Providers, Reproductive Health Community Members Respond to Dr. Tiller’s Death

Emily Douglas

Members of the reproductive health community, those working in clinics and as allies of clinics across the country, shared their shock and deep sadness at the loss of Dr. George Tiller today.

Members of the reproductive health community, those working in clinics and as allies of clinics across the country, shared their shock and deep sadness at the loss of Dr. George Tiller today. Some of their written reflections are collected below.

Marcy Bloom, former executive director of Aradia Women’s Health Center in Seattle and a long-time chronicler of violence against providers, wrote,

Through all of the harassment and threats, [Tiller] continued to believe that the pro-choice foundation of trusting, honoring, and serving women’s choices would ultimately prevail…The world will not see his kind again and we – his friends and colleagues –  deeply mourn this senseless and tragic loss as we also dedicate ourselves to the ongoing battle for safe and respectful abortion care for women and say no more to right-wing, anti-woman, and anti-choice violence…

The last assassination of an abortion provider was about 8 years ago, so this shock and pain are gut-wrenching and sickening reminders of so much and such good people that we have lost to this disgusting violence…I often ask myself: Why is this battle for honoring women; for  safe, repectful and accessible abortion care; and the destigmatization of abortion taking so long?

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Charlotte Taft, a provider working in New Mexico, wrote,

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…

I got a note from George Tiller dated 5/13/09. “Charlotte–We have come a long way!!! 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 my colleagues to be overrun by whomever held up the biggest cross. A small number of people, no matter how dedicated, makes an easy target.

I believe that we abortion providers have  made a fatal mistake.  We have stood 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 45 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…

Heather Corinna, a sexuality educator who also works at Cedar Rivers Clinic, a facilty that provides abortions including second-trimester procedures, wrote, 

The loss of Dr. Tiller was an immense loss for everyone: for his friends, family, staff and all of the women he served, for those of us who work in sexual, reproductive and/or abortion healthcare services or rights, and for every woman and her family who may have needed him in the future and who will not have the opportunity to be helped by someone who was well-known to be one of the best providers and advocates we have ever had.

I suspect that loss with magnify in the days, weeks and months that follow.  Violence to clinics, staff, abortion providers and clients does more — as if that were not horrible enough — than harm those individuals and their friends and families directly.  It creates a very real and pervasive fear amongst providers, staff and clients.  It cultivates fear which can impact women’s ability to choose what is truly right for them, potentially scaring women into choices which they would not otherwise feel are best for them or their families.  It nurtures fear among those who are workers which limits access to abortion services for women who want and need them as well as access to all of the other services abortion clinics provide, such as to contraception and well-woman healthcare.  And while those of us working in reproductive health were prepared to see this kind of violence escalate again, as it did during the Clinton administration when we had a government supportive of women’s reproductive rights, we had obviously hoped not to.

 

Eleanor Bader, a journalist who has reported extensively on clinic violence, commented, 

Dr. George Tiller was fiercely committed to providing women’s health care. He was someone who refused to let others tell him what he could or couldn’t do. Deeply committed to reproductive justice, he was an abortion warrior for more than 35 years. Despite being shot at, harassed by picketers at his home, and seeing his clinic repeatedly vandalized, he was never anything but stalwart and strong. American women have lost a true champion.

Merle Hoffman, president of the Choices Medical Center in New York, circulated a poem written by Marge Piercy after two clinic workers were killed in Brookline, Massachusetts:

How dare a woman choose?
Choose to be pregnant,
choose to be childless,
choose to be lesbian,
choose to have two lovers or none,
choose to abort
choose to live alone
choose to walk alone
at night,
choose to come and to go
without permission
without leave
without a man.

Consider a woman’s blood
spilled on a desk,
pooled on an office floor,
an ordinary morning at work,
an ordinary morning of helping
other women choose
to be or not to be
pregnant
means she has fallen
into death.

A woman young and smiling
sitting at a desk
trying to put other women at ease
now bleeds from five
large wounds, bleeding
from her organs
bleeding out her life.

A young man is angry at women
women who say no
women who say maybe and mean no
women who won’t
women who do and they shouldn’t
If they are pregnant they are bad
because that proves
they did it with someone
they did it
and should die.
A man gets angry with a woman
who decides to leave him
who decides to walk off
who decides to walk
who decides

Women are not real to such men
they should behave as meat
such men drag them into the woods
and stab them
climb in their windows and rape them
such men shoot them in kitchens
such men strangle them in bed
such men lie in wait
and ambush them in parking lots

such men walk into a clinic
and kill the first women they see.

In harm’s way:
meaning in the way of a man
who is tasting his anger
like rare steak.
A daily ordinary courage
doing what has to be done
every morning, every afternoon
doing it over and over
because it is needed
put them in harm’s way.

Two women dying
because a man chose that they die.
Two women dying
because they did their job
helping other women survive
Two women dead
from the stupidity of an ex altar boy
who saw himself
as a fetus
who pumped his sullen fury
automatically
into the woman in front of him
twice, and intended more.

Stand up now and say No More.
Stand up now and say We
Stand up and say We will not be ruled
by crazies and killers,
by shotguns and bombs and acid.
We will not dwell in the caves of fear.
We will make each other strong.
We will make each other safe.
There is no other monument. 

Please share remembrances of Dr. Tiller, or thoughts on his death, in the comments section below.

Commentary Sexuality

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday Must Become an Annual Observance

Raquel Willis

As long as trans people—many of them Black trans women—continue to be murdered, there will be a need to commemorate their lives, work to prevent more deaths, and uplift Black trans activism.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

This week marks one year since Black transgender activists in the United States organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday. Held on Tuesday, August 25, the national day of action publicized Black trans experiences and memorialized 18 trans women, predominantly trans women of color, who had been murdered by this time last year.

In conjunction with the Black Lives Matter network, the effort built upon an earlier Trans Liberation Tuesday observance created by Bay Area organizations TGI Justice Project and Taja’s Coalition to recognize the fatal stabbing of 36-year-old trans Latina woman Taja DeJesus in February 2015.

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday should become an annual observance because transphobic violence and discrimination aren’t going to dissipate with one-off occurrences. I propose that Black Trans Liberation Tuesday fall on the fourth Tuesday of August to coincide with the first observance and also the August 24 birthday of the late Black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson.

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There is a continuing need to pay specific attention to Black transgender issues, and the larger Black community must be pushed to stand in solidarity with us. Last year, Black trans activists, the Black Lives Matter network, and GetEQUAL collaborated on a blueprint of what collective support looks like, discussions that led to Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“Patrisse Cullors [a co-founder of Black Lives Matter] had been in talks on ways to support Black trans women who had been organizing around various murders,” said Black Lives Matter Organizing Coordinator Elle Hearns of Washington, D.C. “At that time, Black trans folks had been experiencing erasure from the movement and a lack of support from cis people that we’d been in solidarity with who hadn’t reciprocated that support.”

This erasure speaks to a long history of Black LGBTQ activism going underrecognized in both the civil rights and early LGBTQ liberation movements. Many civil rights leaders bought into the idea that influential Black gay activist Bayard Rustin was unfit to be a leader simply because he had relationships with men, though he organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Johnson, who is often credited with kicking off the 1969 Stonewall riots with other trans and gender-nonconforming people of color, fought tirelessly for LGBTQ rights. She and other trans activists of color lived in poverty and danger (Johnson was found dead under suspicious circumstances in July 1992), while the white mainstream gay elite were able to demand acceptance from society. Just last year, Stonewall, a movie chronicling the riots, was released with a whitewashed retelling that centered a white, cisgender gay male protagonist.

The Black Lives Matter network has made an intentional effort to avoid the pitfalls of those earlier movements.

“Our movement has been intersectional in ways that help all people gain liberation whether they see it or not. It became a major element of the network vision and how it was seeing itself in the Black liberation movement,” Hearns said. “There was no way to discuss police brutality without discussing structural violence affecting Black lives, in general”—and that includes Black trans lives.

Despite a greater mainstream visibility for LGBTQ issues in general, Black LGBTQ issues have not taken the forefront in Black freedom struggles. When a Black cisgender heterosexual man is killed, his name trends on social media feeds and is in the headlines, but Black trans women don’t see the same importance placed on their lives.

According to a 2015 report by the Anti-Violence Project, a group dedicated to ending anti-LGBTQ and HIV-affected community violence, trans women of color account for 54 percent of all anti-LGBTQ homicides. Despite increased awareness, with at least 20 transgender people murdered since the beginning of this year, it seems things haven’t really changed at all since Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“There are many issues at hand when talking about Black trans issues, particularly in the South. There’s a lack of infrastructure and support in the nonprofit sector, but also within health care and other systems. Staffs at LGBTQ organizations are underfunded when it comes to explicitly reaching the trans community,” said Micky Bradford, the Atlanta-based regional organizer for TLC@SONG. “The space between towns can harbor isolation from each other, making it more difficult to build up community organizing, coalitions, and culture.”

The marginalization that Black trans people face comes from both the broader society and the Black community. Fighting white supremacy is a full-time job, and some activists within the Black Lives Matter movement see homophobia and transphobia as muddying the fight for Black liberation.

“I think we have a very special relationship with gender and gender violence to all Black people,” said Aaryn Lang, a New York City-based Black trans activist. “There’s a special type of trauma that Black people inflict on Black trans people because of how strict the box of gender and space of gender expression has been to move in for Black people. In the future of the movement, I see more people trusting that trans folks have a vision that’s as diverse as blackness is.”

But even within that diversity, Black trans people are often overlooked in movement spaces due to anti-Blackness in mainstream LGBTQ circles and transphobia in Black circles. Further, many Black trans people aren’t in the position to put energy into movement work because they are simply trying to survive and find basic resources. This can create a disconnect between various sections of the Black trans community.

Janetta Johnson, executive director of TGI Justice Project in San Francisco, thinks the solution is twofold: increased Black trans involvement and leadership in activism spaces, and more facilitated conversations between Black cis and trans people.

“I think a certain part of the transgender community kind of blocks all of this stuff out. We are saying we need you to come through this process and see how we can create strength in numbers. We need to bring in other trans people not involved in the movement,” she said. “We need to create a space where we can share views and strategies and experiences.”

Those conversations must be an ongoing process until the killings of Black trans women like Rae’Lynn Thomas, Dee Whigham, and Skye Mockabee stop.

“As we commemorate this year, we remember who and why we organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday last year. It’s important we realize that Black trans lives are still being affected in ways that everyday people don’t realize,” Hearns said. “We must understand why movements exist and why people take extreme action to continuously interrupt the system that will gladly forget them.”

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Group: End Clinic ‘Bubble Zones’ for Chicago Abortion Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

Chicago officials in October 2009 passed the "bubble zone" ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support.

An anti-choice group has announced plans to file a lawsuit and launch a public protest over Chicago’s nearly seven-year-old “bubble zone” ordinance for patients seeking care at local abortion clinics.

The Pro-Life Action League, an anti-choice group based in Chicago, announced on its website that its lawyers at the Thomas More Society would file the lawsuit this week.

City officials in October 2009 passed the ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support. The law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of someone walking toward an abortion clinic once that person is within 50 feet of the entrance, if the person did not give their consent.

Those found violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

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Harassment of people seeking abortion care has been well documented. A 2013 survey from the National Abortion Federation found that 92 percent of providers had a patient entering their facility express personal safety concerns.

The ordinance targets people seeking to pass a leaflet or handbill or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way.” The regulation bans the use of force, threat of force and physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health-care facility.

The Pro-Life Action League lamented on its website that the law makes it difficult for anti-choice sidewalk counselors “to reach abortion-bound mothers.” The group suggested that lawmakers created the ordinance to create confusion and that police have repeatedly violated counselors’ First Amendment rights.

“Chicago police have been misapplying it from Day One, and it’s caused endless problems for our faithful sidewalk counselors,” the group said.

The League said it would protest and hold a press conference outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Julie Lynn, a Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokesperson, told Rewire in an email that the health-care provider is preparing for the protest.

“We plan to have volunteer escorts at the health center to make sure all patients have safe access to the entrance,” Lynn said.

The anti-choice group has suggested that its lawsuit would be successful because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy and education for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune back then that the health-care provider expected the city’s bubble zone to be challenged following the 2014 decision.

But in an effort to avoid legal challenges, Chicago city officials had based its bubble zone law on a Colorado law that created an eight-foot no-approach zone within 100 feet of all health-care facilities, according to the Tribune. Sidewalk counselor Leila Hill and others challenged that Colorado law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2000.

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