...every time lawmakers restrict abortion access, they commit an act every bit as illegitimate, immoral, and violent towards women as the assassination of George Tiller was.
On May 31, 2009, Dr. George Tiller was assassinated as he acted as an usher in his Wichita, Kansas church on a Sunday morning. Dr. George Tiller was a hero. Dr. Tiller’s commitment to women went far beyond merely providing abortions to women, as essential as that is. Dr. Tiller withstood years and years of targeted harassment, threats, and terror directed at him and his family. When his clinic was firebombed, he posted a sign outside during its reconstruction which read, “Hell No, We Won’t Go!” When he was shot in both arms during a previous assassination attempt, he went immediately back to work.
Not only did he provide abortions, he provided late-term abortions. These types of abortions make up only 2% of all abortions but are some of the most essential; women who seek them tend to be those who discover a life-threatening problem late in the pregnancy or women who were unable to get abortions earlier due to being extremely young and/or extremely poor and/or in places with extreme restrictions to abortion access. Women traveled from around the world seeking out his services.
Not only did he provide these late-term abortions at great risk to himself, he did it with extraordinary compassion. Once, Dr. Tiller heard that a woman who was driving up from the South to visit his clinic was sleeping in her car because she couldn’t afford a motel. Despite the fact that he had already offered to provide her abortion for free, he instructed his staff to pay for her hotel and her meals during her travels. When he heard that an extremely young woman who had been impregnated through rape was traveling from another city to his clinic, he had his entire staff dressed in T-shirts which read, “Friends of Annie” [the young woman’s name] when she arrived! When I attended his memorial three years ago, many women from Wichita told me the stories of their own abortions, adding, “Dr. Tiller gave me my life back.”
While Dr. Tiller was assassinated by one man, his death was the result of a whole nationwide campaign over many years to demonize, isolate, criminalize and stop—by any means—abortion providers from giving women the ability to terminate a pregnancy. Every time someone—whether a Christian fascist, a “pro-choice” Democrat, or a television drama—refers to abortion as “killing a baby” they are contributing to an atmosphere where providers are seen as people with “blood on their hands” who “deserve” violence and retribution. In reality, fetuses are NOT babies and abortion is NOT murder!
Further, every time lawmakers restrict abortion access, they commit an act every bit as illegitimate, immoral, and violent towards women as the assassination of George Tiller was. The question is not whether these attacks are carried out “by individuals” acting “outside the law” or by a fascist movement acting through the power of the state. Forcing women to have children against their will is enslavement. It is an act of violence against women every bit as damaging as rape.
This is something that many providers understand, and this is why they risk so much to provide abortion services to women.
In the three years since George Tiller’s assassination, lawmakers have passed an unprecedented level of restrictions to abortion nationwide and violence against clinics and threats to providers have continued unabated.
On this anniversary, let us never forget the life of commitment to women lived by Dr. George Tiller. Let us never forgive the movement which took his life and which threatens the lives and futures of the half of the population who have been born female. Finally, let us redouble our determination to protect and defend those who risk everything to provide abortions to women and let us fight for a world where providing abortions no longer requires such risk and abortion and birth control are available to all women all the time on demand and without apology!