Tiller Was No Baby Killer

A few years ago I was invited to appear on The O’Reilly Factor to “defend” Dr. George Tiller, who at the time was being lambasted for not honoring the district attorney’s subpoena of his patients’ files. I had long admired Dr. Tiller for his own work and recognized him as a symbol of the precarious state of reproductive rights in this country. I was happy to take this opportunity to point out how many obstacles still confront women who try to act upon their reproductive freedom and to honor a doctor who prioritized women’s human rights and decency. Plus, O’Reilly doesn’t scare me – it’s much harder to debate with people who I actually respect.

I knew that O’Reilly wouldn’t make it easy for me to make my own points, but leaving a more sympathetic voice absent from this conversation about the merits of Tiller’s work was more troubling to me. I also accepted in part because I was confident that my perspective was more in line with most people’s actions (not necessarily words); most people are opposed to abortion until they need one. Likewise, most of Tiller’s patient didn’t want to be there.

When I arrived at the Fox news headquarters, after hair and makeup, where they physically transform you into someone other than yourself, I learned that the segment had been billed as “Tiller the Baby Killer.” Tiller was being investigated under the assumption that he was suppressing cases of rape and incest. Being a consummate medical professional Tiller, of course, refused to comply – he as his life’s work affirms always prioritized his patients.

I had done my research before the segment and felt pretty prepared to argue that Tiller was doing the right thing by protecting his patients’ privacy. Nonetheless as the segment began I realized that my only option was going to be to argue that Tiller was a medical professional and he wasn’t doing anything that he wasn’t legally empowered to do. Though I was arguing my beliefs, I did feel that I should be revealing some emotion – if only for the sake of my in-laws who loyally tune into O’Reilly every night. I wanted to say “of course, I think it might be a baby not a fetus for some women” or “of course, I think that some women are irresponsible.” But I knew I couldn’t go there – to show any sympathy would signal to O’Reilly that I was willing to see fault with Tiller. So I held my ground – and as the segment wrapped, got out as quickly as a I could – with a big pit in my stomach. Politically I knew that I had done the right thing, but personally I was feeling insecure. The make-up ladies cheered for me as I exited and the female producer profusely thanked me.

Though I was “proud” of how I held my ground, it sadly wasn’t until Dr. George Tiller was brutally murdered a few weeks ago that I felt vindicated –and reminded how truly personal the political can be.  The heroic efforts of Tiller were scary—even to vehemently pro-choice people—precisely because he made it possible for women to take control over their lives. And his life was sadly taken because giving that power to women is still more controversial than taking a life. What Tiller knew more than anyone else was that the vast majority of his patients were in impossible situations—but still that seemed to matter less than his work to ensure that women make the best decisions they could.

I will certainly miss his leadership.

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  • mellankelly1

    Thanks for this, Amy!

  • cristina-page

    Thank you so much for this Amy. I remember your segment and thought you were very brave at the time. I now wish many more of us had the courage you did to come to his defense no matter how hostile the setting. I realized, as the posthumous news stories came out with details about the circumstances of the women Dr. Tiller cared for, that we, as a movement, deserve blame for not doing more to save him from the sea of inaccuracy that eventually engulfed him by inspiring his murderer. It is our responsibility as advocates to educate the public. When it came to informing about the real work Dr. Tiller did, we failed the public and we failed him. At least in your case, it was not for lack of trying. Thanks for this post.

  • invalid-0

    Here is a link to the appearance hosted on youtube.


    • invalid-0

      What a disgusting person this Bill O’Reilly is! It’s hard to believe that he was once a teacher before his career on FOX News.

  • http://www.sylvieshene.com invalid-0

    Dr Tiller believed in a cause and cared for his patients regardless of the obvious dangers and threat to his personal safety. A true courageous Hero. My sincere sympathy to the family, friends, colleagues, and members of Dr Tiller’s church.
    I wish all the pro-lifers read the article “PROTECTING LIFE AFTER BIRTH” by Alice Miller in the link below and digest the information in it for them to see that nothing is what it seems and people that proclaim to be pro-life are really against life and people that are pro-choice are really pro-life. Please read the article in the link below to see the facts that people that proclaim to be pro-life are really ignorant that put all life in danger.
    Forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy to term is a crime against her, her unborn child and a crime against humanity.

  • invalid-0

    I read your article and do not agree with:

    “… no less than one hundred percent of of all seriously abused children are unwanted?” What is your source for this information? There must be few wanted children who have been abused and, surely, not all unwanted children are abused.

    “Shouldn’t the authorities do everything in their power… to see to it that the only children who are born are wanted, planned for, and loved?” Absolutely. That is the goal of the pro-life movement, except that it shouldn’t require the authorities to intervene. You must either plan for a child or accept the child if it is conceived. I am with you completely regarding child abuse but why do you believe that abuse of a fetus conceived unintentionally is acceptable?

  • invalid-0

    “And his life was sadly taken because giving that power to women is still more controversial than taking a life.”

    Exactly. Thank you for saying this.

  • invalid-0

    Every single person he has on his show to talk about abortion he does the same exact thing to. Do you support the killing/murder of babies hours/right before they are born. I have to wonder why no one calls him on it. Why would any doctor wait till the baby is hours away from being born? That’s obserd! And the yelling. He looks so stupid yelling. But at the same time he makes the other person look as if they just don’t care. Answer his question, is killing babies ok? Of course not, however abortion is a different subject. If we are going to talk about killing babies then we need to consider what a baby is. It’s not a fetus, it’s not a bunch of cells. Lets get down to the nit and girt of this subject. Lets define abort/abortion. He’s doing nothing but changing the defintion and making it sound as if pro-choice is a bunch of people who support killing children regardless of the mother’s choice. It was a good thing you did trying to defend Dr. Tiller, but I think we need someone who can shout just as loud as he does. Otherwise, the point is lost. He’s an a$$ and he knows it. He’s good at it.
    Btw, thank you.

  • invalid-0

    is still killing babies in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.