Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

I remember the morning of May 31, 2009. I'd slept in, like most Sundays, made myself my usual coffee and a bagel, and slouched into my office chair to check the weekend's emails. News feed. Top headline: "Abortion doctor shot at church." I knew right away who it was.

Dr. Tiller had become the central figurehead in the so-called "abortion wars." The fact that he was one of the nation's few later-term abortion providers made him an easy target. He had been harassed, stalked, threatened, brought to court (but never convicted), and even shot once before. Scott Roeder, the anti-abortion extremist, was the culprit. Found guilty of murder and aggravated assault last January, Roeder is currently serving a life sentence with no parole for 50 years.

What can I say that hasn't already been said? Dr. Tiller gave his life for his work, and his absence in the American medical field is a grave loss for women and their families. It's easy to demonize the women who visited Dr. Tiller when their own privacy concerns keep them from speaking up, but make no mistakes: Dr. Tiller's patients are not faceless enigmas. They are women who faced the most difficult decision they will likely ever face, sometimes never quite knowing whether or not it was the right one. These were rarely your average 12-week abortion patients; these were women who chose to end a pregnancy late in the game, most often due to a wanted pregnancy gone horribly awry. These are women who had no real choice, at least none with a happy ending.

And now, women facing similar predicaments are significantly less able to make what they may perceive as the best choice. Doctors Carhart and Hern have done their part to step it up, but at what cost? They are both being targeted as well, and while I shutter to think that their careers might also end at the hands of some anti-choice lunatic, I think they both know that's a very real possibility. Is it any wonder so few doctors will (or can) provide the services that Dr. Tiller gave his life to provide?

I remember the morning so clearly. Ani Difranco's "Hello Birmingham" echoed clearly in my ears. I remember crying as I wrote the very first blog post on the tragedy. I remember sobbing again, several months later, at an anti-Nazi rally in Greensboro, where I tried (in vain) to deliver a memorial to the American Hero and discuss the consequences of radical right-wing factions organizing.

And so here we are: one year later, Roeder behind bars, but the anti-choicers as organized as ever. Join me in promising Dr. Tiller's death won't be in vain; we owe it to every family who will face that no-win situation to remember and honor his life's work, to destigmatize what he did for the families he helped, and protect that same right for generations to come.

"Women and Families are intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and ethically competent to struggle with complex health issues -- including abortion -- and come to decisions that are appropriate for themselves."

-Dr. George Tiller, American Hero

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