Dr. George Tiller was assassinated yesterday at the church where he and his wife attended. He was one of a handful of physicians known to provide what has come to be called "late term abortions." Nothing I write here is likely to change anyone's mind about abortion, but I want to make a few notes for future reference.
Sarah Robinson's response, written in the first hours of D. Tiller's death, was both clear and swift. Recommended reading.
1. Tiller was one of the great heroes in the fight for a woman's right to choose safe, legal abortion. Late-term abortions are a terrible business for everyone concerned. Despite anti-abortion distortions to the contrary, they are very rare -- and almost never chosen for anything but the most heartbreaking of reasons, usually having to do with the life of the mother or the viability of the fetus. It's a life-changing choice for everyone concerned, and not one anybody takes lightly.
By all accounts, Tiller dealt with these horrific situations with dignity, compassion, and grace, helping women and their families deal with the loss and grief that always come with being faced with such a traumatic decision. He didn't just tend to their physical condition; he tended to their psychological and spiritual well-being, too. Most of us will be backed into life-or-death corners regarding serious medical conditions (a family member's, or our own) at some point in our lives. In those times, we are fortunate when we can find doctors with that kind of ability to understand the nuances, and help us deal with the ambiguities, and come to terms with the hard decisions we must make. Tiller was, according to his patients, one of those doctors.
2. The Terrorists Win. Tiller was one of just three doctors in the entire US who performed late-term abortions. Now, there are just two. Which means that 36 years of anti-choice terrorism is now just two assassinations away from completely ending late-term abortion in America. Violence has won out -- over the will of the people, over the courts, over the horrific logic of medical necessity. And whenever terrorists win, democracy has lost -- and is lost.
Much more at the link.
Someone in the comments thread questioned her assertion that he was one of three doctors performing late term abortions. Her reply was more circumspect.
Odds are good that there are more than one or two, but anybody else who does it doesn't do many, and isn't advertising the fact to anyone (for reasons that are all too obvious). A lot of doctors will perform controversial procedures for their regular patients, but not for other people. And unfortunately, most women don't know where their doctors draw those lines until they're hard up against them. The doctors won't talk about it even if asked.
The Wikipedia article already has a few details.
George Tiller was killed on May 31, 2009, shot to death during worship services at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita where he was serving as an usher.
After threatening two others who tried to prevent his departure, the gunman fled in a car. Witnesses described the vehicle as a powder-blue 1993 Ford Taurus, registered to 51-year-old Scott Roeder of Merriam, in Johnson County.
Scott Philip Roeder (born February 25, 1958) was arrested some 170 miles away in suburban Kansas City three hours after the shooting, Wichita Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz said. The suspect had been a member of the anti-government Freemen group and was convicted in 1996 on explosives charges after police officers discovered fuse cord, a pound of gunpowder and nine-volt batteries in the trunk his car, but an appeals court overturned this conviction in 1997, ruling that the search of Roeder's car had been illegal.
The reader can do his own research about the Montana Freemen. I'm not interested.
Most conversations I hear about abortions are steeped in ignorance and extreme points of view. I know from reading that abortion statistics are nothing like what most people understand. They know there are many (even though actual numbers and sources are rarely cited) and they leap immediately to the grim details of post-viability procedures, referring to scissors, sucking out brains, etc. Words like baby-killers, murder and genocide are used carelessly with references to living newborns tossed into garbage cans to die.
A search for actual details is revealing.
In 2003, from data collected in those areas that sufficiently reported gestational age, it was found that 6.2% of abortions were conducted from 13 to 15 weeks, 4.2% from 16 to 20 weeks, and 1.4% at or after 21 weeks. Because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's annual study on abortion statistics does not calculate the exact gestational age for abortions performed past the 20th week, there are no precise data for the number of abortions performed after viability. In 1997, the Guttmacher Institute estimated the number of abortions in the U.S. past 24 weeks to be 0.08%, or approximately 1,032 per year.
This is from the Guttmacher Institute.
- Nearly half of all pregnancies to American women are unintended; four in 10 of these end in abortion.
- About half of American women have experienced an unintended pregnancy, and at current rates more than one-third (35%) will have had an abortion by age 45.
- Overall unintended pregnancy rates have stagnated over the past decade, yet unintended pregnancy increased by 29% among poor women while decreasing 20% among higher-income women.
- In 2005, 1.21 million abortions were performed, down from 1.31 million abortions in 2000.
- Nine in 10 abortions occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
- A broad cross section of U.S. women have abortions:
- 56% of women having abortions are in their 20s;
- 61% have one or more children;
- 67% have never married;
- 57% are economically disadvantaged;
- 88% live in a metropolitan area; and
- 78% report a religious affiliation.
"For a long time, nearly 90% of abortions in the U.S. have taken place in the first trimester, but in recent years, women having an abortion have been able to do so earlier and earlier in the first trimester. Currently, more than six in 10 abortions occur within the first eight weeks of pregnancy, and almost three in 10 take place at six weeks or earlier,” says Rachel Jones, lead researcher on the new survey. “Medication abortion, which provides women with an additional option early in pregnancy, clearly reinforces this very positive trend.”
"The United States has one of the highest abortion rates in the developed world, with women from every socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, religious and age-group obtaining abortions," says Lawrence Finer, associate director for domestic research at the Guttmacher Institute. "We study abortion so we can learn more about how well current efforts to improve contraceptive use and reduce unintended pregnancy are working, the circumstances under which women have difficulty accessing abortion and, ultimately, how to reduce the need for abortion."
"Evidence from around the world shows that placing restrictions on abortion to make it harder to obtain has much more to do with making it less safe than making it rarer, " says Susan Cohen, director of government affairs at the Guttmacher Institute. "Yet in the United States, abortion opponents take credit for the mounting state and federal restrictions on abortion, rather than working to reduce unintended pregnancy to begin with."
One of the curious twists of the anti-abortion movement in America is that most of the same people seeking to reduce the number of abortions are also reluctant to promote better sex education and easier access to contraceptives. And the groups most in need of better understanding of reproduction and the proper use of contraceptives are the very groups denied both. Voices seeking common ground ("reduce the number of abortions") have a hard time getting past the biggest challenge of all, that all abortions terminate pregnancies and the way to reduce the number of abortions is to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies.
The unfortunate vocabulary that has come to be used in the debate (pro-life, pro-choice, pro-abortion, anti-abortion, anti-choice, pro-death, etc.) inflames all discussions and drives many to the extreme illustrations. In the same way that the torture debate goes off the rails with the ticking-bomb scenario, abortion discussions quickly slip from one extreme to the other. "Pro-life" advocates have come to the extreme position that "at the moment of conception" a future taxpayer, neighbor or heir has been brought into existence and anyone seeking to eliminate that embryo is guilty of murder. Moreover, the woman that the embryo now inhabits has at once forfeited all rights to do anything that would endanger that future child's growth or development.
In vitro fertilization, a widely-used reproductive technique used by couples trying to get pregnant, routinely produces multiple fertilized eggs, selecting up to four for implantation, one of which can be expected to survive. In the event that three or four appear to be holding on, the newly-pregnant mother is usually advised to allow the doctor to "deselect" the number down to twins or just one. I have yet to hear anyone referring to this procedure as a variant of abortion which, by the strict definition of "at the moment of conception" it is.
As I said at the opening, I doubt anything I write here will change any minds. But maybe by treating this man's murder as the evidence of a national sickness that it is I can get someone to think more clearly. I recall being in a college classroom the morning after Dr. King was assassinated when a student who was glad to see him dead said "I don't see why we have to make him a martyr." I pointed out to him that no one was making King a martyr. The fact that he was dead, killed for what he stood for, accomplished that. Likewise, Dr. Tiller -- whether or not the reader wants to accept it -- is now a martyr, killed for what he stood for. And anyone who thinks his death will advance the cause of those who are glad to see him dead does not understand history.
Hilzoy put up several good posts in response to Dr. Tiller's killing.
Dr. George Tiller
...also these links...
http://www.msmagazine.com/summer2004/womanandherdoctor.asp (Read this one if you don't have time for them all.)
Terror Should Not Pay