In Memory of Dr. Tiller: Unite to Save Lives

Jos Truitt

The debate we are locked in, between those fighting for the lives of the unborn and those fighting for the lives of women, has gotten us nowhere. And if we continue to talk past each other, to ignore each other’s voices and experiences, this cycle of violence will continue.

Originally posted at Choice Words.


May 31, 2009 was absolutely the worst day
I have experienced as a reproductive justice organizer. I was raised as
a pro-life Christian fundamentalist. I knew abortion was wrong before I
knew what sex was. I was largely unaware of the clinic violence
occurring ten years ago; my community decried what it considered the
loss of innocent lives through abortion, but was strangely silent about
the murder of doctors and other attacks on clinic staff and volunteers.

Dr. Tiller courageously performed abortions before I was born. He
performed abortions while I spoke my uninformed rants against the
procedure. He performed abortions after he was shot in both arms in
1993. He was one of the few doctors brave enough to continue providing
late term abortions even after being specifically targeted by
organizations like Operation Rescue.

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Dr. Tiller is dead, gunned down while in his church, a place that is
supposed to provide sanctuary. There are either one or two doctors left
who perform legal late term abortions. It is becoming close to
impossible for women to access these procedures, even if their lives
are in danger. Dr. Tiller is dead, and as a result more people will die.

“Pro-life,” a badge I proudly wore for most of my life, feels
completely absurd right now. In the name of life Scott Roeder, a man we
are learning was part of the community of militant abortion foes
organized through Operation Rescue and other advocates of violence and
intimidation, murdered Dr. Tiller. He ended the life of a man with
family and friends, coworkers and patients. A man with beliefs,
feelings, experiences, hopes, and a personal spirituality. Roeder and
his community value what they consider the lives of those who have
never experienced the world, never seen a sunrise or felt a warm breeze
or drank a glass of juice over the life of someone who knew what it is
to live.

The pro-life movement is full of good people of faith who believe
themselves to be doing important humanitarian work. I call some of them
family. I call some of them friends. I know them as people who would
never advocate the taking of a human life, who oppose abortion because
of their deep compassion for the lives of all people. I know the
radical fringe that is responsible for Dr. Tiller’s death does not
represent them. But I hope my friends and loved ones can take this
tragedy as a moment for thought and introspection. You know abortion
will not go away no matter what you do. So what does it mean to fight
to outlaw abortion when you know this will lead to women’s deaths? What
does it mean to stand with Operation Rescue during their more public
rallies and quietly ignore the work you know they are doing behind
closed doors? These are not easy questions. I know there are quick
answers that are possible because I have heard them before. Please,
move beyond those answers. Really ask the questions, and really
consider their implications.

My new community is living in fear right now. The last time an
abortion doctor was killed it was not an isolated incident but part of
a large, organized campaign of violence and terror. This quieted down
during the Bush administration, and now I and others fear the violence
is returning. I find myself in the terrible position of mourning the
loss of Dr. Tiller while also fearing what this portends. To lose a
member of my community is hard enough; to fear that this only means
more loss to come is overwhelming.

I can’t stop thinking about my friends who escort or work in clinics
or are thinking about becoming providers. I love them and I do not want
to lose them.

So this is to my pro-life friends and family: I need you right now.
I need your help and support. I need your voices against violence,
against terror, against the unquestionable taking of life. I am not
asking you to change your deeply felt beliefs and convictions because
of the act of an extremist. But I do ask that you rethink the work you
do in the name of protecting life. Can you in good conscience fight for
the lives of the unborn alongside those who would willingly, proudly
take the life of another human being?

I understand that our beliefs on this issue differ in a fundamental
way. I understand that some of that divide feels impossible to cross. I
share that feeling. But there has to be another way. The debate we are
locked in, the division between “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” between
those fighting for the lives of the unborn and those fighting for the
lives of women, has gotten us nowhere good. So I say: enough. I’m done.
We have to have this conversation differently. We have to explore these
differences in another way. I cannot accept Dr. Tiller’s death and I
cannot accept more loss. And if we stay on the same course, if we
continue to talk past each other, to ignore each other’s voices and
experiences, this cycle of violence will continue.

Please, let’s work together. Let’s end this new wave of terror
before it takes another life. Maybe then we will be reminded of our
shared humanity, of the beliefs that unite us and that are much
stronger than the belief that divides us. Yes, we can empower the state
to respond to violence with its own violence, but this will ultimately
only continue the cycle. I believe the only way to stop the radical
anti-abortion fringe is to unite across beliefs in the common cause of
saving lives. Mom, Dad, friends, please stand with me in memory of Dr.

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