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

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
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
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.

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