From the StopPatriarchy blog:

Ground Zero in Wichita: Dr. George Tiller and the Continued Attack on Women

By an Abortion Rights Freedom Rider from Minnesota | August 12, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


Rally in Wichita: Abortion on Demand and Without ApologyWichita, August 9, 2013.

I have been on this Abortion Rights Freedom Ride (ARFR) for twelve days.  I met up with the riders in Minneapolis; we then traveled to Fargo, North Dakota and Bellevue, Nebraska.  At each stop we met people who recognized that abortion rights are in a state of emergency.  We talked with abortion clinic personnel, groups of free-thinkers and atheists, various members of NOW and other locals who were interested in our banners, our riders, and our message.   Currently we are in Wichita.  This is not just another stop for me.  Events in the past, as well as the tensions of today, add meaning and depth to my time in this city.

Most people know the story:  On May 31, 2009, Dr. George Tiller, one of the very few doctors who still preformed late-term abortions, was shot and killed in his Wichita church.    Dr. Tiller’s wife, Jeanne, was in the choir at the time. The Wichita police arrested Scott Roeder of Merriam, Kansas.  Roeder, a member of the anti-abortion terrorist group Operation Rescue, was subsequently found guilty of murder and two counts of aggravated assault for threatening other church members with a gun.  He was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole for fifty years.

The murder of Dr. George Tiller brought into focus a number of horrifying realities.  First, it became clear that the idea of abortion was, indeed, under attack.  Although many fought for and won the right to safe and legal abortion in the early 1970s (Roe v Wade, 1973), the social and political climate now denounced this right, calling it the “murder of an unborn child” rather than the reasoned choice of a woman.  This twisted logic seemed to justify the murder of an abortion provider and whipped anti-abortion fanatics into a frenzy.

Second, it made public the continuing war on women.  Pundits, protestors, and politicos spoke with newfound authority, as if they were better able to decide what was best for women facing unwanted pregnancy.  While doing research for her documentary, The Coat Hanger Project, Angie Young encountered many of these attitudes as she talked to crowds of anti-abortion zealots. It became apparent, she writes, that “[their] arguments were unself-reflectively steeped in misogynistic, patriarchal notions of power and control.”1

Finally, the murder of Dr. Tiller was a national offense.  Although events unfolded in Wichita, this was not a local or isolated incident.   This murder was part of a national attack on abortion; not just ideologically but directly.  Anti-abortion extremists had murdered providers and clinic personnel across the country.  Clinics had been bombed and burned.  Women entering clinics had been harassed, attacked, and intimidated.  One attacker poured acid in a Florida clinic doorway; another vandalized an Indiana abortion clinic with an ax; in 2006 and 2009, two different people drove cars into clinics; one in Michigan, the other in Minnesota.  The list goes on and on.  The murder of Dr. George Tiller was not isolated nor was it simply a random action in Wichita.  It was part of a larger assault on abortion and on women. 

The murder of Dr. Tiller in 2009 was a turning point for me.  I close my eyes and I can still see the headlines; I can picture the candlelight vigils held in his honor all around the country; I can recall the shocking messages shouted by the antis as they tried to justify this hateful crime.  Coming to Wichita disturbs me profoundly.  In this place I feel both the horror of the past and the outrage of the present.  The case was tried and the murderer sentenced, but we have not yet begun to address the reality of this crime.  The murder of Dr. Tiller reflects a hate, violence, and misogyny that still exists in America today.  This is not a Wichita crime, it is not a local complication, and it is far from over.

People around the world travel to New York City to pay their respects at Ground Zero, the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Some mourn quietly while others are vocal. Although each has their own interpretation, their pilgrimage is both personal and public.  The terrorist attacks reflect something huge, tragic, painful and ugly.  Clearly this was not just a New York City tragedy, nor is it a thing of the past. 

Wichita is Ground Zero for me.  It is something huge, tragic, painful and ugly.  It is personal and it is public.  With the other Abortion Rights Freedom Riders I hope to honor the memory of Dr. Tiller but also remind others of the continuing crisis in America.  Abortion rights are under attack; these attacks are part of a larger war against women; and although there are local flashpoints, these attacks are part of a national assault. The worst thing we can do is nothing. Look for the Freedom Riders, on the streets or online, and join in the fight.

1. Angie Young, “Abortion, Ideology, and the Murder of George Tiller,” Feminist Studies, Inc. Volume 32: No 2. (Summer 2009): 418. [back]

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