Revolution #167, June 7, 2009

As We Go to Press:

On the Assassination of Caring, Courageous, Abortion Provider, Dr. George Tiller

As we go to press, the news has broken that Dr. George Tiller, one of the few doctors in the country to openly and publicly perform late-term abortions, was assassinated while attending Sunday services in Wichita, Kansas. His wife, Jeanne Tiller, was in the choir at the time of the murder.

Dr. Tiller was a courageous, caring doctor who risked his life every day to make it possible for women to have late-term abortions. He had every understanding of what risks he was taking in doing so. He survived a previous assassination attempt in 1993 when he was shot in both arms by Shelly Shannon, a so-called “pro-life” activist. Dr. Tiller returned to work the next day. Over three plus decades of providing abortions, his church was picketed and he was harassed at home. His clinic was bombed. He was hounded by a grand jury investigation, and faced criminal prosecution. In March of this year a Wichita jury took just 45 minutes to acquit Dr. Tiller of charges that he performed 19 illegal late-term abortions in 2003.

In the face of all this, Dr. Tiller never bent in his commitment to the right of any woman, in any circumstance, to choose whether or not to have an abortion. In 1993, Dr. Tiller said in a statement: “It is not unplanned pregnancy, it is unwanted motherhood that shipwrecks people’s lives. Make no mistake, this battle is about self-determination by women of the direction and course of their lives and their family’s lives. Abortion is about women’s hopes and dreams. Abortion is a matter of survival for women.”

Debra Sweet, Director of World Can’t Wait, told Revolution that Dr. Tiller was “someone who women could go to in very stressful circumstances, and not find him judgmental.” And she said, “This is a huge blow. Nobody’s doing what he was doing. I’ve known people from all over the country who have gone to him, and doctors from all over the country refer to him because there is no one else. This was the place women could go, as a last resort, even into the third trimester. This is the single most important doctor doing abortions in the country. His view was that he was saving women’s lives by doing this, and he continued doing it even knowing that his own life was at risk.”

At a pro-choice rally in 2001 in Wichita, Emily Lyons—a nurse who was seriously injured in an anti-abortion bombing of a Birmingham abortion clinic in 1998—spoke about the inspiration she got from Dr. Tiller: “Not only have I been in a war, but gone to hell and come back,” she told the rally. “There are heroes in every war,” she continued, “and Dr. Tiller is one of mine. Many would not have the courage to do what he has accomplished.”

Mary Lou Greenberg, of the Revolutionary Communist Party, met Dr. Tiller when she helped organize the Wichita protests to defend his clinic and abortion rights in 1995 and again in 2001. She described him as “a very gentle person, who was determined to assist women, and very warm in his manner.” She told Revolution about the impact of seeing the walls of his clinic, lined with framed letters of appreciation, from women of all ages and circumstances. She remembers one, which read, “Thank you for giving me back my life.”

Dr. Tiller’s defiance, his caring spirit, his commitment to a woman’s right to an abortion, and his sacrifice must serve as a challenge to all those who would not see women reduced to enslavement as forced child-breeders. Revolution will have more to say about the murder of Dr. Tiller and the battle for abortion rights in future issues. But today, we mourn with outrage the loss of this heroic, compassionate abortion doctor.


People should attend vigils, protests, and other events that are being planned to remember George Tiller and speak out against his murder.


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