From Tiller To Now

Earlier this week signified the second anniversary of when Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed as he served as an usher in his weekly church service. His murderer, Scott Roeder, an anti-abortion activist, who had been waiting outside of Tiller’s church, shot him as Tiller handed out community bulletins to church members. Tiller, who had been shot twice before by another anti-abortion activist, had taken to wearing a bulletproof vest in public ever since the 1993 incident, as per recommendation of the FBI. Roeder had gained knowledge of this and shot him in the head, killing him instantly.

Tiller’s clinic was one of three in the nation that provided late-term abortions, specifically anything after 21 weeks. Originally he had set out to be a dermatologist, moving away from the family practice where his father had performed abortions as well. It was only during a visit to Wichita that he met the surviving family of a woman who had died from a self-performed late-term abortion that he decided to give up dermatology and dedicate his practice to providing women with safe, affordable abortion.

This, of course, in conservative Wichita, made him a target of such extremist groups as Operation Rescue. Aside from daily harassment of his patients, staff and himself, his clinic was firebombed and he was shot in 1993, in an attempted murder by Shelley Shannon. He was the target of numerous hate campaigns and websites dedicated to his demise. The O’Reilly Factor would discuss him in 28 episodes and dubbing him “Tiller, the baby killer.” Columnist Jack Cashill compared him to a Nazi war criminal and talked about his 2009 acquittal on charges of performing abortions after fetal viability as a crime “more devastating than the Nuremberg trial.s”  Dr. Tiller was, if one could say gently, hated.


Last Friday, Ralph Lang was arrested on attempts to murder doctors at a Madison, Wisconsin Planned Parenthood. The political battle rages on as Texas plans to officially defund Planned Parenthood, Virginia Foxx of North Carolina has won a measure barring health centers from using funds to teach sexual health and abortion practice, and HR3 is still rubbing its smug shit grin in the face of reproductive justice communities everywhere. With unemployment still at an all-time high, Midwestern communities devastated by tornadoes and budget cuts threaten education, social services, and the loss of more jobs. Yet all that seems to be secondary to abortion.

It’s only been two years, but it’s frightening, yet not surprising, how very little we have come. Progress is slow, painfully, unfairly slow, often to those who need it the most. Maybe one day in the not-too-distant future, Dr.Tiller’s name will be a mark in the history of progress, hopefully in a time when someone could look at his senseless death and think of how impossible it would seem in their generation. How impossible that people could be so against reproductive rights, so hateful towards an individual, so absolutely hypocritical in finding justice in killing a medical provider who helped people.

What would Dr. Tiller say if he were still alive and a witness to the current attack on reproductive rights? More importantly, what would he do? One would imagine that he would keep getting up and going to work each day, the realest act of rebellion and defiance one can do sometimes. That providing services to people ““ not just certain “types” of women is a revolutionary act. That giving people access to a safe, clean and judgment-free environment, without the financial strains and pressures is one of the bravest things you can do. It’s not a sense of martyrdom or righteousness ““ it’s just what you do. You do it because it’s right, you do it because it’s what should be done.  The world should not be divided into Dr. Tillers and Kermit Gosnells.

I am an optimist in the most simple sense. I cannot foresee another way of looking at things because I think if I did, I might not ever get out of bed in the morning. Optimism, much like hope, is dangerous in the sense that it always offers relief, justice, a means to an end. Hope secures the thought that things will get better, that things are getting better, even in what seems like the darkest of times. It is heavy, even at its bleakest. Hope is for those who know that if they give up, they will die.  Hope is knowing that even though a doctor was violently murdered for doing what he thought was right, that politicians are still chipping away at all reproductive legal measures, that racially skewed billboards guilt economically vulnerable communities, faux crisis centers offer siren songs of “relief” and ignorance in legislature is spent like free money, that things do change ““ we just have to be a part of making that change. While thanks and remembrance is good, deserved, we need to do more and keep working towards safe, accessible reproductive care for all.


4 thoughts on “From Tiller To Now”

  1. Thinking about Doctor Tiller chokes me up. I love what you say about his greatest act of defiance was getting up and going to work each day. The man was a hero and an example to us all.

    I used to have an excellent article written by Esquire Magazine in the wake of Dr. Tiller’s murder. It was profiling one of the other late-term abortion providers, I believe found in the midwest of the US. I can’t remember his name but if anyone has any insight it’s an excellent read.

    1. Was this the article? I agree, it’s really well-written and offers a lot of insight into Dr. Hern and the women who become his patients. (Also, while she doesn’t provide late-term abortions, I highly recommend the book This Common Secret by Susan Wicklund – she begins the book with her own abortion and then explores how she became a doctor who flies to multiple states every week to perform abortions and all the harassment and utter bullshit she faces on a daily basis for it. It’s really informative and also very moving.)

      And I’m with you, thinking about Dr. Tiller and about his murder really gets me in the heart. I admire his bravery and his conviction so much.

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