Skip to content

“Summer of Justice” recap

Hot.

The so-called “Summer of Justice” protest week was…hot.

Wichita, Kansas, site of the original 1991 so-called “Summer of Mercy” protests, for which these protests were intended to be an anniversary celebration and renewal, has been experiencing a heat wave. Not exactly unusual for the third week in July. But that’s the week chosen by Rusty Thomas, director of Operation Save America, who went on to say “I pray what God began in 1991, he’s going to complete in 2016.”

Not being God, I can only offer my own view: I hope the “completed” part is true.

Wouldn’t that be nice? Last Thursday, during the protest week, David S. Cohen, co-author of the new book Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism, gave a talk at a local bookstore. He told the stories of abortion providers who have been harassed, threatened, and in some cases outright attacked in the decades since Roe v. Wade was decided.

He told us of doctors, medical assistants, clinic owners, and volunteers who have been forced to wear disguises and take alternate routes to work because of threats, whose children have been stalked at school, and in one case had her personal information including home address published in a “newsletter” that was distributed to pro-life prisoners currently serving time. Yes, pro-life violent criminals were informed, during their prison sentence, that the only way to stop abortionists is with a bullet and by the way, here’s one of their home addresses.

At this point, I had already contacted Trust Women to express a desire to do something to help during the upcoming anniversary protest. Operation Save America had been kind enough to publish an anticipated schedule for the week, including speakers (note the gender of all involved), and I wanted to be useful in some way during what would surely be a stressful time for both South Wind Women’s Center (Dr. George Tiller’s former clinic: see this post and this post) and the Planned Parenthood central Wichita location.

I’ve gone to this Planned Parenthood location several times, with a positive experience each time. But security is something of a concern. At the Repro Rally on July 9, Planned Parenthood was accepting volunteers to act as escorts from the parking lot to the door of the clinic. South Wind, by contrast, has a secure private parking lot, which is something of a luxury in that it doesn’t seem to be very common for clinics that provide abortion services (though it should, in my humble view, be ubiquitous and government-funded).

So my initial question for Trust Women/South Wind was whether they’d like support in the form of counter-protest, and was told no– actually, engaging the protesters would be counter productive. But maybe I could be a legal observer?  A legal observer’s job is to observe, obviously, via your eyes and ears and video recording device and camera and notepad and however else you can notice, record, and document what’s going on. Not being a confrontational person (to put it lightly), this seemed to me an ideal way to help out.  What, you mean I don’t have to shout at people who hate me?  I can just be present, and pay attention? Sign me up!

So I was signed up. I got trained. I met some really cool people in the process, whose identities I won’t give here for privacy’s sake, but I can say this: Everybody cared. Everybody wanted to do something to defend the right to an abortion on the ground, against an onslaught of people who want to attack it on that level.

But we weren’t fighting– we were explicitly not fighting. That, of course, didn’t stop protesters from approaching us, once they figured out that we weren’t part of their group. We didn’t make it blatantly obvious, of course– no pro-choice t-shirts or signs. Just some people wandering around, watching, who were distinguished somewhat by the fact that we weren’t wearing t-shirts with big crosses on them or waving signs.

I trained on one day, and observed on two days following that. The protesters who approached me, on both days, were always men. Men over the age of 35, of varying degrees of politeness ranging from “Have a nice day” to “What you’re doing is evil, and I hope you know that.”

The number of signs and slogans that co-opted Black Lives Matter, and the wider movement against police racism and brutality, was astonishing.

No one, to my knowledge, was arrested. There was ample police presence, and the police officers were friendly to everyone. From what I observed they didn’t interact much with either the protesters or the legal observers. I was profoundly grateful for their presence– for obvious reasons, but also because it made my job decidedly easier.

So let’s talk about that now. Let’s talk about how last Saturday, the final day of the protest, I was observing until the official end, and I observed several protesters walk up to police officers and thank them for not arresting them. The “Thank you” part is great– no issue with that.  The “…for not arresting us” part is slightly different.

Pro-life protesters: They weren’t not arresting you because they’re nice, or because they respect or agree with you. They weren’t arresting you because, for the most part, you weren’t breaking the law.

The police are not on a crusade to arrest the virtuous pro-lifer at the behest of the evil abortion provider– they’re there to enforce the law, and the abortion providers and volunteers are happy to see them do it.  Due to the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act, protesters may not physically prevent doctors or other clinic personnel from entering the clinic, and you did not do that. You just shouted at them, with microphones and amplifiers. For the most part, you stayed where it was legal to stay. That is why you didn’t get arrested.

Freedom of speech protects your right to gather in groups and tell lies on the sidewalk. For better or for worse.

And boy, were there a lot of lies.

I often wonder about how the pro-life movement would look if everyone, nationwide, actually understood what abortion is.

When I see a pro-life lie about abortion, I have long since stopped thinking in terms of “liars for Jesus,” because there’s one critical problem with admonishing people for their supposed hypocrisy in violating one of the Ten Commandments in the name of their faith: You cannot lie if you don’t know what you’re saying is untrue. And I honestly don’t think they know.  They haven’t ever been taught the truth, so they don’t know that what they’re proclaiming is a lie.

Ignorance is the greatest enemy of human rights.

These people think that Planned Parenthood sells baby parts.

These people think there is such a thing as “post abortive syndrome,” where women who get abortions find themselves in a state of long-lasting regret and even self-destructive behavior afterward.

These people think that women get abortions because they are promiscuous, lazy, and/or selfish.

These people think that abortion harms/risks your body in ways that pregnancy and giving birth do not.

These people think that providing abortion services for minorities, who, due to poverty, are in greater need of abortion services, is racist.

These people preach against homosexuality and birth control at the same time as abortion, because they think “be fruitful and multiply” is a God-given mandate.

These people think that “viable” means a fetus is a healthy baby.

These people think banning abortion would end the killing of babies, rather than resume the killing and imprisonment of women.

These people think that abortion providers, people receiving abortions, and people defending the right to abortion don’t know what they’re doing. They think we don’t know what abortion is.

Ignorance really is the greatest enemy of human rights.

Good luck, Indiana

Your governor is a monster.

So’s mine, of course– my governor is Sam Brownback, after all. But yours might be even worse.

Why’s that? Well, because on Thursday Indiana’s Governor Mike Pence signed into law a bill that makes abortion illegal in the event that a woman seeks one because of fetal disability– any kind of fetal disability– and framed it as “a comprehensive pro-life measure that affirms the value of all human life.” As the worst monsters always do, he depicted a heinous attack on human rights as a righteous act.

Before I go into what’s so horrible about this bill, I want to first acknowledge that it’s almost certainly blatantly unconstitutional. To my knowledge, there is no legal basis for banning abortions that would otherwise be legal based on the reason a woman wants one. And Indiana’s law doesn’t just ban abortions performed because of fetal disability– it also bans abortions based on the race, color, national origin, ancestry, or sex of the fetus. Abortion was deemed a fundamental right in Roe v. Wade, and fundamental rights can’t be abridged based on a person’s motive for exercising them. One would think.

Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, made a great comment about the specifications of the bill: “They basically took non-discrimination language and made it an abortion ban.”  It’s always fun when conservatives pretend to care about diversity and egalitarianism purely for the sake of trying to make liberals look like hypocrites. What’s not fun is that this tactic is often remarkably effective, because on first blush a liberal might fully agree that women shouldn’t abort based on any of those factors. After all, none of these traits are the kid’s fault!  They’re circumstances of birth!

Yeah, well…there’s a problem there. Because we’re not talking about a kid. We’re not talking about about circumstances of birth, because we’re not talking about someone about someone who has been born. A fetus that is aborted will never experience discrimination, because that fetus will not experience anything. A fetus does not care why it was aborted, because a fetus doesn’t care about anything. The result of abortion is the same for every fetus, regardless of why the abortion occurred.

If we agree that a fetus is not a person (in the legal sense), then the fetus has no rights.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, the right to privacy, or the right not to be discriminated against (which, again, social conservatives don’t generally support in the first place)– non-people do not have rights.

If we don’t agree that a fetus isn’t a person, which is to say, you think they are people…then every abortion is equally murder. Reasons don’t matter. We don’t just ban murders that take place because of discrimination– they’re illegal regardless.  So in that respect, passing a law that forbids abortion for discriminatory reasons is implicitly acknowledging that fetuses aren’t people.

That said, let’s get into the specific ramifications of this law, and why you’d have to be an utter sadist to support it.

1. The “disability” portion of the law forces women who know that their fetus has any sort of disability, including the ones it is very unlikely to survive, to carry their pregnancy to term. Imagine being pregnant and finding out that the being growing inside of you has anencephaly, meaning that it’s missing part of its brain, and is certain to die either before or immediately after birth. Imagine learning this in your first trimester. Imagine having no choice about whether to continue this pregnancy, because your governor wanted to “affirm the value of all human life.” Except, apparently, yours.

Because in addition to the emotional torture presented by the scenario above, being forced to continue such a pregnancy presents health risks for the pregnant woman. Brownsyne Tucker-Edmonds, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Indianapolis, commented of the bill that

It will require a woman, during one of the most devastating times in her life after learning of a fetal anomaly, to prolong her pregnancy even if against her wishes, and to potentially assume the greater health risks associated with doing so. Some women have cases in which the risk of death during a full-term pregnancy is more than 14 times higher than for a termination of pregnancy. 

2.  Even if the disability is not as severe as anencephaly, something with good chances of survival for years beyond birth, how many of these women can afford to care for a disabled child?  The second most-cited reason for abortion is the woman’s inability to afford a baby.  And that’s assuming a baby without disabilities.  The value of life for a disabled person, much as proponents of this law might claim otherwise, is not at issue here.

Rather, the cold, hard fact is that if a woman considers herself unable to afford having a “normal” child, then she’s probably quite a long distance from being able to care for a disabled one.  And– big shocker here, I know— Indiana’s House Enrolled Act 1337 does not come accompanied by a comprehensive provision for generous public assistance to the women it forces into this position.

3. Under this law, doctors face a wrongful death lawsuit if they perform an abortion for a woman who requests one after learning about a pregnancy complication.  That’s certainly likely to improve relations and communication between doctors and their patients, right?

….No:

Hal Lawrence, chief executive of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said the group, comprising roughly 30,000 doctors nationwide, strongly opposes the law because it could encourage a patient to withhold information from her doctor. A woman who, for example, learned her fetus carried a severe disability may pursue an abortion from an out-of-state provider and then, out of fear, skip follow-up care from her regular doctor. “She shouldn’t be under legal duress when she came back to where she lived,” said Lawrence, who practiced gynecology for 30 years. “Patients need postpartum or postoperative care. They need to be counseled for contraception. Discouraging that is highly destructive.”

4. The law effectively bans fetal tissue research. Not that clinics in Indiana participate in such currently, but this will sure prevent them from considering the idea.  And that’s because…

5. The law requires that all fetal remains, whether from abortion or even from an early miscarriage, be buried or cremated.

Normally when a pregnancy ends earlier than 20 weeks, the “products of conception” (fetal tissue and the placenta) are treated like any other medical waste. After 20 weeks, the fetus is considered a “stillbirth” and the parents typically have the option to cremate or bury it if they choose. So even if a woman has a miscarriage at 8 weeks of pregnancy at home, under this law she could be required to keep the blood and tissue, take it to a hospital, and have it buried or cremated by a funeral home. Abortion providers will probably have to take on extra costs and administrative burdens for all of those extra burials and cremations, and those costs would probably get passed on to the patients.

Then what happens if you abort or miscarry, but can’t afford to have the fetus buried or cremated?  If it’s an abortion, it sounds like you might not be able to get one at all.  If a miscarriage, well….I guess you’re just screwed.

So yeah, Indiana, this is what your governor has gotten you into. Did he think it through?  No, almost certainly not– all he saw was an opportunity to look like a virtuous pro-lifer, at the expense of every woman, and by extension most men, in the state.

Again, good luck. And I’m so sorry.

They’re coming back

Operation Save America, the successor to Operation Rescue, has announced that they’re returning to Wichita for a “Summer of Mercy” anniversary tour. The city is reportedly unenthused.

Hundreds of people from around the country are expected to converge in Wichita this summer for a week of anti-abortion rallies, protests and prayer vigils marking the 25th anniversary of the “Summer of Mercy” campaign. “Some of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life happened right here in Wichita,” said Rusty Thomas, director of Operation Save America, an anti-abortion group based in Waco, Texas. “What I’m writing in my brochure is: ‘Some of you were there. This is our reunion.’” Operation Save America is a successor to Operation Rescue, whose 46-day “Summer of Mercy” campaign in 1991 resulted in nearly 2,700 arrests as protesters blocked access to clinics where abortions were performed. This summer, July 16-23, the group plans to partner with local churches to organize protests against abortion. Its agenda includes “street activities” outside South Wind Women’s Center, a clinic operating at George Tiller’s former practice on East Kellogg, Thomas said. “There’s a proverb that says, ‘We make our plans but God directs our steps,’ ” he said. “We go to these evil places and address that evil and hopefully overcome it and set the captive free.”

Except there are no captives that need to be set free, and there won’t be, ironically, until Operation Save America comes to town and resumes their place caterwauling in the street and generally making life miserable for abortion providers and patients, but accomplishing nothing else. Which is as much as they accomplished the first time in 1991.

In a post discussing the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in 2009, reporter Mary Mapes reflected on the protest:

These “rescuers” — sweaty mobs of zombie-like true believers — swarmed across the street in front of the clinic like angry ants. They crawled over the hot asphalt toward his office on their hands and knees. They collapsed onto the stairs, chained themselves to the fence, shrieked prayers and threats and bellowed the Biblical equivalent of evil spells at anyone who approached the place. They fell lifelessly to the ground, some of them swooning and crashing spectacularly to earth. When I went to Wichita to cover this, I thought I would be assigned there for a day or two. But this became more than a single protest. It turned out to be the birthplace of heartland civil disobedience against abortion and it went on and on and on.

The New York Times reported:

For nearly three weeks now, this city has become the most vivid symbol of an emboldened anti-abortion movement as members of Operation Rescue focus on the city’s three abortion clinics, flinging themselves under cars, sitting by the hundreds at clinic doorways and blocking women from entering as they read them Scripture. The confrontations have resulted in more than 1,600 arrests and the closing of all three abortion clinics for more than a week in late July. The city has had to assign nearly a quarter of its police force to control the protests, and a Federal judge earlier this week ordered Federal marshals to keep the clinics open. The confrontations show no sign of abating, and some doctors have had to perform abortions in the predawn hours to avoid disruption. Leaders of the protest say they plan to stay indefinitely. 

As a Wichitan who witnessed the protests in 1991 (though I was in middle school at the time) and who lives here now, there’s one word that describes my immediate feeling about this: dread.

Caught in a TRAP

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard arguments for Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. This case involves the claim that two laws create an undue burden on the right of a woman to obtain an abortion in the state of Texas. One of the laws requires that doctors at abortion clinics have admitting privileges at a hospital 30 miles from the clinic, and the other that clinics be expensively retrofitted to become “ambulatory surgical centers,” or ASCs.

Laws like this are referred to as TRAP laws, which stands for Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, because they involve imposing regulations on abortion providers in the name of “protecting womens’ health” that are far and away more stringent than regulations for other more dangerous medical procedures, and these laws have the effect of putting clinics out of business because they cannot afford to remodel, relocate, and/or rebuild in order to conform to such unreasonably high standards.

I read the arguments last night and made the experience more enjoyable by live-tweeting my favorite bits along the way. The transcript is available here, and Dahlia Lithwick of Slate also did a very good run-down of the proceedings here.  The justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan all did an amazing job tearing apart the argument that effectively regulating abortion clinics out of business is permissible if a state sees fit to do so.  Near the end of the arguments (pg. 72), Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller tries to claim that because the regulations are on the clinics, they do not represent a threat to a woman’s rights, to which Ruth Bader Ginsburg replies:

But this is about — what it’s about is that a woman has a fundamental right to make this choice for herself. That’s what we sought as the starting premise. And then this is certainly about –­­ Casey –­­ Casey made that plain, that it — ­­the focus is on the woman, and it has to be on the segment of women who are affected.

She’s right– a freedom is meaningless if there is no way to exercise it.  Women obviously can’t and shouldn’t perform their own abortions (though a disturbingly high number have tried to do just this in Texas, due to clinic inaccessibility), so if they are to exercise their right to have one, the state must not place obstacles in the way which serve no purpose except to inhibit them from doing so.

It’s my Grand Old Party and I’ll lie if I want to (even if it leads to terrorism)

The claim that abortion is baby-murder hasn’t worked.

More Americans are now pro-choice than pro-life. Most Americans also support the federal government continuing to fund Planned Parenthood, knowing that some Planned Parenthood clinics provide abortions. There could be many reasons for that.

Maybe they know that abortions are only 3% of the services Planned Parenthood provides, and that most of its work is actually about providing contraception, STI testing, pap smears, breast exams, etc., and they think that these benefits for the entire country are worth it.

Maybe they know that because of the Hyde Amendment, it’s illegal to use federal funding for abortions except for circumstances involving incest, rape, and/or saving the life of the woman, so concluding that funding Planned Parenthood = funding abortions is a non-starter.

Maybe they think it’s great that Planned Parenthood provides even a small number of abortions and find the Hyde Amendment an unnecessary impediment standing in the way of providing a costly procedure for frequently low-income patients.

But whatever the reason, it apparently has convinced conservative-leaning America to step up its game when it comes to the attack on women’s’ reproductive rights.  Now it’s not just about right-wing talk show hosts lying that abortion kills babies.

Now it’s about GOP presidential candidates lying that Planned Parenthood solicits ignorant women to get abortions so that it may profit off the sale of the “babies'” organs. Now it’s about those candidates swearing up and down during a debate to have witnessed video of one of these aborted babies with a beating heart, kicking its legs while a Planned Parenthood employee off camera talks about keeping it alive so that they can harvest its brain.

Never mind that it wasn’t a video from Planned Parenthood. Never mind that there’s no voice talking about keeping it alive and harvesting its brain. Never mind that it probably wasn’t even from an abortion, but rather a miscarriage.

No, let’s vote to freeze federal funding for an organization that prevents 516,000 unplanned pregnancies a year.
Let’s launch inquiries in multiple red states into Planned Parenthood’s practices in an effort to defund it on a local level.
Let’s call Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards into a hearing before Congress and interrupt her testimony repeatedly, cutting her off forty-four times as she tries to speak.

It makes me think of this cartoon that Barry Deutsch drew after the murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, committed by anti-abortion terrorist Scott Roeder:

Only now, the man screaming accusations stands for the entire Republican party, including its presidential candidates.

And the acts of terrorism include:

Guess what, GOP? This is what you’ve created.

I wish I could believe it was unintentional.

Conservative fantasy vs. reality, pt. 3

I took the “most likely” out, because this is just reality.

Dan Lietha’s comic about Planned Parenthood:

My response:

The facts:

  • Planned Parenthood services help prevent approximately 516,000 unintended pregnancies each year.
  • Planned Parenthood provides nearly 400,000 Pap tests and nearly 500,000 breast exams each year, critical services in detecting cancer.
  • Planned Parenthood provides nearly 4.5 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including 700,00 HIV tests.
  • Three percent of all Planned Parenthood health services are abortion services.

This means, I would point out, that Planned Parenthood prevents far, far more abortions than it helps to provide, by preventing so many unwanted pregnancies. But I would also point out that there is no number of abortions that counts as “too many.” Abortion should be safe, legal, and accessible. It’s just so sad, so devastatingly sad, for people to think that they’re curbing unwanted pregnancies by cutting funding to Planned Parenthood. They are not.

I often wonder if people who rail against Planned Parenthood– overwhelmingly male– have ever set foot in one. Have they ever discussed their services, and the experience of receiving them, with a girlfriend, wife, sister, mother, or female friend?

I’ve been to Planned Parenthood many times, in Texas and then in Kansas. I spent a long time without health insurance, and that was the best and easiest way to get the care that I needed. Every woman over 25 should receive a cervical cancer screening, or pap smear, once a year– they’re commonly called a “yearly” for a reason.

Along with a yearly exam you get your blood pressure taken, an STD test if you elect to have one, and a consultation with a doctor about birth control options. Depending on the services offered by the Planned Parenthood you visit, you can walk out with either the birth control itself (priced based on a sliding scale, depending on income) or a referral for where to get it.

I’m watching the second GOP debate while writing this. I’m honestly convinced that no Republican candidate for president gives a damn about any of this. I find it quite easy to believe, in fact, that they don’t care about female reproductive health needs at all, except when it comes to persuading women to have babies.

We are not baby machines.
We are equal.
We deserve autonomy.

Pages from a pregnancy crisis center manual

I currently live in Wichita, Kansas. It’s where I was born and raised.

I moved away for college, and then elsewhere for the rest of college, and then out of the country for grad school, and then back to the states and back to Wichita. It’s a good city in which to be a kid or adult, but in various ways the city has continually been linked with one thing in my mind: abortion.

The so-called Summer of Mercy occurred in Wichita in 1991, when I was in middle school. Two years later Shelley Shannon shot Dr. George Tiller, provider of late-term abortions, five times while he was sitting in his car. In 2009 Scott Roeder succeeded in assassinating Tiller at Reformation Lutheran, my family’s church. Now, South Wind Women’s Center has arisen, in the face of continued difficulty, in Dr. Tiller’s former clinic, managed by Julie Burkhart. Last year, my mom and I attended their one-year anniversary party.

That’s a condensed history of my personal associations between Wichita and abortion rights, in order to provide some background for the significance of something I found on my walk this morning.

I found some pages to an instructional manual for A Better Choice, a Catholic “pregnancy crisis” clinic in Wichita. PDF available here.

Walking by the grocery store, I saw a piece of paper on the wet sidewalk, and stopped to read what it said:

“Huh,” I thought. Took a picture, and kept walking.

Then, I found three more pages. Print on both sides. These I carefully picked up, folded, and took with me. Those are the pages in the PDF. As you’ll see, they were not in the best shape– it rained this morning, which I’m sure didn’t help.

The first page appeared about two blocks from Kapaun Mt. Carmel Catholic High School, which I have little doubt is where they came from. Some high school student was likely walking home after being encouraged to volunteer at A Better Choice, and…..didn’t think too highly of the opportunity? Not sure there. I do know it’s not exactly out of character for high school students to be destructive of property.

But hey, it felt like a fun WoW quest, picking up those pages. I was disappointed when they stopped appearing.

And then disappointed again when I read this:

And then this:

At the bottom of each page….

The cure for cancer

I love this because it illustrates some really bizarre assumptions and why they’re bizarre.

Like the all-too-common-among-pro-lifers assumption that an unborn fetus represents absolutely limitless possibility. Unborn fetuses are positively magical that way– they could cure cancer, end world hunger, invent a perpetual motion machine, anything! They could save the world in a thousand different ways! Instead of, you know, fates that could be considered more likely for unwanted children, which aren’t nearly so sparkling and brimming with promise.

Whereas the actual already-existing person in this equation, the woman, is granted no potential at all. Presumably because of the fact that she’s pregnant, which means that she’s a woman (yes, obviously) but also the assumption is that she screwed up somehow (this is even granted in the quote, but it ain’t necessarily so– most abortions aren’t given to teenagers who screwed up) and must therefore be a loser, slut, etc. who would amount to nothing whether she got pregnant or not.

Women? They don’t cure cancer. Especially not the ones dumb enough to have unplanned pregnancies, amiright? Ha ha…ha…..ha…..urgh.

What (I think) #TrustWomen means

Five years ago today, Dr. George Tiller was murdered.
In my family’s church in Wichita, the church we’d been members of since…’92? Something like that.  Before they moved into the newly built church at 13th and Rock, back when it was a smaller building on Kellogg next to Hooter’s.
My parents knew George and Jeannie Tiller, but I didn’t really.  The Tillers initially came to Reformation Lutheran because they had been rejected from their previous church, and the Reformation leadership wrestled with the issue a bit but the church population accepted them…in spite of the years of protestors showing up outside the church with their signs, and trucks emblazoned with pictures of bloody fetuses sourced from who knows where, and their bullhorns, shouting at people attending services….on Christmas Eve, in the snow. They were there, every Sunday.  For years.
After George Tiller was killed, this stopped. I try not to think too much about how much of a relief that might’ve been to some. The church now has a playground dedicated to Tiller’s memory, but there is no plaque proclaiming such. I think they’re concerned that it might be destroyed or defaced by vandals. They’re probably right about that.
On that Sunday morning, I was in town visiting my parents. They were at church, and I was at home moving a bed that was upstairs and needed to be downstairs (I’d stopped attending church regularly while in college).  
My mother was in choir, and my father was serving as an usher. George Tiller was serving as an usher too, and it was in doing so that he was killed—he was in the lobby, the narthex, on handing-out-bulletin duty when Scott Roeder (who’d begun attending services at Reformation some weeks before, specifically to scout out the territory) stepped outside the sanctuary, pulled a gun, and shot Dr. Tiller in the head.
Roeder then ran out, pursued by a couple of ushers who fell back when he threatened them with the same gun. (Approximately three hours later he was apprehended outside of Kansas City. He was later charged with first degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault. The jury deliberated quickly and declared him guilty on all three counts—the judge gave him the “hard 50,” fifty years without parole. )
My father came home from church and described what happened, how he’d guided members of the congregation out of the building past the blood on the floor. I sat down on the stairs and cried.
Later that day, my parents went to a service at Reformation which the Tiller family also attended. I went downtown to attend a candlelight vigil.
That’s how that day went.
The so-called Summer of Mercy happened in 1991, in Wichita….of course. I remember it, but at the time I was in middle school and not exactly sure what abortion was or how it worked, making me not too dissimilar from the majority of adult idiots sprawling themselves out on Bleckley Drive in front of Tiller’s clinic.

I had the defense of barely being a teenager, but wish I’d been more aware nonetheless.  I was a freshman in high school in 1993, when Tiller was shot by a protestor for the first time, in both arms.  I didn’t remember that he went to work the next day, citing a need and dedication to serve.
But he did.
I learned about this while watching the After Tiller documentary, which I’ve been simultaneously yearning and dreading to see since first hearing about it. I learned that Tiller had founded, and Julie Burkhart built and ran, a political action committee called ProKanDo when I attended the first anniversary party for South Wind Women’s Center recently.
South Wind is the women’s reproductive clinic started by Burkhart in Tiller’s former clinic. I had never seen the inside of the clinic before, but had the opportunity to do so during the event, and…it’s beautiful.  It’s an attractive, welcoming place, and quite extensive.  You can see some of the clinic, and some of the first anniversary party, in these short videos at MSNBC.  
Anyway, you’re probably thinking “ProKanDo? What about Trust Women?” That’s the name of the PAC that Julie Burkhart started in 2009, and echoes a button that George Tiller used to wear.  
I shared in this confusion wandering through the vigil downtown on that night five years ago, seeing people in Trust Women t-shirts. “Yes,” I thought, “You should trust women to make choices for themselves, but…where is this going?
Maybe you share my distrust of slogans. Maybe you don’t. Point being, I needed something more.
I found it watching After Tiller.
After Tiller tells the stories of four doctors—LeRoy Carhart, Warren Hern, Susan Robinson, and Shelley Sella—who all knew George Tiller, prior to his death,  in various ways, and continue on the controversial practice of performing third trimester abortions—the kind Tiller performed.  Few than 1% of abortions are performed in the third trimester, mind.  This is not how most abortions happen. But these are arguably the most mythical, because of abortion proponents’ biggest lie: that women who abort don’t think or care about their pregnancies, and doctors who perform abortions don’t care about them either.
Boy, does After Tiller dispel that myth.
“Because we’re sort of a court of last resort here,” says Robinson at one point. “If we’re not going to help her, she’s not going to get an abortion, really.” And then we have to watch an aide, who is clearly not enjoying the experience any more than we are, turning a prospective patient away.
After Tiller is maybe 1/4 homage to George Tiller, 1/4 discussion of the harassment and antagonism (legal and otherwise) that the four doctors have experienced in the process of trying to cover the needs of women throughout the country—and outside of it, in some cases—who find themselves past ordinary limit but in dire need of an abortion, whether by threat to the fetus or potential mother or both, and ½ coverage of meetings with actual patients, discussion of their particular situations, and comments from the respective doctors on why they do what they do and the cases in which they will and won’t do it.
This half of the documentary is informative, and brutal, and necessary.
Here’s the thing—if you are stridently pro-life, allergic to nuance, and want to mine this documentary for material which will support your position…you’ll find it. You’ll find doctors expressing moments of indecision and doubt. You’ll find desperate gambles, and patients trying to do the right thing for themselves that they might regret later.  You’ll find people acknowledging that all available options “suck,” and all they can do is pick the one that seems the best to them now.  You’ll find uncertainty. You’ll find a distinct and considered lack of stridence and dogmatism.
That’s the point, actually.
As Dr. Sella says at one point, it’s hard to understand or defend these abortions unless you can hear these womens’ stories and know what they’re going through.
You need to know the amount of suffering they and their children would experience, if the child were born. You need to understand how many women are aware of the fact that they will be unable to give a child up for adoption once giving birth, no matter how it might ruin them physically or financially to do so. You need to listen to a few women talk about the tremendous physical challenges their children will face if born, abnormalities you likely have never heard of, and hear them concluding that it’s better to end it now, before getting to know the child and having him/her ripped away from life at a very young age. In tears. In pain. 
As Dr. Robinson says, “We can’t protect people from regret.”
It’s torture, honestly.  It’s what these doctors deal with as a profession, and they deal with it carefully and consciously, every time. Again from Sella:

“I think for some providers, what’s difficult about third trimester abortion (and not just providers) is that a woman delivers a baby…and it’s a stillborn. And that’s hard to deal with. I think the reason I’ve struggled is because I think of them as babies. I don’t think of that as a fetus. To me, I think of that as a way to distance myself from what I do. I mean, it’s one thing when it’s a first trimester abortion and what you see is a little bit of tissue.   But if you go all of the way to the other extreme, you can’t say that’s a some tissue, that’s not tissue….that’s a baby. Then you have to think it. About what you’re doing. And, why are you doing it? Well, it’s inside the mother, and she can’t handle it. For many many extremely desperate reasons. What drives women to seek a third trimester abortion—unless people understand what’s going on for the woman—it’s impossible to support it. How could you, really? I mean, it’s barbaric, isn’t it?” 

Unless people understand.
Empathy is required.

Robinson says:

“Women come here having decided that this is not a pregnancy that they can or want to sustain. And where do I get to say ‘Oh yeah, well, why? Why do you want an abortion? You’ve got to explain to me!’? What if you’re just not a very good storyteller? Why would it be okay for me to say ‘No; you’ve got to tell me a better story than that’? Because what I believe is that women are able to struggle with complex ethical issues and arrive at the right decision for themselves and their families. They are the world’s expert on their own lives.” 

That’s what “trust women” means.

Primary Sidebar

Secondary Sidebar