No matter where you stand in your beliefs about the ethics and politics of abortion, the death of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita indicates what a sad and scary place our country is in over this issue.
If you are a person who is against abortion, you might be feeling the strain of having a pro-choice president in office or fearful that new legislation and restored funding will send dollars and attention to medical services you do not agree should be available or legal.
If you are a person who believes in abortion rights, you may have some relief that our current administration is being led by someone of like mind. However, you may also be aware that violent attacks and threats against abortion patients have previously skyrocketed as soon as a pro-choice president took office.
So here we all are, nervous. And I wonder how many of us are asking the same question: Why does a "pro-life" protest have to turn deadly?
This question is not a new one, but it is the one I keep coming back to. Perhaps I can't understand why people who claim abortion is murder can justify murdering someone outside the womb. And perhaps because this is the thinking of extremists, I will not ever understand.
It's the question making its rounds as the details of how 67-year-old Dr. George Tiller was gunned down yesterday and a suspect was jailed today. Tiller, called "a lightning rod for abortion opponents for decades" because he was one of only three doctors in the United States to terminate pregnancies after 21 weeks. Tiller, who began his career as a Navy surgeon with intentions of becoming a dermatologist, inherited his father's family practice when his family was killed in a plane crash in 1970. Tiller then learned his father had been performing illegal abortions, and once Roe v. Wade passed in 1973, he began providing legal abortions to patients.
Tiller and his women's health clinic were the target of many protests over the years. While many of those were civil protests, others were jarringly violent. In 1985, Tiller's clinic was bombed. In 1991, an anti-abortion organization led thousands of demonstrators to Wichita, resulting in mass arrests. In 1993, a protester shot the doctor in both arms. In the mid-90s, Tiller's name was found on an assassination list by federal authorities. It is not a surprise that Tiller and his staff were protected by federal marshalls, bodyguards, and bulletproof glass.
What's sad is that all of that was not enough to keep Tiller safe. What's even sadder is that he was killed in his church, while ushering at a Sunday service, when the walls and security and defenses were clearly down.
If it is possible to contribute to changes in the system by voting, lobbying for new legislation, writing op-eds, petitioning, or finding other ways to peacefully protest, why did it in this instance -- and in these equally disturbing attacks -- come down to violently taking a life?
Could it be because:
* as this blogger outlines, Obama is in office, and his pro-choice stance fuels anti-abortion rhetoric which, in turn escalates threats to clinics and patients and ignites acts of violence against providers?
* this is an emotional issue to contend with on both sides. But if the emotion is stripped, whether it is the heartache of making the choice to terminate or the realities of choosing to continue on with a pregnancy, it opens the door for otherwise unthinkable acts?
* there are simply extremist individuals who unfortunately "represent" all those people who are against abortion in their moments of irrational, fatal protest?
* we need to hear more middle-ground reproductive rights discussion, and not let acts and people like this speak for one side?
* of God? Or because of a lack of faith?
* we are more concerned about global terrorism than the terrorism in our own backyard?
* each bit of rhetoric builds and ups the ante for ways to stop abortion from happening in this country?
* there are more people than we know, or even want to believe, who believe activism equals assassination? Who believe that vigilantism is acceptable in this fight?
Could it be any of these reasons being cast out online today as we shake our heads at the loss of a doctor, who was not just an abortion provider but also husband, father, grandfather, colleague, boss, political lobbyist, church member? Or as we and reevaluate how we ourselves are activists -- or simply acting out -- around the issue of abortion?
Will we ever get to the place where abortion can be debated and disagreed upon without bombs and guns and bloodshed?
- Abortion, from a doctor's perspective
- The Plan B debate
- Would you give a gift certificate to Planned Parenthood?
[photo credit: Getty Images via Yahoo! News]