Monday, 1 June 2009

Abortion provider murdered

Dr George Tiller, one of the few doctors in the United States who performed late term abortions, was murdered as he attended a church service (see the story on Stuff).

The feminist blogosphere* is alive with shock, worry, condolences for Dr Tiller's wife. Hoyden about Town has a round-up, but as yet, Tigtog hasn't linked to one of the reactions that I found most compelling, from Janet Stemwedel at her Science Blogs place, Adventures in Ethics and Science.

I understand that people who are against abortion feel very strongly about the issues involved. I get that they feel that medical procedures that are legal are nonetheless immoral, and that they would like the laws to be changed.

However, trying to accomplish a change in the availability of abortions by targeting health care providers with violence -- in other words, trying to change the situation by striking terror into the hearts of the people doing the things they do not like -- is terrorism. This kind of tactic is terrorism regardless of whether you agree with the end it is used to try to advance.

Click through and read about what she intends to do each time someone makes a comment on her blog to the effect that Dr Tiller deserved what he got.

Here in NZ, although people protest against abortion, and try all legal avenues to stop abortion (and long may they fail!), no one has resorted to killing, or attempting to kill, doctors as they go about their work, doing the best they can for their patients. Long may this continue, that those who disagree with the law in New Zealand use protest, petition and court cases to make their point, but not physical violence against other New Zealanders.

In the meantime, rest in peace, Dr Tiller.

* Not just the feminist blogosphere either. One not-so-feminist voice in NZ has condemned the violence too. Shame about his commenters, though.


Anonymous said...

I was so saddened to hear the news about Dr Tiller. It's truly awful.

I think the term pro-life needs to be retired. Seems these nuts only care about certain lives.

lauredhel said...

Anonymous: I think the word you're looking for is "terrorist".

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh the comments on Kiwiblog are so awful!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Deborah said...

I'm deleting any comments on this thread that in any way suggest that murdering Dr Tiller was a good thing to do.

Anonymous said...

But it is still OK for people like Dr Tiller to keep murdering LATE TERM babies because the female is no longer interested in being pregnant?

Anonymous said...

What the Hell anon? The mother is at risk of death you jerk. Late term abortions are usually desperately wanted pregnancies you asshole.

Deborah said...

Thanks for your quick response, 2nd anon. Another reminder - there WILL be heavy moderation on this thread. I WILL NOT discuss moderation actions any further; take any issue to e-mail, per our comments policy.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
portia said...

Dr. Tiller was a brave man. He was shot in 1993 as well, but kept doing his job. He was one of the very few doctors in the states to perform late term abortions of the sort that anti-choicers have tried to pass laws against in some of the more benighted states.

Anonymous@7:30, you're right, 3rd trimester abortions are usually indicated by fetal death in utero, or fetal illness that threatens the life or health of the mother. The mum who gets to 8.5 months then decides, 'oh, maybe not' is the classic anti-choice strawman on this issue. Yeah right.

I don't know what's going to happen in the states now that the older generation of doctors committed to women's right to choose is aging out of the health care system. It's going to be hard to backfill them after so many years of OB/GYNs not being required to learn to perform abortions, and few being willing to place their lives on the line like Dr. Tiller did.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
T said...

Anon the mother isn't choosing in the case of late-term abortion. HER LIFE IS AT RISK. Can you not understand that? Late-term abortion is not about wanting to keep the baby or not. It's about the mother DYING if she does not have an abortion. Adoption doesn't even come into it. Dr Tiller was NOT aborting babies full term. Stop lying. The fact that you have to lie proves you have no argument.

Please use your brain. Think first then comment.

Deborah said...

Anon, take your comments over to Kiwiblog where they will be appreciated. Other people, please stop replying to anon- I will delete as needed.

Moz said...

Count me in favour of using the full anti-tourist apparatus against these people. And not having an abortion debate in this thread. Perhaps someone could write a "what is late term abortion" with the stats and close comments on it from the start? Probably less work in the long term.

katy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
katy said...

Dr Tiller sounds like an amazing and courageous man, especially given that he had been so targeted and yet had continued to work in this area. However, if we accept that to carry a child to term has to be the choice of the woman whose body it is, then the reason for performing the abortion at whatever stage (medical or otherwise) is irrelevant, imho.

portia said...

Katy, your argument that the reason for abortion should not matter if one accepts the principle of women having agency over their own bodies up the the moment of birth is philosophically consistent. But it's not the reality in NZ, or the US or any other jurisdiction I am aware of. At some point the fetus becomes capable of having a interest separate and distinct from its mother. When that moment occurs is the crux of the debate. Anti-choicers see it as the moment the zygote implants itself in the uterus. Some wackaloons with a tenuous grasp of biology think it's the moment egg meets sperm. If memory serves, I think there was some pre-Christian European culture that figured the moment was around age 2. The US Supreme Court kindasorta sees it as the point when the fetus becomes viable outside its mother's uterus. Parliament talks one game and walks another. It's maddening - it's all about protecting Baby from Bad Mummy. You know, the bitch made of straw.

captiver said...

For those who don't know what Dr. Tiller did, this was posted on The Opinionator, a blog roundup at The New York Times Web site:

” In 1994 my wife and I found out that she was pregnant. The pregnancy was difficult and unusually uncomfortable but her doctor repeatedly told her things were fine. Sometime early in the 8th month my wife, an RN who at the time was working in an infertility clinic asked the Dr. she was working for what he thought of her discomfort. He examined her and said that he couldn’t be certain but thought that she might be having twins. We were thrilled and couldn’t wait to get a new sonogram that hopefully would confirm his thoughts. Two days later our joy was turned to unspeakable sadness when the new sonogram showed conjoined twins. Conjoined twins alone is not what was so difficult but the way they were joined meant that at best only one child would survive the surgery to separate them and the survivor would more than likely live a brief and painful life filled with surgery and organ transplants. We were advised that our options were to deliver into the world a child who’s life would be filled with horrible pain and suffering or fly out to Wichita Kansas and to terminate the pregnancy under the direction of Dr. George Tiller.

We made an informed decision to go to Kansas. One can only imagine the pain borne by a woman who happily carries a child for 8 months only to find out near the end of term that the children were not to be and that she had to make the decision to terminate the pregnancy and go against everything she had been taught to believe was right. This was what my wife had to do. Dr. Tiller is a true American hero. The nightmare of our decision and the aftermath was only made bearable by the warmth and compassion of Dr. Tiller and his remarkable staff. Dr. Tiller understood that this decision was the most difficult thing that a woman could ever decide and he took the time to educate us and guide us along with the other two couples who at the time were being forced to make the same decision after discovering that they too were carrying children impacted by horrible fetal anomalies. ”

Danielle said...

I was so horrified by this. There's a first-person memory of Dr. Tiller on Metafilter which I think is worth reading (although you may get sniffly):

"As suggested upthread, my wife and I spent a week in Dr. Tiller's care after we learned our 21 week fetus had a severe defect incompatible with life. The laws in our state prevented us from ending the pregnancy there, and Dr. Tiller was one of maybe three choices in the whole nation at that gestational age.

My wife just called with the news of his murder, weeping.

I can't really come up with some profound political statement just now, so let me just list some memories of Dr. Tiller.

-I remember him firmly stating that he regarded the abortion debate in the US to be about the control of women's sexuality and reproduction.

-I remember he spent over six hours in one-on-one care with my wife when there was concern she had an infection. We're talking about a physician here. Six hours.

-He told the story of his previous shooting, where a woman shot him twice in both arms as he drove out of his clinic. At first he wanted to run her down with his Jeep, but then he thought "she shot you already George, she'll do it again!"

-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.

-The walls of the clinic reception and waiting room are literally covered with letters from patients thanking him. Some were heartbreaking - obviously young and/or poorly educated people thanking Dr. Tiller for being there when they had no other options, explaining their family, church etc. had abandoned them.

-I remember my wife, foggy with sedation after the final procedure, being helped from the exam table. He had her sit up and put her arms around his neck, and then he lifted her into a wheelchair.

"You give good hugs" she whispered.

He paused just for a moment.

"You're just fine," he told her."

The original post is at:

Tom Semmens said...

I am not surprised that kiwiblog would be full of regurgitating of the sort of hate speech one would expect from people who replace thinking with parroting the US conservative right.

I am shocked though that Dr. Jim McVeagh (A.K.A MacDoctor) would choose to use his blog to obfusticate on this murder of a fellow physician.

That is truly disgusting.

Lenore said...

When Parkview clinic was open in Newtown as a separate clinic, there would be regular protesters who would harass women going to have a termination and sometimes try to physically stop them. A group of us would be called up when a person who lived by Parkview would see the a crowd gathering (they started bringing in busloads)and support these women through the yelling lines of mainly men and the odd nun. It was awful and the women would be terrified, especially as some of the protesters were big guys who would do stand over tactics.

I have protested quite a few times in my life but will never agree with that kind of abusive protesting.

I recollect that Dr. Margaret Sparrow had a few death threats in her day and after being around some of the nutters outside Parkview, I wouldn't have been surprised if someone had tried to kill her. We should never assume it will not happen here

portia said...

Wow, Lenore. How long ago was that? Did the police do anything to help the patients?

Trouble said...

I've donated $50 to Family Planning in memory of this guy. I don't know who his NZ equivalents are (I'm glad for their sake they haven't become public figures) and this is as close as I could get to supporting them.

Anita said...

I got half way through replying to Trouble's comment with a handy excerpt of a document released to me by MoH under the OIA earlier this year which talks about where in New Zealand late terminations (20+ weeks) are available, and the policy work going on around the issue, and … stopped.

I hate the fact that I feel I would be putting people at risk of harassment (or worse) if I posted it. It's public information, anyone can get it, it doesn't even name names, but… I hate this.

Julie said...

Idiot Savant details the campaign of terrorism that Tiller's murder is part of.

portia said...

Anecdote from Kate Harding's post in Broadsheet on

"Recently, Hill says she and other providers have seen an upswing in the harassment. "We started to notice things like strange people from out of town, not the normal protesters. You'd come out of your house, and your car had been messed with. Just little reminders that they can do whatever they want to do on our property, just to be intimidating." About five months ago, a man knocked on her front door at 10:30 p.m. "Are you Susan Hill?" he asked through the door. Hill said yes and asked his name. "Molotov," he told her. "Cute name, are you a pro-lifer?" she replied. "Yeah, I am. I just needed to know where you lived." She watched him leave and later found pictures of him online, "kissing and sleeping with his AK-47. And this is a guy who's at my front door in the dark. " Hill contacted people in law enforcement about the late-night visit and the pictures and got no response, which she says is typical. Such harassment is allowed to continue, she said, because of a combination of "neglect by law enforcement and a game of intimidation that is hard to trace. But they send us messages that we understand."

Scribe said...

For some perspective, see this site (there are pages for each state, but I chose Tiller's home state):

The murder of Tiller was a disgrace and should be widely condemned. But this was the first murder of this kind in 11 years — hardly an epidemic.

As the site I've linked to documents, the violence the pro-choice/anti-life brigade perpetrates against other people (not to mention the unborn) is FAR more prolific.

Trouble said...

Scribe, if that's the Human Life International site I've encountered before, it's the most intellectually dishonest, violence-minimising piece of crap I've ever seen. It counts all sorts of random crap as pro-abortion violence, and does not deserve any place in a serious debate. Neither does "only one murder in 11 years". Apart from the fact that there were five in the preceding five years, you sound as if you think there really should have been more, considering.

Scribe said...

I don't know what's going to happen in the states now that the older generation of doctors committed to women's right to choose is aging out of the health care system.


I think you'll find one of the reasons younger doctors/nurses don't want to perform abortions is because of developments in technology such as ultrasound that shows — unequivocally — that there is a human growing inside the womb, not some mass of matter.

Scribe said...


What I'm saying is one murder in 11 years, or six in 16 years if you prefer that statistic, is hardly the epidemic this is being portrayed as by some to promote the anti-life cause.

That's six murders too many, I'll grant you that.

I'd be interested to get people's take on the murder of a US soldier outside a recruitment centre in Arkansas the same day Tiller was killed. A Muslim convert shot and killed the soldier and tried to kill someone else. Obama said nothing, yet issued a statement almost immediately after Tiller's death. Why the contrasting responses?

lauredhel said...

Funny you should bring up that murder, Scribe. The suspect has already been charged with capital murder and 15 counts of "terroristic acts". Spot the difference between that and the Roeder case.

Additionally, you're wrong. Obama has made a statement on that case. Read about it here.

Scribe said...

OK, so he did make a comment eventually. Not within hours, though. It took days for him to respond.

Media coverage was incredibly disproportionate, too. Page 1 in the NYT for Tiller; page 16 for the army murder.

Even the story you linked to exposes the hypocrisy of the two cases.

For many people in the US, the Tiller murder is somehow more heinous that the soldier's murder.

Trouble said...

Scribe, you left out the 17 attempted murders, 179 assaults, 4 kidnappings, 659 bioterror threats, 41 bombings, 175 arsons, and 96 attempted bombings or arsons against abortion providers in the US since 1977. Apart from a handful of strikes with massive casualties, you'd be hard pressed to find a more active terror campaign in the modern US. Maybe the media response was heavy because people think this is a problem?

And you clearly don't know anything about ultrasounds. Come back when you can tell the unequivocal difference between a human embryo at 7 weeks and that of any other mammal. Any other vertebrate, for that matter.