That’s the first bit of news I saw when I logged on this morning.
Details are just emerging–hence the brevity of the AP story–but early reports say that Dr. George Tiller, a doctor in Kansas who provides abortions (among other women’s health services), was gunned down in the lobby of his church this morning as he walked in for Sunday services. Inside his church.
Dr. Tiller was horribly harassed over the years, and survived a previous attempt on his life in 1993, when a rightwing anti-choice fanatic shot him in both arms. He recovered from that, and bravely continued to operate his women’s clinic in Wichita, Kansas–a state where abortion services for women are extremely scarce.
One wonders, yet again, at the paradox of this particular group of fanatics. They profess to be pro-life, but encourage, incite, act out and rejoice in the violent murder of these doctors. They are encouraged, incredibly, by prominent rightwing media personalities. These are not regional DJs who exist on the fringe, but nationally syndicated voices like Bill O’Reilly, who targeted Tiller specifically and repeatedly over the last few years, making horrible accusations that were never backed up by facts. O’Reilly, you are partially responsible for Dr. Tiller’s murder this morning.
I’ve seen this up close to a degree I’d rather never have experienced. I was living in Pensacola, Florida attending graduate school when two abortion doctors there were gunned down: Dr. David Gunn in 1993, just a few blocks from my parents’ home, and Dr. John Britton in 1994. I happened to drive by the clinic just minutes after Dr. Britton’s murder, and saw Paul Hill–who’d been quite visible protesting on the sidewalk in front of the clinic for months–being taken into custody. In both those cases, the doctors and the clinics had been targets of relentless harassment; the clinics vandalized (even bombed, in the notorious Christmas morning firebombing in 1984), and patients screamed at and browbeaten.
Nobody was particularly surprised by any of these murders, and I’m sure most are not surprised at Tiller’s murder this morning. The protesters and zealots clearly telegraph their intentions, and are boosted and egged on by the angry voices on rightwing talk radio and across the internet. I remember seeing Hill, day after day, in front of the clinic in Pensacola, and feeling my stomach knot up every time, knowing that he would eventually act out violently. And so he did.
The bravery of these doctors cannot be underestimated. They provide vital services in all too dwindling numbers to women in need. Whether you agree with it or not, whether you like it or not, abortion is legal in this country and should be safe and available to the women who need it. It should be a private matter, and women should not be forced to endure the screams and threats so many are subjected to when they try to enter women’s clinics. And neither should the doctors who serve them.
Tiller apparently was targeted because he was one of the few doctors who provided late-term abortions, a procedure that has been incorrectly and hyperbolically labeled “partial-birth abortion,” which is not a medical term but a political one. When one considers that fewer than two percent of all abortions that are performed fall after the 20-week mark, it’s difficult to be outraged, and so the right is left with only empty arguments based on nothing but emotion. Sadly, that seems to be their approach to most of their positions lately.
In the weeks leading up to his murder, the threats and intimidation intensified. Earlier this month, his clinic was vandalized; according to AP reports, the wiring to security cameras and exterior lights were cut, the roof was broken through, and the downspouts plugged so that the interior of the clinic was severely flooded. One can only imagination the resignation and determination that Tiller surely felt as he refused to be frightened away by these hyper-violent zealots.
As of now, police reportedly have a license plate number and description of the shooter’s car, and hopefully will capture him soon. Let us hope he (or she) isn’t harbored by sympathizers as Eric Rudolph was for so many years. This is our very own home-grown form of terrorism; there is no other way to describe it. And it needs to be addressed as such.
And beyond that, let us fervently hope that the hatred and the violence can somehow be tamped down; for that, the clamoring voices of hate on the right need to take responsibility for what they’ve nurtured and tone the rhetoric way, way down. For that, there is very little hope, but hope I will.