Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Murder of George Tiller in Three Parts

Let’s think about the murder of Dr. George Tiller, “Diplomat of the American Board of Family Practice and Medical Director of Women's Health Care Services.”
Dr. Tiller ran a women’s reproductive health clinic which, among other services, provided abortions. Over time, because Dr. Tiller was willing to provide ‘late-term’ abortions to women under legally defined circumstances and because his clinic gained a national reputation for gentle care and counseling, Dr. Tiller’s practice became more and more associated with providing abortions. In particular, Dr. Tiller was one of only 3 or 4 physicians skilled in and willing to perform difficult abortions in the late second trimester or third trimester – abortions which count for something along the lines of a maximum of 1% of all abortions performed in this country. The technique primarily used by Dr. Tiller in these late abortions was to inject a fetal heart stopping medication; after the inducing of contractions, the pregnant woman would then have to wait hours or a few days to deliver a stillborn .
Dr. Tiller’s late abortion patients fell , roughly, into four groups: 1) women or girls whose lives were endangered, or whose health was seriously endangered by the pregnancy, or who required medical treatment that the pregnancy made impossible; 2) often overlapping the first group, cases in which testing revealed serious – often dreadful – abnormalities or deformities in the fetus, other kinds of problems for the fetus or fetuses, or a dead fetus; 3) women or girls who were the victims of rape or abuse; 4) more rare cases in which the pregnant person was a mentally defective minor, herself.
The truly heartbreaking and tragic stories of women and girls who found care at Dr. Tiller’s clinic can, now, be found in many places. Sometimes, after all, people who have suffered a tragedy do not want to share their stories with others, in particular with a polarized public, but the murder of Dr. Tiller seems to have inspired many of them to explain what they endured and how they came to choose late-term abortions. Andrew Sullivan’s blog on The Atlantic has received any number of these terrible stories of women and men who looked forward to their babies only to have their hopes dashed by some of the crueler turns of Nature. The stories of girls – as young as 9 – who were victimized by relatives and became pregnant unawares, and whose pregnancies proceeded past the first trimester before others realized what had happened, are certainly no less painful to read.
For his service, Dr. Tiller was singled out by Operation Rescue (which now decries the killing of “abortionist Tiller”), by a site entirely devoted to disclosing Dr. Tiller’s personal information, and by the lawless Bill O’Reilly (who, also, now claims to separate himself from incitement to violence). Dr. Tiller had been shot, previously, and he and his clinic staff were the targets of email, mail, and in-person invective and bullying. He and his family lived in a gated community for protection. He was also targeted by a ‘pro-life’ Kansas Attorney General, who never won any of his actions against Dr. Tiller. On Sunday, May 31, 2009, Dr. Tiller was shot in the face at his church while serving as an usher.

Most of this is readily accessible online and through news outlets. So is the renewed firestorm of the ‘abortion debate’ in the United States. Here, I would like to address some other issues.

First, it must be noted that the murder of Dr. Tiller leaves this nation with, perhaps, two or three practicing physicians sufficiently skilled in the very difficult medical technique of late-term abortions. Many women and girls had to travel hundreds of miles to find help at Dr. Tiller’s clinic in Kansas where he frequently provided all services and counseling for free. Now, there is one fewer such doctor to help women whose desired pregnancies ended in agonizing choices to sacrifice the possibility of a safe birth for the mother’s life or health or in the wrenching decision to spare a newborn pain and suffering before an inevitable death. Now, there is one less doctor to help young girls who are victimized by rape and whose bodies, in some cases, are simply too undeveloped to carry a pregnancy to term – I note this last point recognizing that there are those so callous as to condemn a child to the torment of a pregnancy that results from [often, incestuous] rape.

The next topics I will adress in relation to Dr. Tiller's murder are Responsible Speech and the Use of Violence for 'Good' Ends.

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