Tiller Understood the Complexity of Women’s Realities

Erin Kate Ryan

Below the rhetoric of anti-choice extremists, there has been a quiet - yet swelling - murmuring this week. These are the voices of women who seek later abortions.

Below the breathless rhetoric
of anti-choice extremists, there has been a quiet – yet swelling – murmuring
this week.  These are the voices of women who seek later abortions,
the voices of Dr. George Tiller’s patients.  These are
the voices that matter. 

The stories emerging are of
women and men and couples and families, some of whom would never have
considered themselves supporters of abortion access.  Some are
stories of extreme poverty that prevented women from reaching abortion
providers within the first trimester -a s low-income women, rural women,
and young women are far likelier to seek later abortions due to the
significant obstacles they face in obtaining care.   

Others are stories of severe
health risks, medical necessity, fetal abnormality.  But whatever
a woman’s (or couple’s or family’s) reason was for entering the
Women’s Health Care Services in Wichita, she encountered only kindness. 
Understanding.  Respect.  Professionalism.   

One person standing in front
of another, asking for help, and finding compassion. One person saying,
"I need this," and the other person saying, "I will provide you
with what you need."   

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The high-pitched keening of
"baby killer" is utterly irrelevant here.  Irrelevant, too,
are our own biases about which abortions are necessary, justifiable,
or merciful. When faced with real families and real stories and the
dazzling complexity of women’s lives, the one-dimensional slogans
and false righteousness of the extreme anti-choice movement are revealed
again as flimsy and hollow distractions that disregard women’s realities
and dignity. 

Women’s reasons for obtaining
abortion care are as varied as the spectrum of human experience. 
And while Dr. Tiller was a compassionate caregiver for thousands of
women in crisis situations, he believed strongly that abortion was a
right belonging to all women.  In a rare 2001 public statement,
Dr. Tiller said, "This battle is about self-determination by women
of the direction and course of their lives and their family’s lives.
Abortion is about women’s hopes and dreams. 

"Abortion is a matter of
survival for all women."   

A climate in which any woman’s
sovereignty over her own body is questioned is a climate hostile to
the rights and futures of all women.  Access to competent
and compassionate abortion care-financial access, medical access,
legal access, and cultural access-is an issue of dignity and human
rights.  Dr. Tiller understood this. 

There is a certain hubris to
claiming that we can anticipate our reactions to every future situation. 
And true humility comes from respecting that women’s lives are their
own-only they truly know what they can handle.  Dr. Tiller was
a champion to those who needed him, and a symbol of integrity and nobility
and grace to many others.  May we all be so fortunate as to find
a compassionate champion like Dr. Tiller in our times of need.   

At the request of Dr. Tiller’s
clinic and our friends and supporters, the National Network of Abortion
Funds created the George Tiller Memorial Abortion Fund on late Sunday
evening after Dr. Tiller’s murder.  Information about the Fund
can be found at www.nnaf.or/tiller.html

The National Network of
Abortion Funds is an affiliation of 104 abortion Funds in 41 states,
the District of Columbia, Mexico, Canada, and the UK, including an international
web-based Fund.  The Network and our member Funds worked closely
with Dr. Tiller’s office for decades.

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