In Memory of Dr. Tiller: Reflections on the Death of An American Hero One Year Later


This post draws from entries made in the author’s personal journal.

Over the past year, RH Reality Check has extensively covered the murder of Dr. George Tiller, the ensuing trial of Scott Roeder, and related issues. You will find a compilation of those posts here.

31 May 2009; En Route from Washington, DC to Wichita, KS

Today began as a clear crisp sunny day in Washington, D.C. I was at a conference for a national advocacy organization. I found out at 12:30 pm that my recent boss, mentor and father-like figure had been murdered —gunned down at 10:15 am in the lobby of his church – Reformation Lutheran Church while waiting to return to where his wife was singing, as a member of the choir.

This is a devastating day in American history.

I guess we were too successful – I could feel it in the months just before his assassination. The anti-choice, domestic terrorists couldn’t stand that the laws in this land gave him the right to practice medicine. They couldn’t stand that juror after juror wouldn’t kowtow to their beliefs and prosecute him and shut him down. They couldn’t stand that we defeated elected officials at the polls and could win races against their antiquated philosophies. They couldn’t stand it – so they murdered him in cold blood in the church where he worshiped his God.

Those forces of hate, bigotry and rigid ideology are just like the forces of the Taliban that so many Americans rail against, which are merely separated by culture and geography. These are the same people who say that “All life is sacred.”  This statement should be amended to say – “All life is sacred if and only if you prescribe to a certain ideology that defines our existence in very narrow terms. Then, life is sacred.”

Dr. George Tiller was a fine and wonderful man. He taught me a lot in the years that I worked with him. He was tough, a teacher and a remarkable leader. He taught me much about life and how to approach problems in a positive manner. He taught me to make lemonade out of lemons. He taught me how to find solutions to problems, how to make the best of any situation, to find the silver lining.

He didn’t sit around and wait for life to lead him around. He followed his passion and his dreams; he created his own reality. He did what he was led to do and that which he loved.

It’s interesting the path that we can find ourselves on in life and where those paths can lead. I never intended to end up, for a longer term, in the women’s rights movement. It’s amazing where life forces help us end up if we listen to them.

I’ve heard this story so many times from him – Dr. Tiller was in the Navy – a doc – and was going to do a dermatology residency. Members of his family, including his parents, were in traveling in a small aircraft when it crashed. He came back to Kansas to close his late father’s medical practice and then get on with his dermatology residency. He never made it – instead, he fell in love with the family practice, which then predominately grew into a predominately reproductive health care practice over the years. What he found out, was that his dad performed abortions for his patients. I think this fact, this notion, sparked what became his life’s mission.

Going back to life’s direction and mission. Maybe that was his life goal. If we believe in a God, which I do in a way that is derived from the energy of the world – an energy both good and bad – then the energy of the universe – God – led his life in that direction. He was born to, led to be an icon in the women’s rights movement. That was the purpose for him. He was built just for that – to provide reproductive health care services to women – he did that well, above and beyond the call – he practiced medicine in a loving, compassionate, tender, nonjudgmental manner.

He understood that women had to be able to welcome, each child into their family unit. It’s called understanding the “heart” of a woman. No one can understand abortion until one understands the heart of a woman. That is exactly why abortion will always be around for myriad reasons – women cannot always welcome an addition into their families. They make choices based on the current dynamic and what is right for that family.

This is exactly why the antis can NEVER win this battle. Women are intelligent enough to make the right choices for themselves AND they will continue to make these choices – with or without bloodshed. They could murder all the providers and women will continue to seek abortions – regardless.

This is why the killing of such a great man is so senseless – one of the many reasons – he did not control the decision-making of women. Abortions will still take place – it’s not Dr. Tiller acting as puppeteer of all these women – its women saying to him – I need this to happen.

I’ve been fielding numerous phone calls today from friends, family, colleagues and the media. F*$# the press – I swear – story hasn’t even been out for a couple of hours and they’re calling me – as if it’s not a personal loss – as if his death is of no consequence.

It angers me because they’ll go talk to “the other side” and get the “we don’t approve of that” speech, but they won’t do anything to condemn it. They just perpetuate the dynamic. If they would stop treating them like they’re legitimate. They aren’t legitimate – they’re the devil, they’re murderers, they lie and say anything to get their way. It’s said in the Good Book that the devil will come in sheep’s clothing. I believe, with all my heart that these people are the devil. It is evil that gathers energy from that source.

I never would have thought in a million years that I would have worked with him. This opportunity came up and I seized it. It was a wonderful decision. I’ve never regretted my work with him, it was a wonderful ride. We needed to do a job and we did it. We didn’t have any bad legislation pass, we didn’t let them win the court cases; we didn’t let them always win at the polls – at least in the big ones. They couldn’t f@#%!*& take it that they were losing – then, of course, Obama’s election and then he announces Sotomayor as an appointee to SCOTUS. They had to be very angry. Nothing was going their way. The country was going to hell. The wrath of God was eminent. It was the ultimate act of self-righteousness; to think you have some divine calling to take another’s life. 

One year later: 21 May 2010; St. Louis, MO

Dr. Tiller’s death has left the pro-woman community devastated and struggling to come to terms with his assassination. A vast hole was left in provider care after his murder. Additional physicians across the country have been stepping up, in an attempt to fill the gap that was left by his death. The pro-choice community has been struggling to determine how to best fend off anti-choice tactics meant to shut providers down and deny women access.

It has become apparent that the anti-choice have become emboldened by Dr. Tiller’s murder; which was also driven by vehement opposition to health care reform at the national level. The anti’s have moved swiftly in places such as Kansas and Nebraska to limit abortion care in those states. Anti-choice leaders have taken Dr. Tiller’s assassination, and the fact that other physicians would be stepping in to provide care, as an opportunity for passing more restrictive legislation and redefining our abortion laws in the states, with the intent of having a national impact.

The climate in state legislatures was frustrating, to put it mildly. Both Kansas and Nebraska tirelessly worked to ban late termination of pregnancy, Oklahoma cranked out a plethora of punitive anti-choice bills and Utah sought to criminalize certain actions of pregnant women – these bills only scratch the surface of restrictive legislation proposed across the country.

One thing has become clear over the past year, the pro-choice community has to reevaluate the way in which we approach activism across the country, especially states that are all too often written off as “red” states or “fly over” states,” when in fact, these are the areas of the country that need the pro-woman movement the most. We cannot abandon the women in any state, nor in any corner of this country if we’re going to have equal rights for ALL women in this great nation.

The time has come for us, as a movement, in our own collective ways, whether it’s through education or activism or political engagement, to meet the anti-woman forces on their “own” turf. We must not cede any section of this country.

As I write this, I’m reminded of a sign that Dr. Tiller put up against a truck in his clinic driveway the day after he was shot in 1993. The sign simply said, “Hell no, we won’t go.” That was his motto then and we need to make it our motto now.

Another saying of Dr. Tiller’s, that I’ve meditated on numerous times since his assassination is this, “The only requirement for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” This is why, in the darkest, bleakest hours, we must continue moving forward, one step at a time, one woman at a time, until we achieve equality for all people of this land.

We love you Dr. Tiller and thank you for being a leader and a beacon of light.

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  • cmarie

    please see http://www.lifenews.com/state4203.html

    There is no excuse for violence but if he had not been the victim of homicide Dr. Tiller more than likely would have lost his licence or at least had to stop doing abortions in Kansas due to danger to the public.  This isn’t the kind of thing a state just does casually.  We can agree to disagree on the ethics of late term abortion but I’m pretty sure even people who believe abortion should be available right through the second trimester would agree that a correct fetal age is necessary to preserve the mother’s health.  I think they would also agree that an ambulance en route to the hospital needs lights and sirens for the patients saftey and that the patient should be the only consideration at that point. 

  • crowepps

    I agree State investigations are not done ‘casually’ but instead from politically motivations and to help the career of the lying nutjob obsessed with putting Dr. Tiller out of business because he didn’t want the doctor saving women’s lives.

     

    There is no vital necessity to have a ‘correct fetal age’ to protect the health of the mother before an abortion in all cases.  Lights and siren are only used by ambulances when speed is essential.

     

    Dr. Tiller was murdered over a year ago.  Why are ProLife fanatics STILL using him as the boogieman?  Name recognition?  Are donations slipping in the poor economy?

     

  • larry-motuz-canada

    Thank you for showing your heart and soul so eloquently. Dr. Tiller was a great man who strove, found, sought and never yielded.

    Perhaps because of this, when you way “in the darkest, bleakest hours, we must continue moving forward, one step at a time, one woman at a time, until we achieve equality for all people of this land”, you might add ‘one man at a time as well’, for is that not also his legacy to the women’s movement?

    Thank you again.

    If a woman cannot have the freedom to act in conscience, according to her beliefs, then what is the meaning of liberty for the Christian right? Let’s note that that religious conservatism is not espoused by at least 70 per cent of Christians today, including Catholic Christians.

    This is not just a fight ofr women, it is a fight for liberty for all.

     

  • swl

     

    Larry Motuz,

     

    And the liberty for the unborn part of humanity whom their mothers and fathers have invited to this earth – where is the liberty for these little ones? And where is the equality for them? And the justice?

     

    When you call yourself Christian you will have to acknowledge God´s laws and abortion of those whom Jesus loved so dearly is not one of God´s commandments.

     

    A women cannot be allowed to act in conscience, according to her beliefs, when the only conscience she possesses is unenlightened selfconsciousness and her beliefs are hedonic and heathenish.

     

    The same is to be said about abortionists like Tiller, who have had no mercy for the weakest part of humanity, the defenseless innocent little children.

     

    • larry-motuz-canada

      First, there is no a single word in the old or new testaments that prohibit abortion.

      Second, all nucleated life, plant and animal, begins as zygotes. The zygotes we call caviar is, in potentia, a lot of sturgeons; that we call an acorn, in potentia, is an oak tree; the zygote we call human, in potentia, once it develops and is born, is a human being. When you eat an acorn or caviar, you are not eating an oak tree or 100,000 sturgeon.

      Third, what is a potentiality does not exist as an existententially: as anything more than it actually is at the moment.

      Fourth, of human zygotes, science shows that 30 per cent naturally fail to attach in the womb, and so die. Another six to 10 percent, after attachment, fail to thrive and die within six weeks. After that, there is a much slower death rate due to spontaneous miscarriages.  If that is the will of God, then he is the biggest killer of, in your words, defenceless, innocent, little children.

      Fifth, I’m going to quote a late, but revered judge, Judge Learned Hand, on Liberty:

      Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it. And what is this liberty which must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few; as we have learned to our sorrow. “

       

      What then is the spirit of liberty? I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned but never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest.” May 21st, 1944.

      I do not believe you have any interest in the pregnancy of a women, or in the choices she makes in her situation, for herself, her family, or whatever.

      Thank you.

       

       

    • goatini

      That just about sums it all up in the RCC and general forced-birther worldview. 

       

      when the only conscience she possesses is unenlightened selfconsciousness and her beliefs are hedonic and heathenish”

       

      When the only choices are Virgin and Mother, set forth by Wojtyła as the only “Supreme Vocations” for women, any woman who desires to be fully human, fully alive, and fully equal can be condemned as “unenlightened”, “hedonic”, and “heathenish”. 

    • crowepps

      A women cannot be allowed to act in conscience, according to her beliefs, when the only conscience she possesses is unenlightened selfconsciousness and her beliefs are hedonic and heathenish.

      Giving women no choice but to act in accordance with the pronouncements of your Church isn’t freedom of conscience on any level, first because it may not even be their Church, and second because being allowed to ‘choose’ from a menu of one is not ‘acting on one’s conscience’.

       

      No one can deny you your belief that the wife is Holy Breeding Stock and the husband’s penis God’s Divine Instrument and that God focuses His infinite Omniscience mostly on human sex.  You have an absolute religious freedom right to your delusions, however perverse, just as other people have a right to think they’re ludicrous and ignore them.

    • ankhorite

      And the liberty for the unborn part of humanity whom their mothers and fathers have invited to this earth – where is the liberty for these little ones?

       

      The abortion decision is pretty clearly a woman saying she is not inviting a new life to this earth.  And liberty?  What are you talking about, some “free the fetuses” movement?  They are not free.  They are encased in a woman’s uterus.  What liberties do you think they should have?  Weekend passes to go to ball games or something? Why do you keep seeing through living women to fetuses, as if we were transparent fetus tanks?

       

      Now, here in the USA, we are supposed to have freedom of religion.  You believe women are “heathenish,” i.e., not religious enough to suit you, and for that, you’re willing to make us all slaves of your political/religious view. 

       

      A women cannot be allowed to act in conscience, according to her beliefs, when the only conscience she possesses is unenlightened selfconsciousness and her beliefs are hedonic and heathenish.

       

      “Cannot be allowed” — by whom?  Who are you to say what any woman, much less all women, can and cannot be “allowed” ??

       

      Open your eyes to what your beliefs really mean.  And then take another look at your Bible… even Mary had a choice, and consented to her pregnancy.  I hope some day you will grow enough to accept and celebrate the humanity of women.  With these two responses, I feel I’ve done my part.

       

  • swl

    Crowepps,

     

    How come a man killing innocent defenseless unborn children can be seen as a hero? I would name him a coward.

    • ankhorite

      Dr. Tiller was the bravest of men, who had the courage to continue his mission of helping desperate women and their families in the face of terrorism.

       

      I know this means nothing to you, but I had to say it.  I never needed Dr. Tiller, but it was always a comfort to know he was there if I did.

       

      I’ll never understand why you folks who think a woman shouldn’t make her own decisions about her fetus should instead be trusted to make decisions for the child you’d force her to bear. 

       

      There’s only one word for a woman forced to bear children against her will, and that word is slave.

  • prochoiceferret

    And the liberty for the unborn part of humanity whom their mothers and fathers have invited to this earth – where is the liberty for these little ones? And where is the equality for them? And the justice?

    These “little ones” cannot take sustenance from a woman’s body against her will. Sorry if that bothers you, but if it’s not your body that’s involved, your opinion is not relevant.

    When you call yourself Christian you will have to acknowledge God´s laws and abortion of those whom Jesus loved so dearly is not one of God´s commandments.

    Neither is heart surgery. But no one seems to have a problem with that.

    A women cannot be allowed to act in conscience, according to her beliefs, when the only conscience she possesses is unenlightened selfconsciousness and her beliefs are hedonic and heathenish.

    What are you, an Iranian imam?

    The same is to be said about abortionists like Tiller, who have had no mercy for the weakest part of humanity, the defenseless innocent little children.

    You know, if you actually knew anything of Dr. Tiller, what he did, and why he did it, you might not sound so abjectly ignorant.

  • colleen

    How come a man killing innocent defenseless unborn children can be seen as a hero?

    What he was doing was saving the lives of women whose fetuses had severe genetic abnormalities or saving the lives of women whose only fault was that their bodies were too sick to survive a pregnancy or little raped girls who were too tiny and undeveloped to sustain a pregnancy. I understand that their lives and health aren’t important to you but all sorts of decent, thoughtful people disagree with you and strongly.

    I would name him a coward.

    Funny, I would name the movement that spawned and encouraged his murderer and the man who murdered him cowards and bullies, each and every one of you. the notion that anyone with the courage and decency to stand up to the religious right is a coward is absurd.

  • ahunt

    Hilarious as usual.  I’m struggling to clean up my act, Ferret Feet, but this is too much fun…

    Oh dear, you’re going to have to go up against Jodi Jacobson, from whom I got the factoid. If “people who call themselves Catholics” are not necessarily Catholics, however, then Catholicism must be a lot smaller than we’ve been led to believe. Maybe Islam is the one true religion!

     

    PCF…is shameless an insult?

  • tmacz

     

    And the liberty for the unborn part of humanity whom their mothers and fathers have invited to this earth – where is the liberty for these little ones? And where is the equality for them? And the justice

     

    When you call yourself Christian you will have to acknowledge God´s laws and abortion of those whom Jesus loved so dearly is not one of God´s commandments.

     

    A women cannot be allowed to act in conscience, according to her beliefs, when the only conscience she possesses is unenlightened selfconsciousness and her beliefs are hedonic and heathenish.

     

    The same is to be said about abortionists like Tiller, who have had no mercy for the weakest part of humanity, the defenseless innocent little children.

     

    BUDDY – I’VE GOT A FRIEND – A CRACK MAMA, WHO IS GOING INTO THE ABORTION CLINIC TODAY TO GET AN ABORTION.  SEND ME YOUR NAME, ADDRESS, AND PHONE NUMBER.  SHE WANTS TO CONTACT YOU TO GIVE YOU HER BABY TO RAISE.  HER LITTLE DEFENSELESS BABY FOR YOU TO TAKE CARE OF, BECAUSE SHE OBVIOUSLY CAN’T.  QUICK.  YOU CAN SAVE A DEFENSELESS INNOCENT LITTLE CHILD YOU SPEAK OF.  I’M WAITING!!!!

     

  • prowomen

    Dr. Tiller was a true hero.  The accurate comparison of America’s “religious” extremists with the Religious Police of the Taliban is, also, sad but true.  They terrorize not only women who, through no fault of their own, carry a fetus with abnormalities such as only half a brain that would not survive, but they terrorize politicians afraid they won’t be elected without their votes.  

    The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reported that 3 out of every 100 babies born in the United States have some kind of major birth defect and there are more than 3,000 different known birth defects leading to mental or physical disabilities, the leading cause of death in the first year of life.

    Amanda Mueller wrote the story of a devout Catholic couple, whose fetus couldn’t survive, making the painful decision to seek Dr. Tiller’s help, with the husband explaining, “We are supposed to be against abortion, but the church teaches mercy as well.”  His wife concluded that “Dr. Tiller was a very gentle man to my husband and me. He wasn’t the villain that people, me included, had often painted him. He was soft-spoken….He even prayed with us.”  Dr. Tiller showed the couple the compassion and support they so badly wished they had received from their neighbors and friends.  ”…He wasn’t a man with crazed eyes anticipating the kill like some anti-abortion activists would like you to picture. He understood the difficult position we were in….”  They, also, concluded that ”The people who praised Dr. Tiller’s murder – they are the real monsters.”
     

    Now, in the 21st century, with modern-day contraceptives and medical facilities, political decisions made regarding abortion and contraceptives result in unwanted children being killed, abused, abandoned and exploited.  At least 2,000 children in the United States die of child abuse and neglect each year.  Why aren’t the anti-choice marchers devoting their time to trying to save those children and the many more who need all kinds of help?

    Social historian Garry Wills wrote:  ”Much of the debate over abortion is based on a misconception that this is a religious issue, that the pro-life advocates are acting out of religious conviction. There is no theological basis for either defending or condemning abortion.  Even popes have said that the question of abortion is a matter of natural law to be decided by natural reason.”

     

    It’s time for women’s organizations to join forces, march in the streets and petition legislators to support their constitutional right to practice their religion without harassment and intimidation from those who want to impose their religious beliefs on them.  Religious persecution has no place in America. 

  • saltyc

    The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right

    Yes, thank you. This really resonates with me.

  • rachel-larris

    tmacz congradulations,

     

    A women cannot be allowed to act in conscience, according to her beliefs, when the only conscience she possesses is unenlightened selfconsciousness and her beliefs are hedonic and heathenish.

    This is my absolute new favorite statement of anti-choice rhetoric. Women can’t be trusted because they are hedonic and heathenish. Hysterical.

  • cmarie

    To those who still want to call George Tiller a hero: If any of you had a sister or daughter who had an abortion at his clinic and suffered complications, apparently you would be perfectly happy for the ambulance to just saunter along to the hospital because “lights and sirens are only used when speed is essential”.  Then of course if, like Cristin Gilbert the patient died, you would be equally content to see the Dr and his staff all plead the fifth in court making it impossible for the court to find out what care was provided before, during and after the abortion.  I guess that’s ok because ummmm….. well, they do have the right to remain silent about whatever actions caused her death.  Can you imagine a patient dying after a tonsillectomy (or any other surgery) and the Dr trying to plead the fifth??  Imagine the outcry and the consequences for the Doctor and his staff, not to mention the settlement.   Everyone could expect to lose their licences to practice medicine and possibly face jail time for depraved indifference.  But, Tiller was providing abortion services so apparently the patient doesn’t have any expectation to receive competant care.  And now he’s your hero.  Now, people who point out deaths like those of Ms. Gilbert are “wasting your time”?  Traditional feminists (especially those who fought to legalize abortion) must be spinning in their graves.