On Sunday, May 31, Dr. George Tiller, a doctor in Wichita, Kansas, who for decades provided abortions for women even in the face of harassment and violence, was murdered at his place of worship. Sondra Goldschein and Allie Bohm attended events in New York City and Washington, D.C., honoring Dr. Tiller’s life.
Sondra Goldschein writes:
When I heard about the murder of Dr. Tiller on Sunday evening, I went from shock to tears to fear to loss. I could feel those emotions but I couldn’t put into words what a tragedy his death is. I finally found the words from Dr. Tiller himself.
I attended one of at least forty events across the country honoring Dr. Tiller’s life on Monday night. I was one of a large group of people in downtown Manhattan who heard a story about Dr. Tiller that cut to the core of who this remarkable man was. The story was told by New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
As many of us have now heard, Dr. Tiller was shot in both arms in 1993. What we haven’t heard as much is that he came back to work the very next day. Why? When he needed medical attention, he had received it. His patients needed his care and he was going to be there. “There was never any question in my mind that I was going back to work the next day.”
Dr. George Tiller truly understood that a woman facing an unintended pregnancy should have the opportunity to make the best decision for herself and her family, whether her decision is raising a child, adoption, or abortion. He respected women and their decisions, and with his wonderful staff, was there to help women from all over the country. According to Dr. Tiller, “abortion is about women’s hopes, dreams, potential, the rest of their lives. Abortion is a matter of survival for women. . . . It is my fundamental philosophy that patients are emotionally, mentally, morally, spiritually and physically competent to struggle with complex health issues and come to decisions that are appropriate for them.“
Thank you, Dr. Tiller, for your humanity, your bravery, and for treating women with dignity and respect.
Allie Bohm writes:
“When you come here, bring only love . . .” read the banner that backdropped the Washington DC vigil in honor of Dr. Tiller. Some 200 people circled the banner, standing in front of the White House. One woman tearfully read prepared remarks, and then the floor was opened up, and women and men of all ages came forward to speak as the spirit moved them. Some of them knew Dr. Tiller personally. Many did not. Some were long-time veterans of the pro-choice movement; for others, Dr. Tiller’s murder had galvanized them to come to a pro-choice event for the first time.
“When you come here, bring only love . . .” Many of us in DC live in a heady world of policy debates, political statements, and moralizing. Dr. Tiller did not. Speaker after speaker emphasized that while we debate policy, the doctors, nurses, and receptionists in abortion clinics see their jobs as helping women and providing health care services, not as making a political statement. Dr. Tiller is a hero to many of the vigil’s attendees and a martyr to others. But, he did not set out to be a hero or a martyr. He set out to be a doctor. The speakers who knew Dr. Tiller emphasized his compassion and understanding for women.
One of the vigil’s speakers was a man who has been a clinic escort for 20 years, influenced by a high school classmate of his who died from a botched illegal abortion before Roe v. Wade; at the time she could not afford to go to NY for a safe legal abortion. Those of us who work in the policy sphere sometimes forget that access to safe abortion is a public health issue. He said, “I do not want my son to have to continue escorting when I finally retire.”
At the same time, a young woman who works with college students reported that in April Dr. Tiller told her, “Now, it’s your generation’s turn.” It is now all of our turns. Doctors should not have to risk their lives so that women do not have to die from pregnancy complications or back-alley abortions. As signs at the DC vigil read, it is time to “keep abortion providers safe now.”