Tuesday 2 June 2009

Dr George Tiller shot dead at church

“He put the health of women above his own life. And now he is dead.”
George Tiller, 67, long a focus of national anti-abortion groups, was killed while serving as an usher at the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita.

Tiller had been attacked several times in the past, and protests had been held outside his Wichita clinic.

In 1985, his practice was bombed, and in 1993 he was shot in the arms.
A man, identified after his arrest as Scott Roeder, 51, allegedly walked up to Tiller as he stood alongside three or four others and aimed a gun at his head. He shot once.
[Tiller] was also a major lightening-rod in the abortion wars. Anti-choicers harassed his patients, day in and day out. They bombed his clinic. They shot him once before. They filed lawsuit after lawsuit and even convinced local prosecutors to launch criminal investigations and trials (none were successful). They published his home address and the full names of his family members on their websites. They posted information about anyone who did business with him, from where he got his coffee to where he did his dry cleaning.

They had him and his staff wearing bullet-proof vests to work every day. Tiller drove an armoured car and protected his home with a state-of-the-art security system. And, to better enable stalking and harassment, they posted his daily comings and goings – including the fact that he attended services every Sunday at Reformation Lutheran Church, the place where he was ultimately shot and killed.

All because he was a licensed physician who performed legal medical procedures.
In life, Dr. Tiller was one of three doctors in the US who, under certain circumstances, provided abortions to women after 20 weeks of pregnancy. His death means that women have fewer options in such cases – if any at all. This will most greatly affect those in the central United States, particularly the poor.

It would be easier to insult anti-choice/pro-lifers by calling them ‘backwards’ and ‘stupid’, which many will, rather than to face the real culprits. Bigotry is often born of ignorance and misinformation. The spread of bigotry through misinformation lies at the feet of those in power, the media, politicians, religious leaders, & the masses. We each played a role in what lead to Dr Tiller, a brave and admirable man committed to women in need, being shot at his church in front of his family and friends.

The media spread misinformation. Bill O'Reilly might well be a ‘straw-man’ but he is popular with great influence, his making Tiller a cause célèbre and the crass deceitful manner in which he did so means that Bill O'Reilly has Dr. George Tiller's blood on his well-stained hands. Fox news is a dangerous propaganda tool for far-right authoritarian extremists.

Politicians that use carefully selected expressions help little. Abortion is all too often described as a 'difficult' issue when in many cases it is not. Incest provides an example that few can argue against. Situations in which the life and health of the mother or potential child are at severe risk provides another. Yet there are many who see no merit in abortion in even these circumstances.

Lest we forget that the 'South Dakota Women’s Health and Human Life Protection Act (HB 1215)' was signed into Law by South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds on March 6, 2006. Although it did not manage to come into effect, it sought to establish that "life begins at the time of conception" and to ban all abortions with the only exemption being physicians who perform the procedure when "designed or intended to prevent the death of a pregnant mother". Doctors who performed abortions on the basis of rape, incest, ill-health (but not likely death), terrible birth defects or a woman's right to chose, would be liable for murder charges.

Below is just one example of Bill O’Rielly’s criticism of Dr George Tiller.
He conflates aborting foetuses with killing babies, and he accuses Tiller of, ‘killing babies’ ‘for just about any reason’, performing ‘thousands of late term abortions’, of being ‘a doctor who will terminate a pregnancy at anytime’.

He accuses abortion clinics of protecting child rapists. He asks his interviewee whether she is ‘okay with rapists walking around the street?’ He accuses her of tacitly supporting ‘babies to be killed and rapists of 10 year olds to get away with it’.

The media’s misinformation, misrepresentation and emotive rhetoric fuels anti-choice/pro-life pressure groups. As Jill Filipovic wrote in The Guardian:
[I]f you yell "Murderer!" "Baby-Killer!" and "Holocaust!" long enough, it's reasonably foreseeable that someone will take it upon themselves to make sure that vigilante justice is done (especially if you provide the name and address of the person who you claim is committing "genocide").


  1. Excellent post. Really thoughtful and should be read by anyone who claims to really be 'pro-life'.

  2. Thank-you very much. I felt that I had to blog about his death - it just seems too important. It reminded me of an old Bill Hicks joke http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7INABbOnLI

  3. Good posting, Kit.

    O'Reilly is an idiot and a perfect example of that side of the media whose self-importance has distanced themselves from the mainstream (that they're supposed to serve). They just don't realise it.

    Having said that, is there a way for me to express surprise at Tiller's terminations at 20- odd weeks, given that I'm pro-choice?

    25 weeks, for example, is really going some. Truth be told.

  4. I too consider myself pro-choice but also find the idea of third trimester abortions challenging. However, it is important to bare in mind the circumstances. Because of the scarcity of doctors/facilities/states willing to perform the procedure Dr Tiller would have had to deal with several states’ patients on his own.

    Although technology has advanced, America’s poor still find access to it prohibitively expensive. With many pregnant women put off going to be checked out by the cost, the detection of extreme birth defects often happens later than it otherwise would have been. Some late discoveries, of course, are no fault of the state’s inadequate healthcare provision and are just down to bad luck.

    As for the times that he was taken to court, the pro-life lobby have significant funds behind them, so I think that it is unlikely that Tiller (who was a wealthy man) would have been able to buy his freedom with a superior legal team.

    It seems unlikely that he ever performed an abortion without adequate justification given the sheer persecution he suffered. The anti-choice lobby would jump at any chance to take Tiller to court, let alone one where they might stand a chance of winning.

    For the testimony of a patient that had a late term abortion see http://bastardlogic.wordpress.com/2009/06/03/personal-political-tiller/

    Or for a condensed version of the above link see

    Thanks for commenting