone I've done it to.

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