Dr. Tiller helped women in their darkest hours


POSTED: Sunday, June 07, 2009

“;Late-term abortion provider”; or “;abortion doctor”; are the more neutral terms used to describe Dr. George Tiller, the physician shot dead last Sunday as he handed out newsletters during morning services at the Kansas church where he and his wife regularly worshipped.

Other brandings aren't as dispassionate: “;most notorious abortionist,”; the rhyming “;Tiller the killer”; and its specific variant “;Tiller the baby killer.”;

Neutrality has never been the primary characteristic in the discussion about abortion.

Nastiness, on the other hand, has become the strategy of many groups and individuals who oppose a woman's liberty to make choices about her body and health.

Soon after issuing denials about the suspected killer's possible connections to them, leaders of various anti-abortion factions turned their attentions to self-interest. They wrung their hands over how a backlash would hurt fundraising. They fretted that their intent to raise abortion as a key issue in the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor might be frustrated. They worried that their movement might suffer because of the assassination.

“;No one,”; said anti-abortion activist, the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, “;should use this tragedy for political gain.”;

To be fair, Mahoney and religious leaders like him condemned the murder, but it is troubling that the murder of a human being, seen through the “;right to life”; lens, quickly became transformed into a problem for a crusade.

Abortion rights groups also took advantage of the situation to push their agenda. They did not, however, broadly criticize their opponents. Instead, they emphasized how Tiller's killing had eliminated one of the few doctors who are willing and adequately skilled in performing late-term abortions, leaving women with fewer options for medical care.

There is nothing pleasant about abortion, even in the early stages of a fetus's development. The heartache becomes even more intense when a woman must decide to end her baby's life as the child moves closer to term.

By most accounts, nearly all the abortions Tiller performed were done because the pregnancy jeopardized the mother's health or because the fetus was deformed or had developed disorders and likely would have died while in the womb or soon after birth.

Many of the expectant mothers were eager to have a child, but discovered late in their pregnancies their babies could not thrive. Some had to choose between saving their own lives or ending their baby's, like the woman who needed chemotherapy to treat her cancer, but could not have it because she was pregnant. Others were young girls, victims of rape or of incest.

Anti-abortion activists heralded a recent poll, conducted before Tillman was gunned down, noting that 51 percent of adults questioned identified themselves as “;pro-life”; while 42 percent said they were “;pro-choice.”;

But it doesn't matter what other people think or believe.

They don't count when a woman—along with her husband, boyfriend or partner, if there is one—decides whether to have a child, adopt one or let theirs be adopted, or to have an abortion.

It is purely, simply a private choice.

Cynthia Oi can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).