I was emotional all day without knowing why. As the time for Rachel Maddow’s documentary “The Assassination of Dr. Tiller” came closer I found my stomach knotting up and my heart aching. It wasn’t just that I am still grieving the murder of my friend, though I am. It was also that I am terrified that we will re-live a time of horror, murder, acid attacks, kidnapping, constant death threats, endless candlelight vigils, vandalism, clinic invasions, bombing, and arson.
Sounds like a war, doesn’t it? And in many ways that’s what it is—an unholy war waged by Fundamentalist Christians who believe they are (entitled) to act for their vengeful God. A war in which only one ‘side’ is armed and dangerous.
It is painful to remember so much woman hatred, vitriol, and violence.
I was the Director of an abortion clinic in Dallas between 1978 and 1996. My vision for our work was to bring love, care, and healing to women who were sometimes in crisis, and who sometimes just needed a kind word as they did what they knew was right for them. The clinic was a kind of sanctuary of choice. We wanted women to make decisions they could truly live with and feel whole with. We listened to women’s stories, held their hands, and sometimes dried their tears. We were proud to offer care that was both compassionate and medically safe.
And yet outside on the sidewalk in front of our building men screamed into an amplifier such expressions of Christian love as “May the Blood From Your Crotch Rise up Against You, You Whore.” We had an anti-abortion ’fake clinic’ in our building. There was a sidewalk screamer who dressed in military fatigues and yelled all day. He sometimes carried a large sign that said something like, “Will this clinic eat your baby?”
We know the recipe for inciting violence. Choose the most inflammatory words you can think of and then shout them very loud over and over. We have experienced that in the Right to Lie Movement for nearly 40 years. You cannot call Dr. Tiller ‘Tiller the Baby Killer” more than 28 times on national television as Bill O’Reilly did, and then feign surprise that someone actually took you seriously and murdered him. Frighteningly these days of unbelievable cruelty and extremes are not over. I have just watched a recent video of Flip Benham outside a clinic screaming over a high wall, “Don’t go in there. Satan will drink the blood of your child.”
Over the past year watching the behavior of the Fundamentalists wh0 have re-Christened themselves the Tea Party, I have seen this same kind of fear-based and vicious hatred. I feel sick when I hear the righteousness of people who seem to think they are empowered—even chosen—to act for God. I have listened to so-called leaders and pundits fomenting an almost irresistible level of frustration and blame against the President. I have seen Republican candidates for high public office remove themselves from public scrutiny by refusing interviews unless they were done by obviously right-wing ‘journalists’. I have seen them speaking in code such as the veiled threats by Nevada candidate Sharron Angle who has warned of ‘Second Amendment Remedies” if the Fundamentalists don’t get their way. This is not Democracy.
The community of abortion providers has 40 years of experience with these people and their brand of domestic terrorism.
We who are pro-choice have got to change the rhetoric that surrounds issues of reproductive justice and legitimizes the intimidation, harassment, and even murder of physicians and others who provide abortion services. If we can do that we will be doing a lot to civilize the atmosphere of the country as a whole. It is time that we who provide abortions and the 100 million women and men who have decided on abortion since 1973 create new language to define our choices.
All those years ago at my clinic we created a huge banner that we hung on our balcony. It said, “At this clinic we do sacred work that honors women and the circle of life and death. When you come here bring only love.”
George Tiller had his own way of putting it. “Abortion is not a cerebral or a reproductive issue. Abortion is a matter of the heart. For until one understands the heart of a woman, nothing else about abortion makes any sense at all.”
I miss him.