Tiller's Patients Speak: The Tragedy Of His Death, The Inspiration Of His Life

Since the murder of Dr. George Tiller, many women who saw him for late-term abortions have spoken out about the caring he showed them during a deeply painful time in their lives. Their stories, and a pro-lifer's perspective, after the jump.

Most of the women who have shared their experiences online — even anonymously — are married, and sought late-term abortions because of fetal abnormalities. Though their decisions were heart-wrenching — these were planned, wanted pregnancies — their stories may be more socially acceptable because they don't fit the pro-life profile of thoughtless sluts seeking "abortion on demand." But Tiller treated unmarried women and girls too, with no less compassion. One woman, who terminated her pregnancy because of a rare fetal blood abnormality, remembers Tiller's commitment to all his patients:

My husband and I found Dr. George Tiller to be a caring, sensitive, and compassionate man who truly believed he was helping those of us who were desperate and had nowhere else to go. While we were at his clinic, he was very concerned about an 11-year-old child raped by her stepfather. And, when we were tormented by Operation Rescue protesters outside his clinic, he put on a bullet proof vest and personally drove us out of there while we hid in his van.

And a husband recalls:

I remember being puzzled about a T-shirt he was wearing, which said "Happy Birthday Jennifer from team Tiller!" or something similar. Turns out it comemmorated the birthday of a fifteen year old girl who was raped, became pregnant, and came to Tiller for an abortion. As luck would have it, she was in the clinic the same week as her birthday. So the clinic threw her a party.

A Heartbreaking Choice, a website for parents who terminate planned pregnancies due to fetal abnormalities, has a section called "Kansas Stories," dedicated to Tiller's Women's Health Services Clinic, one of only three in the nation that will perform abortions after 21 weeks. The stories don't mention Tiller by name, but they paint the clinic as a safe haven for women with few options, beset on all sides by critics. One woman writes,

I was 27 weeks by this point. I was terrified. The moment I met the doctor, all of that ended. He was a wonderful and loving man. I came in on Monday and gave birth to our baby girl on Friday. We were able to hold her after, and say our goodbyes. That doctor will always be in my heart.

Another says:

The reality is that abortion in the late second and third trimesters is extremely rare. The reality is that finding a doctor to do this procedure in the late second or third trimester is almost impossible. For me, the reality was that at the most painful time of my life I had to travel out of state, stay in a hotel room and face hostile protesters in order to carry out this most personal of choices. [...]

My only advice is don't let "them" define this for you. It is still your choice, your child and your life. I started to react as if the protesters were talking to me personally and indeed felt like everything they said was directed at me. In truth, they never see the real people behind the rhetoric.

A third adds:

The following morning the protestors were there again but this time with a twist. They had a huge group of kids with them. These middle- to high school-age kids were out there on the street corner hollering at us. These children didn't have the slightest understanding of what we were going through but they were taught they had the right to judge us.

A Kansas pro-lifer, writing to Andrew Sullivan, lays part of the blame for Tiller's death at the feet of such protesters:

This had been going on for years now. When these people said that Tiller's practices must be "brought to an end" or whatever, I truly believe that the vast, vast, vast majority of them (including the OR president, whom I've talked to about this before) do not have homicide on their minds. However, it doesn't matter. Operation Rescue or Bill O'Reilly do not qualify every statement about Tiller with a parenthetical stating "oh, by the way, killing him is not the way to stop him" for obvious reasons. But even if they did, they can't stop someone from thinking that more drastic measures are "necessary."

Pro-life advocates have the right to protest in front of abortion clinics, just as advocates for choice have the right to criticize them for making a difficult time all the more painful for women. But rhetoric that targets abortion providers themselves, rather than abortion as an issue, always runs the risk of inciting extremism and violence. After Tiller's death, Operation Rescue president Troy Newman said,

Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice. We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning.

His denunciation is commendable, but why the focus on "bringing Tiller to justice?" Why can't the debate over abortion concentrate on laws and courts, rather than on individuals who perform a service that is legal and considered by many to be morally acceptable? William Saletan at Slate says, "If unborn children are morally equal to born children, then Tiller's assassin has just succeeded where the legal system failed: He has stopped a mass murderer from killing again." He says that the fact that pro-life groups have denounced Tiller's murderer shows they don't truly equate unborn children with born children, or abortion with murder. But there's another argument here, one that says if you truly disagree with abortion, you should seek to remove the laws that allow it, not the people who operate according to those laws. If the death of George Tiller shows us anything, it's that if there must be a battle over abortion, that battle should be fought at the polls and in the courtrooms, not in doctor's offices — and the weapons should be words, not bullets.

Kansas Stories [A Heartbreaking Choice]
Patients Remember Dr. Tiller [Feministe]
It's So Personal: A Tiller Patient [Daily Dish]
Another Memory Of Visiting Dr. Tiller [Double X]
A Pro-Lifer From Kansas [The Daily Dish]
Kan. Abortion Doc Killed In Church; Suspect Held [AP, via Yahoo News]
Tiller's Killer [Slate]