Commentary Abortion

George Tiller: Courage in the Face of Adversity

Dr. Eleanor Drey

I feel so lucky to work in a clinic where we can offer women respectful and safe services regardless of income or medical acuity.

May 31, 2011 is the 2-year anniversary of the assassination of Dr. George Tiller.  In May, Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health recently gave awards to several providers at an event in New York. Eleanor Drey, MD, Accepted the 2011 George Tiller, MD, Abortion Provider Award on May 9, 2011.  All articles in the 2011 series commemorating Dr. Tiller can be found here.

There truly is no honor that I could get that would touch and move me more than this award, nor anyone from whom I’d be more honored to receive it than Jeanne Tiller.  As for many of us, Dr. Tiller is one of my heroes. 

To illustrate this, I’d like to tell you a story:  Two years ago, I attended the annual meeting of the National Abortion Federation.  One of the main reasons I liked to attend NAF meetings was to talk with Dr. Tiller and his wonderful staff would be at his clinic’s booth with him.  Two years ago was the meeting where I received my copy of the new NAF textbook.  For fun, I decided to pretend it was my high school yearbook and to ask all of the authors and editors at the meeting to sign its covers.  Dr. Tiller was the only non-author or editor whom I asked to sign my textbook, because he meant so much to me that I wanted him to sign it anyway.  He drew a heart with an arrow through it and wrote, ” My history is written on your heart. Your importance is written in the souls of the women you have helped.  George R. Tiller 4/27/09”

I had two main reservations about receiving this award:  that certainly there are others whose dedicated and courageous work deserves this recognition more than my own and that I wouldn’t be able to say a word without sobbing.  Jeanne Tiller can attest to the latter, since I found myself unable to tell her in the past how much Dr. Tiller and his work have meant to me because I was crying too much.  I have to admit that I had the same problem when I tried to say my wedding vows.  My mother attributes this to our shared genetic predisposition for weak tear ducts. 

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I think about Dr. Tiller and the many things he taught me every day.  I quote him and I’ve played excerpts from his speeches at our department’s Grand Rounds and when speaking to medical students, so that they also can learn from and be inspired by Dr. Tiller’s words and his work.

I also felt uncomfortable about receiving this award because it recognizes courage in the face of adversity.  Certainly, courage in the face of adversity perfectly describes Dr. Tiller.  However, other than having to work within our country’s larger political and legislative context, I happily do not feel like I personally experience adversity—just the opposite.  Every day I am inspired by seeing the adversity faced by the women I help care for and by witnessing their incredible courage.  I feel so lucky to work in a clinic where we can offer women respectful and safe services regardless of income or medical acuity.  I feel blessed to work in a public hospital and in a city where our Department of Public Health understands how critical it is that we provide a safety net for all women needing abortion services, especially for later abortion patients—including those faced with multiple medical problems and social hardships.  And finally, I feel thankful every day to be able to provide abortion care in California, sadly one of relatively few states that recognizes that low-income women deserve state support to receive safe health care whether they want to continue or to end their pregnancies. 

Decisions about ending a pregnancy can be complex and difficult enough without the additional struggles women face to find a provider, get money together to pay for their abortion and their bus ticket, potentially face criticism from their friends and family—and all this just to do what they think is necessary and right given their circumstances. 

I also feel lucky to have the support of my friends and family, including my husband and my mother, both of whom are here tonight.  In fact, my mother takes partial credit for where I landed, because when I was a toddler, she was a board member of St. Louis Planned Parenthood and she regularly would bring me to their meetings.

I am grateful to Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health for doing such critical work to support women’s reproductive rights.  It means a lot to me to get an award from PRCH, a group whose work I admired and valued even before I became an OB-Gyn.  Thank you so much for your recognition of Dr. Tiller’s work and thanks also to Jeanne Tiller for working to maintain his legacy.  Again, there is no award that I could value more.  Thank you.

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open the Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

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Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

News Politics

Debbie Wasserman Schultz Resigns as Chair of DNC, Will Not Gavel in Convention

Ally Boguhn

Donna Brazile, vice chair of the DNC, will step in as interim replacement for Wasserman Schultz as committee chair.

On the eve of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) resigned her position as chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), effective after the convention, amid controversy over leaked internal party emails and months of criticism over her handling of the Democratic primary races.

Wasserman Schultz told the Sun Sentinel on Monday that she would not gavel in this week’s convention, according to Politico.

“I know that electing Hillary Clinton as our next president is critical for America’s future,” Wasserman Schultz said in a Sunday statement announcing her decision. “Going forward, the best way for me to accomplish those goals is to step down as Party Chair at the end of this convention.”

“We have planned a great and unified Convention this week and I hope and expect that the DNC team that has worked so hard to get us to this point will have the strong support of all Democrats in making sure this is the best convention we have ever had,” Wasserman Schultz continued.

Just prior to news that Wasserman Schultz would step down, it was announced that Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) would chair the DNC convention.

Donna Brazile, vice chair of the DNC, will step in as interim replacement for Wasserman Schultz as committee chair.

Wasserman Schultz’s resignation comes after WikiLeaks released more than 19,000 internal emails from the DNC, breathing new life into arguments that the Democratic Party—and Wasserman Schultz in particular—had “rigged” the primary in favor of nominating Hillary Clinton. As Vox‘s Timothy B. Lee pointed out, there seems to be “no bombshells” in the released emails, though one email does show that Brad Marshall, chief financial officer of the DNC, emailed asking whether an unnamed person could be questioned about “his” religious beliefs. Many believe the email was referencing Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT).

Another email from Wasserman Schultz revealed the DNC chair had referred to Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, as a “damn liar.”

As previously reported by Rewire before the emails’ release, “Wasserman Schultz has been at the center of a string of heated criticisms directed at her handling of the DNC as well as allegations that she initially limited the number of the party’s primary debates, steadfastly refusing to add more until she came under pressure.” She also sparked controversy in January after suggesting that young women aren’t supporting Clinton because there is “a complacency among the generation” who were born after Roe v. Wade was decided.

“Debbie Wasserman Schultz has made the right decision for the future of the Democratic Party,” said Sanders in a Sunday statement. “While she deserves thanks for her years of service, the party now needs new leadership that will open the doors of the party and welcome in working people and young people. The party leadership must also always remain impartial in the presidential nominating process, something which did not occur in the 2016 race.”

Sanders had previously demanded Wasserman Schultz’s resignation in light of the leaked emails during an appearance earlier that day on ABC’s This Week.

Clinton nevertheless stood by Wasserman Schultz in a Sunday statement responding to news of the resignation. “I am grateful to Debbie for getting the Democratic Party to this year’s historic convention in Philadelphia, and I know that this week’s events will be a success thanks to her hard work and leadership,” said Clinton. “There’s simply no one better at taking the fight to the Republicans than Debbie—which is why I am glad that she has agreed to serve as honorary chair of my campaign’s 50-state program to gain ground and elect Democrats in every part of the country, and will continue to serve as a surrogate for my campaign nationally, in Florida, and in other key states.”

Clinton added that she still looks “forward to campaigning with Debbie in Florida and helping her in her re-election bid.” Wasserman Schultz faces a primary challenger, Tim Canova, for her congressional seat in Florida’s 23rd district for the first time this year.