Written by Dr. Suzanne Poppema for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

A vigil held in honor of Dr. Tiller, Minneapolis 2009

I am a family doctor and I was a proud colleague of Dr. George Tiller’s. It is difficult to believe four years have passed since his murder.

George’s skills allowed him to help women further along in their pregnancies than I could. There were many times I sent patients to him, and I was so grateful to have him there to take care of women in his gentle and respectful way. George always lived as he believed, like many of us abortion providers try to do. He believed that no woman should ever be forced to continue a pregnancy, and he did all he could to help women in need of abortions. He dedicated his life, until the end, to this belief and this work.

He was such a committed individual. I was speaking with him about a patient the same afternoon, in 1993, when he was shot the first time. Despite his injuries to both arms, George was of course back at the office the next day. This experience led me to the magical thinking that even being shot at his church couldn’t stop Dr. Tiller.

To those of us left behind, we have to honor Dr. Tiller by working to make sure that abortion access is expanded, not curtailed. We can respect his legacy by working to ensure public funding for abortion through Medicaid and reversing the discriminatory Hyde Amendment. We can defend clinics that are fighting to stay open, in the face of bills seeking to set arbitrary regulations that have nothing to do with patient safety or quality health care. We can expose the true purpose of these laws: to shut down excellent medical facilities and force women to travel great distances to find other providers.

We can also stand firm in protecting women’s access to abortion after 20 weeks. There will always be women who don’t realize they are as pregnant as they are. I, a Harvard-trained physician, missed my own unintended pregnancy—denial is a beautiful thing—until I was in my 22nd week. There will always be women who discover that they are carrying a very sick fetus, women whose life circumstances change so drastically they can no longer undertake being a mother, women who just need our help.

We can support women by removing the shame and stigma that the anti-choice movement has associated with seeking an abortion and instead treat these women and their partners and families with great love. This is what George did each day in his clinic. This would honor his life.

We must carry on for these women, and for George. This is the remembrance he deserves—and, frankly, he would expect of us.

Photo by andy.birkey under Creative Commons license