When the Independent Abortion providers who make up the Abortion Care Network learned that an episode of NBC’s Law and Order was going to be based on the May 31, 2009 assassination of Dr. George Tiller ( a founding member of our organization), many of us were upset. We felt that no matter how his murder was ‘ripped from the headlines’ it was much too soon and too raw to turn it into a piece of popular culture.
Now that we have seen it we are furious and deeply offended.
For many of us George Tiller was mentor, teacher, friend—he was known in our circles as ‘St. George’ because he embodied principles of goodness, kindness, respect, and faith–the best in us. He was a man of extraordinary principles and extraordinary generosity. In a field in which courage and dedication in the face of hatred, violence, and terror are almost expected, George stood out. He had been firebombed more than once, mercilessly harassed by legal officials who over and over came up with nothing, and survived a previous assassination attempt in which he was shot. He continued to do his work because women needed him.
So we are more than a little protective of Dr. Tiller’s reputation and honor. NBC concocted a dreadful hybrid that bears no resemblance to this truly amazing doctor. And they concocted a story that bears no resemblance to the true complexity of the issues involved in abortion, let alone late abortion.
NBC cannot hide behind the words, “The following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event," when they begin their story by having a doctor murdered in his church. Their disclaimer should have read, “This story purports to be balanced but we are about to insinuate that a doctor who was assassinated was, himself, guilty of homicide, and thus to blame for his own murder.” This is particularly egregious because Dr. George Tiller was the repeated victim of politically motivated investigation and was found innocent of any wrongdoing related to his medical practice. This “fiction” casts doubt on his integrity, and gives the impression that abortion is homicide, and we are furious.
No one knows the complexity of abortion more than abortion providers. Independent Abortion providers provide 80% of abortions in this country—and an even higher percent of late abortions. We sit with women and hold their hands and listen to their stories and support them as they make the best decisions they can for themselves and their families—imperfect decisions in imperfect situations.
This Law and Order episode was called “Dignity”. It treated us to the heart wrenching testimony of a woman whose values told her that the best way to honor herself and the doomed life she was carrying late in pregnancy was to bring the pregnancy to term and be there as her baby died. What was left out was the equally compelling, equally real, equally heart wrenching testimony of real women whose values told them that the best way to honor themselves and the doomed life they carried late in pregnancy was to end that life in the care of a compassionate physician and staff—a physician and staff who understand more than the writers of law and Order ever could what it means to want a baby and then lovingly let it go.
The point of choice is that the woman herself gets to define what a death with dignity means to her. She and her family get to honor their own beliefs and values.
There is no balance here. We are shown the character of a woman D.A. who used to believe in Roe v. Wade, but was thrown into confusion by hearing of someone else’s experience. If we know anything it is that one person’s opinion or experience doesn’t tell us much about what we would do in that actual situation. A pro-choice perspective makes room for each woman to come to her own truth. Any other perspective forces someone to compromise their own integrity.
The Abortion Care Network brings the experience and voice of Independent Abortion Providers and the women we serve into the national conversation. This kind of truly fictitious television reveals just how needed that voice is.