Thank you Dr. Tiller

Yesterday, I coordinated clinic-escorting efforts outside of the Washington, DC memorial for Dr. Tiller. We were there as an aid to the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and law enforcement; we worked to spot local and media hog antis (antis that only come out when there are cameras, see Randall Terry or Patrick Mahoney). It also felt fitting that a man who spent so much of his public life surrounded by the protection of others should have his public memorial attended by the same.
Fifteen of us showed up, scanning the streets for the familiar faces that protest our clinics every Wednesday and Saturday. We looked for those who seem to love speaking with the media much more than they care about any particular movement or any particular life.
In a decade of escorting, I have seen a lot of different patients and their companions. Some funny: the butch woman with her friend/sister/lover who when the anti kept bothering her to turn around and “save her baby” yelled in response “I like girls.” The pathetic: the anti who persists on speaking Spanish to a South Asian woman in a sari. The family: the 12 year-old girl supported by her mother, her father, sister, and grandmother.
Over the years, the antis have stayed the same and they have changed. When I started, almost all of the antis were 45 plus, white, male and slightly disheveled. These antis still exist, but they are now joined by the younger antis. Some of these younger antis are hip, especially the Bound for Life crowd. We also have many, many students who come from local colleges, the most prominent being Christendom College. They drive in from Front Royal, VA every Saturday morning (leaving in time for Saturday brunch) to stand outside the local Planned Parenthood. Most of them pray (ending each Saturday with a rousing call of Viva!), but a few of them approach the patients. Nervously approaching the women entering the clinic, the Christendom kids tentatively say “we can help you save your baby. Each baby is a blessing from God.”
These antis are young and fresh faced. Most of them come from home schooling backgrounds. They are usually white and dressed very conservatively: the boys in khakis and pressed shirts and the girls in full-length denim and flowered shirts with hair flowing down their backs.
Yesterday we approached possible protestors and politely inquired if we could help. We walked up to cameramen and asked if they had permission to tape. We diligently approached those who seemed out of place and silently watched the DC choiceraiti pass. We approached cameramen filming the people walking inside. We helped women who struggled with the stairs or mothers with strollers. We watched as the young pro-choice women who make up DC’s nonprofit choice industry go by in clothes fashionable, yet work appropriate.
Another escort and I noticed a young woman who did not fit; she was wearing the Christendom uniform and was with a young man wearing the male version. We silently agreed that they seemed worrisome; I began to follow them in to the church to see how they behaved. I watched as they were handed a program and, in a key moment, to see if they would sign the guest book. The woman walked up and hesitated, but finally picked up the pen and signed. I stepped up to see what she had written and there under the blank for name were two initials and under relationship she had written “former patient.”
I’ve spent the days since Dr. Tiller’s assassination reading the stories of the women who came to him for help. Their hurt, their pain, their difficult relief. As I stared at the words “former patient” I realized that after ten years of this work, I had finally seen every kind of woman walk in to or out of a clinic. Thank you Dr Tiller for helping all of them.

Join the Conversation

  • Joy

    This is a beautifully-written reminder that unwanted pregnancy and serious pregnancy complications affect women from all walks of life. Heroes like Dr. Tiller don’t only save the lives of their supporters.

  • Gordon

    Thank you, Professor Foxy. Your words are very inspiring. I am sorry I can’t meet you face to face. Maybe someday.
    I hope everyone else who feels this way about your post will read Dr. Susan Wicklund’s memoir This Common Secret. As the title suggests, and as you say, every kind of woman walks into or out of a clinic.
    I also wish you well in your continuing efforts to spread the word. The free flow of information is the ultimate enemy of tyranny, and every tyrant worthy of the name knows it. That is why they try to shame women into silence.

  • Marc

    That was fucking awesome. It almost reads like one of those “Chicken Soup for the Soul” stories.
    What if we did that? Perhaps compile a “Chicken Soup for the Pro-Choice Soul” book? I think it’d be quite a hit, with proceeds going to NNAF or some other organization.
    Seriously, I’d love to start something like that.

  • Jos

    Thank you for all the amazing work you do, Professor Foxy.
    While you were escorting at the memorial for Dr. Tiller I was at a packed training to become a clinic escort. My father used to pray at women outside clinics with Operation Rescue. Dr. Tiller’s assassination was a reminder that this is why I first became involved in the reproductive justice movement. It suddenly became clear to me that escorting was a place I should be putting some of my organizing energy. I look forward to seeing you very early on a Saturday morning.

  • Laura

    And thank you professor Foxy, this was incredibly moving

  • brittanypixie

    That’s amazing.
    I didn’t get to go to the service last night, because I too went to a packed clinic escort training session. When I saw all those people there, it was kind of like a weight had been lifted. The vigils all over the country have been awesome, but seeing that there are so many people willing to put themselves out there to protect the people going into clinincs for whatever reason, was really inspiring.
    Thank you.

  • saintcatherine

    Well, this is a nicely-written and somewhat evocative post, Professor Foxy, but I am really, really put off by the way that you characterize the players.
    You seem to be contrasting the “homeschooled” men and women with their “khakis and pressed shirts and…full-length denim and flowered shirts with hair flowing down their backs” with the “DC’s nonprofit choice industry go by in clothes fashionable, yet work appropriate.”
    Does this mean that we can tell appropriate politics by wardrobe? Or that the anti-abortion set is not only wrong on abortion, old, and white, but badly dressed even when they are young?
    And what the heck is the “Choiceraiti”? Did you mean “choicerati”, as in “gitterati”? How do they differ from the media hogs on the other side?
    I do not mean to sound rude. But, I do fail to see how writing petty (if low-key & insinutated) crap about the protesters at the Dr. Tiller vigil really does much to honor his memory.
    “Chicken soup for the soul” it may sound like, but I never really felt those things carried much fullness of truth in them, no matter how emotionally stirring they were.

  • johanna in dairyland

    I read it more as a stereotype exploding/consciousness raising moment – a reminder that we fight for reproductive justice not just for those who agree with us, but for ALL women and families to have access to the care they need, even those who may at one point or on some issue disagree with us. Having feet both in the world of religious/conservative homeschoolers and the hip and progressive pro-choice/reproductive justice world, even I need a reminder that appearances are not always what they seem.
    It reminds me of the short video National Advocates for Pregnant Women produced on the rights of women in childbirth, featuring two women who are religiously conservative and against abortion but who have become fierce advocates for women’s rights to make their own decisions about their bodies without government interference (one even marched in the March for Women’s Lives!).

  • Marc

    Actually, if nothing else, Professor Foxy’s writing and descriptions of the players involved tells quite an important lesson: not to judge a woman (and man) by what she wears (book by its cover), because you’ll never know where you’ll find unlikely allies.

  • Ann

    “Heroes like Dr. Tiller don’t only save the lives of their supporters.”
    That is so, so true.


    Great post. Why can’t the Anti Idiots understand that this is a personal choice and that no one is forcing THEM to get an abortion? Just like with gay marriage– no one is forcing those homophobes to marry someone of their own gender.
    People baffle with me with their stupidity, ignorance, and desperation.

  • ghostorchid

    Wonderful post.

  • KatieinNewYork

    Could someone tell me how you go about finding out about opportunities to be a clinic escort? The Planned Parenthood in my hometown doesn’t get picketed (by some wonderful miracle), so I’ve never thought about it. But I will be working in DC this summer and would like the opportunity to help.

  • Mina

    “Why can’t the Anti Idiots understand that this is a personal choice and that no one is forcing THEM to get an abortion? Just like with gay marriage– no one is forcing those homophobes to marry someone of their own gender.”
    Oh, they know that they themselves won’t be forced to get abortions, marry members of the same sex, etc. They just seem to want the rest of society to help them pressure “their people” to make more “purebred” babies for “their people.” It’s harder to make sure your daughter-in-law gives birth, make sure your daughter has unprotected sex with a man, etc. when your neighbors and local cops don’t help you force them…

  • femme.

    Thank you for this moving article and for your continued activism, Professor Foxy. Maybe one day we will stop treating women like they’re morally handicapped, stop treating women’s bodies like public property to be evaluated and legislated, and maybe, just maybe, we will stop clinging to these “traditional” gender roles that are really what the anti-choice movement is advocating for. But I’m just a “fiery” man-hating dyke/feminazi who *loves* killing babies, so what do I know? (sarcasm, obviously.)

  • Furiousfemale

    Is there a non- PP affiliated clinic in your area. I”m kind of in the same boat, The planned parenthoods in my area don’t seem to be looking for escorts right now, the one in my town doesn’t perform abortions but has to send to one about an hour away. I want to find some way to help out though.

  • david-s

    I came across this post today and had to respond. Professor Foxy, that was me and my wife you saw at the memorial service yesterday evening. I fail to understand why you chose to judge us based solely on our attire. Pretty silly. And entirely irrelevant. But since you brought it up – my wife and I do often dress conservatively. So did Dr. Tiller. So do a lot of people.
    We were attending an interfaith memorial service inside the sanctuary of a church. We therefore chose to dress appropriately (at least we tried to). We do not belong to any sort of “Christendom” College, nor are Christians. We are not home-schooled. Yes, we are guilty of being white, young, and wearing “conservative” attire (thank you though for letting me know that I was wearing the male version of a secret “Christendom” uniform – I had no idea!). In many ways we are conservative. In many other ways we are liberal. Our lives do not fit into a neat little box, nor can you sum us up based on our outward appearances.
    We are terribly grieving the loss of Dr. Tiller, a truly wonderful human being. Two years ago, during a routine ultrasound at 34 weeks, we received terrible news from our doctor about the health of our baby. Our baby would either die shortly after birth or only live a short life full of great suffering. And it would have required a slightly risky cesarean delivery. We were shocked and devastated, and we had to make the most heartbreaking choice of our lives to fly to Dr. Tiller in Wichita and terminate the pregnancy (Dr. Carhart was also at the clinic during the week we were there). It is a sad state of affairs that in this great country, the land of the FREE, we had to fly 1,300 miles to see one of only 2 doctors nationwide that would agree to offer my wife the medical care she desperately needed.
    Dr. Tiller treated us with more compassion and care than any other doctor we’ve ever met. He was a great man and a great doctor – truly one of a kind – and his tragic death is a blow to all that is right and good in this world. Despite the terrible tragedy we had to endure, there will always be a warm place in our hearts when we think of Dr. Tiller. We were crushed by the news of his murder. We miss him, and we are eternally grateful to him for what he did for us and for our family (we have since been blessed with a healthy baby). I was so saddened to hear that his clinic will not be reopening. I don’t know what we would have done without him.
    Professor Foxy – thank you for being there yesterday, and thank you to all of the other volunteers who were there to help ensure a peaceful and safe memorial service. I would simply urge everyone to do their best to try no to judge people by outward appearances alone. People are so much more complicated than that.

  • Jeannie

    I’m only asking a question, so please don’t bite my head off.
    Didn’t Dr. Tiller only perform late abortions? As in, 2nd or 3rd trimester abortions?

  • Jos

    KatieinNewYork, in the DC area escorting is organized by WACDTF
    Escorting only occurs when and where there are protesters.

  • Courtroom Mama

    Hi David –
    Thanks for speaking out about your wife’s and your story. Your story is heartbreaking and very eloquently makes the case that the necessity of protecting the right to and availability of abortion is about more than just politics.
    I wanted to address the issue of stereotyping: I could be wrong, but I think Christendom College is a Catholic college in VA, not, as your scare quotes suggest, some figurative college of Christians. I assumed, and Professor Foxy or other people who live nearby can corroborate or correct, that there is some form of uniform or dress code to which the students must adhere. It probably looks a whole lot like church clothes, and a whole lot different from the usual attire of most of the people who are involved with the reproductive justice movement. Clearly it was inadvertent that you dressed like the students at Christendom, but I think that Professor Foxy’s point and your closing admonition are saying the same thing: people are more complex than outward appearances would indicate. Ultimately it makes no difference if you and your wife actually were Roman Catholics or avowed atheists, the only thing that matters is that at some point you needed an abortion and only got one because a brave doctor was there to provide it in the face of all the extremist rhetoric and danger to his life.
    It’s something easily forgotten in today’s conversation about abortion: the need to terminate a pregnancy is a thread that binds together a lot of people who seemingly have noting in common at all.