Remembering George Tiller As Our Fight Continues

Cross posted on my personal blog.

Exactly three years ago today Dr. George Tiller was murdered, in cold-blood, by people who call themselves “prolife”. Tiller was a medical director at a women’s health clinic in Wichita, Kansas (nationwide, this clinic was one of only three which provided late-term abortions or what some people call mercy abortions) and was serving as an usher and handing out church bulletins at the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita when he was fatally shot by Scott Roeder. 

English: George Tiller at a conference, cropped
English: George Tiller at a conference, cropped (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prior to his murder, George Tiller was no stranger to violence and threats of violence from prolife activists (oh, the irony). In 1986 his clinic was fire bombed, in 1993 he was shot five times by Shelley Shannon, another so-called “prolife” activist.

Following Dr. Tiller’s assassination in 2009, RH Reality Check wrote:

One of the amazing things about Dr. Tiller,  in addition to his determination and his extraordinary courage,  was the fact that he knew and appreciated who his patients were. He knew them as loving women, daughters, and mothers who are the backbone of their families and, to a large extent, our country.

Many of the women who traveled to Dr. Tiller’s clinic were not women who wanted to have abortions, or who even support the right to choose to have an abortion. Many were women with wanted pregnancies who learned that their baby had no brain, or kidneys growing on the outside of their bodies or things their doctors described to them as “severe fetal cardiac malformations.” They were women who could not face two or three more months of pregnancy with people patting their bellies and saying, “Oh honey you must be excited. When are you due?” Some women deal with such crises by continuing to term even knowing the baby cannot survive. Others find that their dignity depends on being able to end the pregnancy.

Some women who went to his clinic were extremely young. Some who went struggled with health problems and disabilities that they felt would be exacerbated by a pregnancy they did not recognize until late. All together they represented women with the least desired and rarest abortions – ones late in pregnancy.

Undoubtedly, Dr.Tiller was a brave man who worked diligently to provide women with healthcare and abortion choices. He gave them an answer when they were at their worst and he comforted women who had made the tough decision of getting a late-term abortion.

Following his assassination, there was an overwhelming response from women nationwide and from that response came the website I am Dr. Tiller, a site that serves as “a memorial to the lifework of Dr. George Tiller and as a living testimony to the courageous lives of abortion providers.” 

In 2012, MSNBC and Rachel Maddow teamed up and created the documentaryThe Assassination of Dr. Tiller which delved into the terrorist organizations that seek to murder abortion providers and how their hate is fueled by politicians and religious officials nationwide.

Dr. Tiller’s murder was hardly the first or last violent and fatal effort of prolife activists to stop abortion. Between 1993 and 2009 Doctor’s David Gunn,  Barnett Slepian, and John Britton were murdered, “two receptionists, Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols, were killed in two clinic attacks in Brookline, Massachusetts“, Robert Sanderson, an off-duty police officer who worked as a security guard at a women’s health clinic in Alabama was murdered in a bombing, and James Barnett, a clinic escort, was murdered in a shooting.

(Photo credit: pdeonarain)

The National Abortion Fund indicates that there have also been dozens of arson and bombings, butryic acid attacks, and anthrax threats (take a more in-depth look at the statistics here).

Even today, the threat to abortion and women’s health care providers is ever-increasing. The brave physician that stepped up to replace Dr. Tiller and perform abortions in Kansas is being targeted the same way Dr. Tiller was prior to his assassination. Tiller’s blood obviously wasn’t enough for these prolife fanatics. The physician in question has had her home address released to antichoicers who are also encouraged to threaten and harass her at her home.

But it’s not just the physicians and doctors that are in danger– in early May, the Kansas-based prolife terrorist organization Operation Rescue posted confidential papers from an abortion clinic online. While the papers were “not official patient records they included names, ages, phone numbers, photocopies of driver’s licenses, sonograms, and other personal identifying information for 86 women and girls who received care in the month of April. While the group was nice enough to redact the names before publishing the documents for all to see, Operation Rescue is still in possession of that information – stolen information, of course.

Stories like this and those of Maryland’s Todd Stave demonstrate that personal attacks and using photoshopped images or images of late-term aborted fetuses  (which we all know are rare and painful for all involved) to mislead and harass are prolife organizations’ weapons of choice. Even more upsetting are stories of women who fully intended to carry their pregnancy to term but had to have the fetus removed because it died in the womb, who are also not spared by these so-called activists. But this is all just fun and frolic when you look at some of the things these Christian warrior’s are capable of.

Merely six days ago the FBI launched a domestic terrorism investigation into attacks on clinic’s in Alabama. Care2 reports:

Within just a few months Georgia has had empty women’s health clinics that provide abortions burglarized and equipment stolen to arson investigations that doctors and lawmakers fear are connected to the contentious 20 week abortion ban passed during the 2012 legislative session.

Each of the four clinics targeted are linked to doctors who either visited the state Capitol or expressed concerns to lawmakers about the 20 week abortion ban. As Robin Marty reports, police are not yet willing to officially connect the violence targeting the clinics to a coordinated campaign targeting abortion clinics and providers, but they have brought in The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to assist with the investigation.

Along with an increasingly vitriolic environment for abortion providers fueled by the likes of prolife organizations (the irony of that phrase in this post will never fail to amuse me) that erroneously and ignorantly paint abortion as genocide, a form of slavery, and abortion providers and seekers mass murderers, the government has largely ignored what appears to be an organized effort to vandalize, burglarize, and bomb women’s health care clinics. Andrea Stone, for the Huffington Post, states:

The question of whether to include attacks on abortion providers is more than a matter of keeping score. As the conservative blow back over a 2009 Department of Homeland Security report warning of rising right-wing extremism illustrated, even talking about a link between certain ideologies and violence can cause political problems.

The report, which did not specifically address anti-abortion groups, sparked a firestorm of protest from conservatives and veterans groups, which objected to the conclusion that extremist groups may try to recruit veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.

“I think it is important for all of us to remember that Americans are not the enemy. The terrorists are,” David K. Rehbein, the American Legion’s national commander, wrote at the time to Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano in response to the report.

The broader reaction highlighted the political minefield awaiting government officials who suggest ultra-conservative groups of any stripe are as dangerous as Islamist extremists. But by downplaying or failing to include religiously or politically inspired attacks against abortion providers in its official statistics, WITS may tacitly imply that such violence is of little import to the nation.

It’s obvious that it’s a dangerous time for women and people who truly care about providing women health care services. Religious radicals and antiabortion fanatics have been relentless in their violent and damaging efforts to contort the facts surrounding abortion and ignorantly comparing it to slavery and genocide (yikes). We’ve seen Christian politicians and religious officials make attempts to limit and ban our access to, not only abortion, but also contraception. They spread propaganda and misinformation about abortion and contraceptives and seek prove that sex for women is only meant for procreation and probably should not be enjoyed (I guess God didn’t realize or accurately convey what a clitoris was meant for).

I wonder if these people really understand what genocide is. Perhaps they should ask a survivor of genocide.

So as you go through your day, the third anniversary of Dr. Tiller’s assassination, keep in mind that even today abortion seekers and providers who work against prolife organizations risk their lives when they entire a clinic. Let’s use Dr. Tiller’s memory as a way of recognizing the great work that individuals can do to help women and most importantly, let’s use his memory and sacrifice to fuel our passion and dedication to continue fighting for our rights.

And now, I’m going to leave you with Helen Reddy:

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an’ pretend
‘Cause I’ve heard it all before
And I’ve been down there on the floor
No one’s ever gonna keep me down again

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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