In Memory of Dr. Tiller: Unite to Save Lives

Originally posted at Choice Words.


May 31, 2009 was absolutely the worst day
I have experienced as a reproductive justice organizer. I was raised as
a pro-life Christian fundamentalist. I knew abortion was wrong before I
knew what sex was. I was largely unaware of the clinic violence
occurring ten years ago; my community decried what it considered the
loss of innocent lives through abortion, but was strangely silent about
the murder of doctors and other attacks on clinic staff and volunteers.

Dr. Tiller courageously performed abortions before I was born. He
performed abortions while I spoke my uninformed rants against the
procedure. He performed abortions after he was shot in both arms in
1993. He was one of the few doctors brave enough to continue providing
late term abortions even after being specifically targeted by
organizations like Operation Rescue.

Dr. Tiller is dead, gunned down while in his church, a place that is
supposed to provide sanctuary. There are either one or two doctors left
who perform legal late term abortions. It is becoming close to
impossible for women to access these procedures, even if their lives
are in danger. Dr. Tiller is dead, and as a result more people will die.

“Pro-life,” a badge I proudly wore for most of my life, feels
completely absurd right now. In the name of life Scott Roeder, a man we
are learning was part of the community of militant abortion foes
organized through Operation Rescue and other advocates of violence and
intimidation, murdered Dr. Tiller. He ended the life of a man with
family and friends, coworkers and patients. A man with beliefs,
feelings, experiences, hopes, and a personal spirituality. Roeder and
his community value what they consider the lives of those who have
never experienced the world, never seen a sunrise or felt a warm breeze
or drank a glass of juice over the life of someone who knew what it is
to live.

The pro-life movement is full of good people of faith who believe
themselves to be doing important humanitarian work. I call some of them
family. I call some of them friends. I know them as people who would
never advocate the taking of a human life, who oppose abortion because
of their deep compassion for the lives of all people. I know the
radical fringe that is responsible for Dr. Tiller’s death does not
represent them. But I hope my friends and loved ones can take this
tragedy as a moment for thought and introspection. You know abortion
will not go away no matter what you do. So what does it mean to fight
to outlaw abortion when you know this will lead to women’s deaths? What
does it mean to stand with Operation Rescue during their more public
rallies and quietly ignore the work you know they are doing behind
closed doors? These are not easy questions. I know there are quick
answers that are possible because I have heard them before. Please,
move beyond those answers. Really ask the questions, and really
consider their implications.

My new community is living in fear right now. The last time an
abortion doctor was killed it was not an isolated incident but part of
a large, organized campaign of violence and terror. This quieted down
during the Bush administration, and now I and others fear the violence
is returning. I find myself in the terrible position of mourning the
loss of Dr. Tiller while also fearing what this portends. To lose a
member of my community is hard enough; to fear that this only means
more loss to come is overwhelming.

I can’t stop thinking about my friends who escort or work in clinics
or are thinking about becoming providers. I love them and I do not want
to lose them.

So this is to my pro-life friends and family: I need you right now.
I need your help and support. I need your voices against violence,
against terror, against the unquestionable taking of life. I am not
asking you to change your deeply felt beliefs and convictions because
of the act of an extremist. But I do ask that you rethink the work you
do in the name of protecting life. Can you in good conscience fight for
the lives of the unborn alongside those who would willingly, proudly
take the life of another human being?

I understand that our beliefs on this issue differ in a fundamental
way. I understand that some of that divide feels impossible to cross. I
share that feeling. But there has to be another way. The debate we are
locked in, the division between “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” between
those fighting for the lives of the unborn and those fighting for the
lives of women, has gotten us nowhere good. So I say: enough. I’m done.
We have to have this conversation differently. We have to explore these
differences in another way. I cannot accept Dr. Tiller’s death and I
cannot accept more loss. And if we stay on the same course, if we
continue to talk past each other, to ignore each other’s voices and
experiences, this cycle of violence will continue.

Please, let’s work together. Let’s end this new wave of terror
before it takes another life. Maybe then we will be reminded of our
shared humanity, of the beliefs that unite us and that are much
stronger than the belief that divides us. Yes, we can empower the state
to respond to violence with its own violence, but this will ultimately
only continue the cycle. I believe the only way to stop the radical
anti-abortion fringe is to unite across beliefs in the common cause of
saving lives. Mom, Dad, friends, please stand with me in memory of Dr.

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  • invalid-0

    Josh, you can start to make a change by calling off the dogs. Get your “pro-choice” friends (including colleagues at RHRC) to stop calling pro-life advocates terrorists and murderers for something we didn’t do and don’t support.

  • invalid-0

    Andrew9, your side (the so-called “pro-life” side) is the one that has been murdering opponents. You stop providing the rhetoric that enables these nutcases, and we’ll lay off the accusations that your side does just that.

  • invalid-0

    When Obama speaks of “common ground” on abortion, he is not standing on some neutral “middle ground”—he is accepting the terms of the anti-abortion movement and adapting aspects of a pro-choice position into that framework while gutting the heart of the abortion-rights position. In so doing, he is legitimizing and strengthening a viciously anti-woman program while both abandoning the much needed fight to expand access to abortion and birth control and giving up the moral and ideological basis on which the pro-choice position stands.

    Much of what is wrong with Obama’s approach is concentrated in a few key sentences of Obama’s speech, where he speaks directly to the question of abortion:

    “Maybe we won’t agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this is a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make, with both moral and spiritual dimensions. So let’s work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoptions more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term.”

    First, and very importantly, abortion is not a “heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make.” A great many women are not conflicted at all about their abortions. Many feel relief and even joy at having their lives and their futures more fully back in their control.

    This is as it should be. The simple fact is that a fetus is not a baby, it is a subordinate part of a woman’s body. A woman has no moral obligation to carry a fetus to term simply because she gets pregnant. And a woman who chooses at whatever point and for whatever reason to terminate a pregnancy, should feel fine about doing so and should be able to.

    When it comes to abortion, there really is only one moral question: Will women be free to determine their own lives, including whether and when they will bear children, or will women be subjugated to patriarchal male authority and forced to breed against their will?

    from “The Deadly Illusion of ‘Common Ground’ on Abortion – Response to Obama’s speech at Notre Dame on common ground and abortion” by Sunsara Taylor

    Read the whole article at

  • josh-truitt

    Andrew9, as I wrote in the original post I know there are many in the pro-life movement who are disgusted by Dr. Tiller’s murder. There are also, sadly, organizations that are now speaking out publicly against it but actually created the climate for this to happen.


    Those of us who support access to abortion need to work to understand this nuance. But people like yourself also have a responsibility if you do not want to be associated with those who wanted Dr. Tiller killed. We all have a lot of work to do.

  • invalid-0

    To Andrew9 – How about encouraging those in the anti-choice community to do something to actually promote life like supporting universal healthcare or free pre-natal care? Then you can be called pro-life. Operation Rescue is a domestic terrorist organization and should be treated as such. In case you haven’t realized it, abortion is legal in this country. Dr. Tiller did nothing wrong and was unjustly murdered. Anyone who disagrees is heartless and evil.