How The Anti-Abortion Movement Demonized George Tiller

Yesterday, David Barstow, in a front page story in the New York Times, provided one of the most thorough reviews as to how, for 30 years, the anti-abortion movement defined, demonized, harassed - and eventually killed - Ob/Gyn George Tiller.

First off, anti-choicers started in on Dr. Tiller immediately, and didn't let up.

Pickets first showed up in 1975, two years after he performed his first abortion. Years later, an anti-abortion group put him on a "wanted" poster of prominent abortion providers and offered $5,000 for information leading to his arrest. When an abortion provider in Florida was assassinated in 1994, Dr. Tiller spent the next few years under the protection of federal marshals. By 1997, he had been labeled "the most infamous abortionist in the United States" by James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family.

They picketed his home, they protested at his church, disrupting services, they went to his place of business day after day for decades.

They told outright lies and tall tales about him.

"If I can't document it, I don't say it," Mr. Newman of Operation Rescue said, moments before suggesting without any proof that Dr. Tiller had bought off the local district attorney, Nola T. Foulston, by giving her a baby for adoption. He referred a reporter to a Web site that vaguely asserted that Dr. Tiller "may have delivered the ultimate bribe to Nola Foulston." A spokeswoman for Ms. Foulston declined to discuss the accusation.

Anti-abortion activists routinely portrayed Dr. Tiller's campaign contributions as "blood money" that co-opted politicians. "He owned the attorney general's office," Mr. Newman said. "He owned the governor's office. He owned the district attorney's office."

Which is, I'm sure, exactly why he was prosecuted for 17 misdemeanor counts of not having a second doctor without a financial interest sign off on his decision to perform late-term abortions despite virtually no evidence.

The trial so long sought by abortion foes took place this March. It quickly became clear that the case was far from ironclad. The prosecutor produced no evidence of shared fees, partnership agreements or kickbacks. He was reduced to pointing out that Dr. Neuhaus had hugged Dr. Tiller before testifying.

Worse still, there was evidence that an official for the Kansas Board of Healing Arts had suggested the arrangement with Dr. Neuhaus, who had closed her own women's health clinic to care for her diabetic son. There was also evidence that several times a year Dr. Neuhaus disagreed with Dr. Tiller about whether an abortion was necessary. As for Dr. Neuhaus examining women at his clinic, Dr. Tiller told jurors that was done to spare patients repeated confrontations with protesters.

Protesters also hauled him in front of two citizen-driven grand juries, initiated confrontations intended to end with someone getting hurt and, you know, shot him twice.

In April 2006, though, a volunteer spotted an opportunity for confrontation in one small strip of pavement that he thought had been overlooked: the gutter running between the street and the clinic driveway. The volunteer knelt in the gutter to pray, placing himself in the path of vehicles entering the clinic.

According to the "incident report," a clinic nurse pulled up and "laid on her horn repeatedly." When the volunteer "acted as if he did not know that she was there," the report continued, a clinic guard told him that he was reporting him to the police.

The next day, Mr. Gietzen was standing in the gutter with his volunteer discussing the new tactic when Dr. Tiller pulled up in his armored S.U.V. In another "incident report," Mr. Gietzen wrote: "Tiller floored his accelerator, and aimed his Jeep directly at us!"

Mr. Gietzen claimed that Dr. Tiller's vehicle hit him, causing bruising. He promptly filed a police report, generating more news coverage. He then wrote to Dr. Tiller demanding a $4,000 settlement. When that went nowhere, he sued. He also demanded that Ms. Foulston prosecute Dr. Tiller for attempted murder.

The protesters were doing this even as they decried the fact that Dr. Tiller made money on his services, as though they're not the same right-wingers who are all for profit-driven health care to the point they're attempting to scuttle Obama's attempts at reform because of the future availability of government coverage today. Apparently, they felt Tiller and his family should have lived in poverty — although the happily ignore the fact that a large part of his profits were spent securing himself, his employees and his patients from harassment and often-violent confrontations.

Instead he dug in, pouring his considerable profits into expanding his clinic and installing security cameras, bulletproof glass, metal detectors, fencing and floodlights. He hired armed guards, bought a bulletproof vest and drove an armored S.U.V. He spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on some of the state's best lawyers and recruited an intensely loyal staff that dubbed itself Team Tiller.

His staff, of course, was loyal because they, too, were subject to extrajudicial and often-violent harassment.

Every vendor who showed up at the clinic was warned that if they continued to do business with Dr. Tiller they would be boycotted. Those who ignored the threat were listed on anti-abortion Web sites. "We had nobody in town that would deliver pizza," said an employee, Linda Joslin.

Protesters confronted his employees, demanding that they quit. If they refused, activists passed out fliers in their neighborhood accusing them of working for a baby killer.

And for all their claims of trying to "help," patients, too, were subject to harassment.

They would see a "Truth Truck," its side panels displaying large color photographs of dismembered fetuses. Over the clinic gate, strung between two poles, they might see a banner, "Please Do Not Kill Your Baby." Planted in the grass by the sidewalk were 167 white crosses, representing the average number of abortions that protesters said were performed there each month.

Protesters approached patients' cars, offering them baby blankets and urging them to visit an anti-abortion pregnancy clinic they had set up next door. Sometimes they followed patients to their hotels and slipped pamphlets under their doors. A few years ago anti-abortion campaigners spent weeks in a hotel room with a view of the Tiller clinic entrance. Using a powerful telephoto lens, they took photographs of patients, which were posted on a Web site with their faces blurred.

The anti-abortion folks didn't stop there, either: they used the court system to violate patient confidentiality rules and they even broke the confidentiality awarded them by the courts. They attacked individual patients' decisions as fundamentally flawed and selfish on the Internet and on the air without disclosing the circumstances (like incest or age) that prompted women and girls to seek the abortions in the first place.

Noting that the files "could hardly be more sensitive," the court ordered identifying information redacted and warned both sides to "resist any impulse" to publicize the case.

Mr. Kline's investigators tried to identify patients anyway, court records show. Mr. Kline also hired medical experts recommended by anti-abortion groups and gave them access to the files without requiring them to pledge confidentiality.

One expert, Paul McHugh, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, then discussed the files - though not identities - in a videotaped interview arranged by anti-abortion activists that quickly made its way to Mr. O'Reilly and others in the news media.

And, of course, they portrayed Dr. Tiller as an abortionist and an abortionist alone, despite his support for adoption, and strictly a late-term abortion provider, despite evidence to the contrary.

Based on Dr. Tiller's sworn testimony, his clinic grossed at least $1.5 million in 2003 from late-term abortions, a small fraction of the total number of abortions his clinic performed.

And after all this, including Tiller's murder, none of them feel particularly sorry. Mark Gietzen, chairman of the Kansas Coalition for Life, initially put it this way.

"God has his own way," Mr. Gietzen replied, "but you can't say our prayers weren't answered."

Gietzen decries the fact that Scott Roeder killed Tiller, in part because he wrestled with whether Tiller's murder would be justified (and decided it wasn't) and partly because of the damage done to the anti-abortion movement among centrist Americans, who now think they're possibly all a bunch of wack-jobs.

In an accompanying audio piece, Gietzen — with no apparent sense of irony, given his years of harassment and legal wars against Tiller — says this:

Does the end justify the means?...The means become the end. There is no end.

Gietzen thinks every one of the campaigns against Tiller, from the blockades to the false signage to the harassment of patients and pizza stores (though not murder), are justified means to a righteous end. But, like Roeder, he's become the means: the person who has to spend years trying to determine if a murder is justified. Just because he came to a different conclusion than Scott Roeder did, doesn't end up making him fundamentally different because he still considered it.

An Abortion Battle, Fought to the Death [NY Times]