As a Christian, and a pro-life advocate, I am deeply saddened by the murder of Dr. Tiller in Kansas on Sunday, May 31. I am saddened because my belief in the sanctity of life applies to doctors who perform abortions, as well as the babies that they abort. I am saddened that this action will set the pro-life movement back twenty-years. Finally, I am saddened that many diligent, loving, and sacrificial individuals who have been working in the pro-life movement for years will be painted with the broad brush of right-wing radicalism because of one man’s heinous actions.
No doubt Dr. Tiller will become a martyr for pro-choice movement. Many examples are being given of how Dr. Tiller performed “mercy” abortions on young women who had been raped, or whose pregnancies had gone terribly wrong. Dr. Leroy Carhart reflected on these cases as he compared Dr. Tiller’s murder to the assassination of Martin Luther King and the bombing of Pearl Harbor http://washingtontimes.com/news/2009/jun/09/tiller-likened-to-mlk/?feat=home_headlines. Such emotional outcries are exactly what will invigorate the pro-choice movement, a movement that has been losing momentum in the minds of Americans. A recent Gallup poll illustrated that only 22% believed that abortion should be legal under any circumstances http://www.gallup.com/poll/1576/abortion.aspx. This “legal under any circumstances” philosophy was what made Dr. Tiller particularly controversial. Here is his description of the late term abortion procedure his clinic provides:
At Women's Health Care Services, our Fetal Indication Termination of Pregnancy program involves managing the pregnancy by the premature delivery of a stillborn. During this process, we will try to duplicate the natural, safe, and reliable process that nature has developed. Your cervix will be opened over a one to four day period with repeated insertions of sponge-like sticks (laminaria). When your cervix is opened adequately, labor will be induced with naturally occurring hormones, and you will have your delivery under "twilight" sedation. With twilight anesthesia for the labor and delivery most patients do not remember much about the process. Generous amounts of medication are administered during the labor to relieve discomfort. On the first day of the process, an injection of a medication is made into the baby to assure that it will be stillborn and will not experience any discomfort during the procedure. After the delivery, all patients receive a D&C and are usually able to travel the next morning.
I don’t quote to elicit an emotional response from the reader, but simply to show clearly the work that Dr. Tiller did. For the procedure described above, the fee was $6000. This is where my problem with Dr. Tiller arises. He indeed believed that he was helping those who no one else would help and whose circumstances were dire as extraordinary circumstances and fetal abnormalities drove them to seek abortions. New York Times writer Judith Warner tells stories of Dr. Tiller’s heart for women in the crucible of “unique” unwanted pregnancy http://warner.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/george-tiller/. However, Dr. Tiller was not a provider of only these type of abortions, and in his own words in a 1995 speech cited that a scant 8% of the late term abortions he performed involved fetal abnormalities: “We have some experience with late terminations: about 10,000 patients between 24-36 weeks and something like 800 fetal abnormalities between 26-36 weeks in the past 5 years.” The generalization that Dr. Tiller was only helping women who were dealing with complications is false. 92% of the late term abortions that he performed between 1990-1995 had no relation to the potential suffering of the fetus if the pregnancy was carried to term.
Regardless of how Dr. Tiller lived his life, regardless that he chose to perform thousands of abortions where the mother and fetus were perfectly healthy, regardless that he became a very rich man as a result of his work as an abortion provider, he had a right to life, a right to live as he chose under the law, and snuffing out his life in the way that Scott Roeder did is a evil action no different than those committed by Dr. Tiller.
The most important piece that can come out of this tragedy is an examination of the pro-life movement. I believe that the reason that Americans have been moving toward limiting abortion in this country is not because of legal challenges at the state and federal level, and certainly not by protestors standing outside abortion clinics harassing patients that go in or come out, but through the quiet and diligent work of many in the pro-life movement who have opened crisis pregnancy centers, supported them financially, and volunteered their time to work at them. These facilities provide women with options other than abortion. They educate women about the option of adoption; they help single mothers find work and a place to live should they choose to keep the baby. These type of pro-life organizations, that build relationships with the women in crisis, that love them unconditionally, and support them in a time of need and calamity are the organizations that will reduce the frequency of abortion in this country.
Women who choose abortion, usually choose it because they are scared of how their friends, family and unfortunately their respective religious communities will judge them, they don’t have the financial resources to undergo a healthy pregnancy and all its medical requirements, and they don’t know how follow the procedure of carrying the pregnancy full term and giving the baby to a loving family through adoption.
If the 66% of people in this country who call themselves “pro-life” stopped being pro-life only at church, or during election season and took a proactive approach of financial support of crisis pregnancy centers and privately subsidized single mother housing, we would slowly begin to put the abortion clinics out of business. I am not so naïve to say that abortion will be cease to exist, as history has shown that even prohibiting it by law will not eliminate it. However, if we are serious about reducing abortion in this country, let us follow the example of Christ and seek to build relationships with women who are considering it, let us love them in this trying time, let us support them emotionally and financially as they choose life.
The tragedy of Dr. Tiller’s murder and the ensuing reaction from the pro-choice community should invigorate us in the pro-life community to be pro-active with our time, money and abilities to help promote the sanctity of life and help all humanity to choose life in all circumstances not just when it is comfortable and convenient.