This piece was originally written on the day of the assasination of Dr. George Tiller (5/31/2009). Memorial Day weekend 2011 will mark the second year since Dr. Tiller’s murder. All articles in the 2011 series commemorating Dr. Tiller can be found here.
This morning a friend of mine–a wonderful man I have known for thirty years–was shot and killed. He was executed—shot at point blank range while ushering in this church. This was not a robbery–not a domestic dispute–not an accident–not a surprising act of violence. This was a mob hit.
The man, Dr. George Tiller, had been shot before–and his offices vandalized and bombed more times that I can count. He had been vilified and demonized and mercilessly attacked, and through it all he never wavered in his commitment to serving his patients—the women who for myriad reasons needed the later term abortions that were not available anywhere but at his Kansas clinic. George and his staff reminded patients of their goodness–he valued family and love. In my visits to his center my foremost memory is of the thousands of letters of gratitude he received from women whose lives he saved literally and figuratively. It was George who said, “To understand abortion you must understand the heart of a woman.” He was a rare and generous man, and one of a kind.
The mob in question has long been known for its brutality–for past murders, bullying, stalking, domestic terrorism, kidnapping, vandalism, intimidation, and emotional blackmail. Yet this mob hides behind religion and behind respectable churchgoing people. This mob does the dirty work for the nice people. This time, as every past time, the nice people will say that they didn’t know about it, or have anything to do with it. Yet they created the atmosphere that allowed George Tiller’s death as surely as if they had pulled the trigger themselves.
In my grief and anger this morning I want to find some way to wake this country up to the fact that these are the people who are supposed to be so reasonable. But their idea of compromise is for everyone to obey them! The middle ground in abortion is LEAVE ME ALONE TO FOLLOW MY OWN CONSCIENCE! Pro-choice IS ALREADY the middle ground.
I got a note from George Tiller dated 5/13/09.
Charlotte–We have come a long way!!! But sometimes it seems as if we are back at the beginning. Thank you for your love and support throughout these decades.
His words echoed the fears of many of us who provide abortion services—that we are once again in a Twilight Zone in which brutality, murder, bullying, stalking, domestic terrorism, kidnapping, vandalism, intimidation, and emotional blackmail are rewarded with respect and treated with kid gloves. I have been an abortion counselor for more than thirty years. I have already lived through murders of my friends and colleagues and the violence against doctors and clinics across the country. I have watched as the police allowed clinics to be overrun by whomever held up the biggest cross. A small number of people no matter how dedicated, makes an easy target. Abortion providers are no match for the Catholic Church and Evangelicals and all other holier-than-thou types.
I believe that we abortion providers have made a fatal mistake. We have tried to stand between the millions of women in this country who have had abortions, and the vicious, righteous, hypocritical terrorists that make up the anti abortion movement. We positioned ourselves as the guard of women’s freedom, dignity, and integrity, but in our wish to protect our patients we have forgotten that it is their freedom we fight for. We have turned ourselves inside out and in many ways sacrificed our lives to protect the most fundamental and primitive and basic freedom of all—the freedom to decide when and if to bring children into the world. More than 53 million women have had legal abortions in this country, yet we have guarded their secrets and their voices are not heard. This latest murder screams to us that, as the gay right movement taught us, silence equals death.
I call upon my colleagues for a new order. We can no longer collude in the shame and silence that the anti abortion forces have laid upon women like a pall. As every other group who treasures freedom we must break open that silence. We must do it in honor of the values we stand for–and in honor of our fallen heroes.