A Man Who Trusted Women


This is an excerpt from a feature article in the Summer Issue of Ms. Magazine, due out on August 4th.

Update: This article was updated at 3:07 pm, Thursday, July 30th to corrrect the date of Dr. Tiller’s murder, an inadvertant mistake in the original article.  Dr. Tiller was murdered on May 31st, 2009.

In her 28th week of a very wanted pregnancy in 2000, Miriam Kleiman, a government employee in Washington, D.C., and her husband, Jason, learned that their male fetus had a severe brain malformation. He would probably die shortly after birth.

The couple immediately went for second, third and fourth opinions. The news stayed the same.

“This is not a fair life for a baby,” they decided. “Even with every medical intervention, the baby’s going to die. It’s not if, but when. If there’s no hope of improvement, why do that to a baby?” When she and Jason made their choice clear to the perinatologist they consulted, the doctor left the room and came back with a scrap of paper. There were just four words on it: Dr. Tiller, Wichita, Kansas.

From the moment they called the office of Dr. George Tiller, they were greeted with compassion. “I’ve never met any medical professionals who were that attentive, that caring, that warm. They got it,” she says.

Tiller was actually on a rare vacation the week Kleiman and her family spent in Wichita, but his presence was unmistakable. “The clinic was Dr. Tiller and these wonderful people he brought on board,” Kleiman says.
A year to the day after she terminated her pregnancy, Kleiman gave birth to a healthy baby boy, and subsequently had a second. She finally met Tiller when she came to Wichita in 2006 to speak at a conference on choice.

“To be able to publicly thank him”—she chokes up at the memory—“was just so meaningful to me. Dr. Tiller”—who was murdered in the lobby of his church on May 31st, allegedly by an anti-abortion extremist—“was such a good man.”  

At age 67, financially comfortable, Tiller didn’t have to continue working in his long-embattled profession, says Susan Hill, who operates a number of abortion clinics and often referred late-abortion patients to Wichita.

Over the past decades, abortion providers live with increasing risk: One in five clinics annually are the targets of repeated violence. Since the early 1990s, nine doctors and clinic workers have been murdered in attacks by anti-abortion extremists, and 30 others wounded, including law enforcement officers responding to the incidents.

Each time, the killers, or attempted killers, (like Rachelle “Shelley” Shannon, who shot Tiller in both arms in 1993,) would be characterized as lone nuts. But in truth, they are often involved with extremist anti-abortion organizations that track the whereabouts of abortion doctors and deliver white-hot rhetoric that paints someone like George Tiller as a murderer rather than a healer. Anti-abortion extremists have even promoted the assassinations of abortion providers as “justifiable homicides.” So these “lone nuts,” heeding the call to violence, are as good as licensed to kill.

Tiller also faced a concerted attack through the courts, including two grand juries convened to investigate him as a result of a citizen petition drive organized by Operation Rescue and other anti-abortion groups (neither jury found any basis for indictment). And in 2004, then-Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, a right-wing anti-abortion Republican, subpoenaed Tiller’s patient records, supposedly to determine if he hadn’t reported statutory rapes of pregnant girls under 16. Kline got some of the records and filed 30 criminal charges, but a state court judge quickly dismissed them.

Kline was voted out of office in 2006, but the new attorney general, Democrat Paul Morrison, surprisingly charged Tiller with 19 misdemeanors. Morrison downplayed the charged that Tiller failed to get a legally proper second opinion on some abortions as just “technical,” but if Tiller were to have been convicted, he could have served 19 years in prison. After nearly two years of legal proceedings, the jurors in the case delivered a resounding “not guilty” verdict in just 25 minutes.

“It was Kansas jurors, men and women, who were brave enough to deliver Kansas justice,” says Dan Monnat, Tiller’s attorney in Wichita. “Everything else was nonsense Kansas politics.”

The legal battles were exhaustive and expensive for Tiller, although he “held up like a soldier,” says Monnat. Nonetheless, his friends worried about him. “The last time I talked to him,” says Susan Hill, “I said, ‘Why are you still doing this, George? You certainly don’t need to. Why don’t you just retire, enjoy life?’

“He said, ‘I can’t, I can’t leave these women. There’s no one else for them.’”

“When I found out about the murder,” says Miriam Kleiman, “I just kept hugging and kissing my boys and telling them I loved them.” Her 8-year-old asked, “Mommy, why do you keep crying?” “And I said, ‘There was a man who helped us about Junior’”—the family’s name for the son whose life was unsustainable. “Someone killed that man, and I’m sad.” Later, her son saw a headline and a photo of Tiller in the newspaper and asked, “Mommy, was that your friend?”

“At whatever level,” says Kleiman, emotion welling up again, “my son got it.”

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  • brianh

    Even with every medical intervention, the baby’s going to die. It’s not if, but when.

    Psssst!

     

    I’ll let ya’ll in on a secret….WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!! IT’S NOT IF, BUT WHEN FOR ALL OF US!!

     

    What a pathetic reason to kill someone early.  When you know that someone has a terminal illness that is killing them you do not have the right to strip them of their remaining moments.  They have the RIGHT to experience their last moments with dignity to the last breath!

  • invalid-0

    Sorry BrianH, you are the heartless one. You would have a baby brought into this world ONLY to suffer. This was clearly a baby that was going to have extremely serious medical issues that would have spent his entire life in a hospital. Is that the experience you would wish for a child? Heartless. You right wingers are so two faced. On the one hand you bitch and moan that the government is too big and on the other hand you want to increase its size so they can monitor and dictate every last detail of our lives. Pay attention to your own life and stop dictating the lives of others.

  • invalid-0

    This was a great post. Thank you for telling your story.

    The day that Dr. Tiller was murdered, I cried. Why? I hardly ever cry, and I had never even heard of the man before that day. I think I know now why I cried. On May 31st, we lost a friend. Even if you didn’t know the guy, he was fighting for you. He was a friend to women. A friend to human rights. A friend to humanity. Doctor Tiller was a soldier. He was fighting in the front lines of the War on Reproductive Rights. He, and all of the other abortion providers, are fighting for our basic human rights. They make a lot of sacrifices for us. They sacrifice their security, their privacy, and in this case, this man sacrificed his life.

    The day that he was assassinated, I made a promise, to myself and to women everywhere. I promised that I would become a soldier, just like Doctor Tiller. I’m going to get my sorry ass up and I’m going to go to medical school. I’m going to learn the procedure. I’m going to dedicate my life to protecting freedom, just as Doctor Tiller did and just as many people are still doing today. And, if I manage to pull it off, and I walk out of that clinic and I helped even just one woman, it will be worth it, even if I am murdered right then and there. I’m not afraid.

    And here I am crying again. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully understand it. This is a really emotional subject for me.

    Once again, thank you for this post. You have my regards.

    • invalid-0

      Thank you! Good Luck!

  • invalid-0

    I always got the impression that that clinic would perform late abortions even on healthy moms and babies. Is that the case?
    I’ve known a couple of people who had babies survive after only 22 or 23 weeks of pregnancy, so abortions after that seem sad and troubling. I don’t disagree with the woman in the story, who learned her baby would not be able to survive on his own, but what about others?

    What was this compassionate doctor’s position on someone who really had a good reason for ending a pregnancy, but was already at week 24 with a healthy baby? These are the things I never hear in the media.

    • invalid-0

      I always got the impression that that clinic would perform late abortions even on healthy moms and babies. Is that the case?

      Of course not. That’s not legal, and there has been no evidence they did anything like that.

    • dltbhs

      Dear K,

      Dr. Tiller performed later term abortions on women whose fetus was diagnosed with fetal anomalie. There is a website with collections of stories from the women he helped, if you’d like to read about them:

      http://aheartbreakingchoice.com/kansasstories.html

       

      And there are strict laws concerning later abortions in Kansas, which you can review here if you’d like:

      http://www.kslegislature.org/legsrv-statutes/getstatutes.do?number=65-6703

       

      That is statute number 65-6703 and the beginning reads:

      (a) No person shall perform or induce an abortion
      when the fetus is
      viable unless such
      person is a physician and has a documented referral from another physician not
      legally or financially affiliated with the physician
      performing or inducing the abortion
      and both physicians determine that: (1) The abortion is
      necessary to preserve the life of
      the pregnant woman; or (2) a continuation of the pregnancy will cause a
      substantial and
      irreversible
      impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman. 

       

      Women weren’t just waking up one day and saying "Oh em gee, I think I’ll go get one of those abortion thingies before my afternoon tea! Yay!"

      Of course, the extremists want you to think exactly that. 

    • http://the-mad-voter.blogspot.com invalid-0

      Dr. Tiller would not perform abortions for every woman who came through the doors. He was quite specific, according to women who went to him. Since he specialized in later abortions, if women came to him with weeks to go in pregnancy but wanted an abortion on a healthy fetus, he would put them up in town and help them deliver babies. He would then make sure they went to loving pro-choice homes. He didn’t abort health fetuses; he helped them find homes.

      The stories about him terminating any pregnancy is flat out wrong. This part of the story is hardly covered.

  • invalid-0

    I always got the impression that that clinic would perform late abortions even on healthy moms and babies. Is that the case?

    Why on earth would a woman abort a healthy fetus late in the pregnancy in the first place? Why wouldn’t she do it earlier on?

    If there is a good reason, then it had better be pretty good, because late-term abortion is a lot more risky and expensive than doing it earlier in the pregnancy.

  • gordon

    Does anyone out there know where I can buy buttons in the style Dr. Tiller wore that say, "ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING"?

  • invalid-0

    Gordon – I would advise you contact the Kansas chapter of NOW, you can find the contact info on their website ksnow.org

    I know they had some at one time and also have T-shirts available with that slogan, that were like those worn by the Martyr Guard at Dr. Tiller’s funeral.

  • independentminded

    Did Dr. George Tiller perform only late-term abortions, or did he also perform abortions on women who were in the earlier stages of pregnancy? Just curious.

    It’s sad that there are people running around out there who murder doctors in cold blood for performing abortions, and Dr. Tiller’s horrible death at the hands of such a person indicates something very, very wrong in our society, if one gets the drift.