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In Memory of Dr. Tiller, on the Fourth Anniversary of His Death

2:05 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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.

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Working with Dr. Tiller: His Staff Recalls a Tradition of Compassionate Care at Women’s Health Care Services of Wichita

12:54 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

"Compassion."

"Compassion." by matrianklw on flickr

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

This article is cross-posted with permission from the forthcoming issue (September 2011) of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.  We are grateful to the Guttmacher Institute for facilitating this exchange.

While attending Sunday church services in May 2009, Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider in Wichita, Kansas, was assassinated by an antiabortion extremist. The doctor’s murder led shortly to the closing of his clinic, Women’s Health Care Services (WHCS), which had been the best known of the handful of U.S. facilities to openly provide abortions at 24 weeks of gestation or later for women with serious health conditions and those carrying fetuses with severe or lethal anomalies. One of the most polarizing symbols of the U.S. abortion conflict, Dr. Tiller was reviled by abortion opponents. Among abortion rights supporters, and especially among his colleagues in the close-knit abortion provider community, Dr. Tiller was a beloved hero, legendary for the kindness and compassion he extended to desperate women who came to him from all over the United States and abroad.

Dr. Tiller’s murder and the closing of his clinic brought renewed national attention to the problems facing women who need abortions late in pregnancy. Fewer than 2 percent of the 1.2 million abortions performed each year in the United States occur after 20 weeks of gestation.[1] An unknown number occur after 24 weeks; in most states, such procedures are permitted only under highly restricted circumstances. At the time of Dr. Tiller’s death, only two or three other clinics were known to openly provide third-trimester procedures for qualifying women. Some hospitals provide these services on a case-by-case basis for patients of attending physicians, but the fact that WHCS served women from all over the country indicates that many women had difficulty finding the care they needed close to home. Read the rest of this entry →

Man Arrested, Charged with Intent to Murder Abortion Providers in Wisconsin

4:34 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Brady Swenson for RHRealityCheck.org - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

A man who drove to Madison, Wisconsin to kill an abortion doctor faces federal charges for intending to attack a Planned Parenthood office in Madison, Wisconsin and murder abortion providers. Ralph Lang, 63, was arrested Wednesday night when his gun went off in his motel room not far from the Planned Parenthood clinic that he planned to attack Thursday. According to a criminal complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court Lang said he had a gun “to lay out abortionists because they are killing babies.”

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Giving Thanks to Providers of Abortion Care

8:29 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Julie Burkhart for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Today, we give thanks to the women and men across America and around the world who courageously provide reproductive health care. In light of the stigma, marginalization and demonization that abortion care providers face in their professional and personal lives, it is incumbent upon us as advocates for women’s rights to reflect on the positive impact that their services bring to individual lives and society as a whole.

Having worked in reproductive health care and rights for many years, it deeply saddens me to see that we’ve come to a point at which these doctors are under greater scrutiny than ever. Thirty eight years after Roe v. Wade, providers are now instructed by legislatures on how to practice medicine, structure their clinics, and verbally counsel their patients. They are threatened with legal repercussions as well as vigilante action from extremists if they do not comply with these extreme invasions of privacy. 

Truth be told, legislatures can pass all the laws they want, and they can try to take advantage of loopholes, ultimately taking advantage of the women whose lives are directly affected by these abuses of power. But there is one thing that is unequivocally true: abortion providers save women’s lives and women will always need their care — plain and simple.

From the women who have first trimester abortions because they’re not prepared to be a parent to the women who seek care for fetal abnormalities or maternal health problems, these providers are making a difference in the lives of women and their families – or their hopes for future motherhood and a family. … Read more

Freedom of Choice: Living for What You Would Die For

8:13 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Dr. Maureen Paul for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

I was a teenager in 1968 when I learned that I was pregnant. Through a friend, I tried to arrange for an illegal abortion, only to be sent down a rabbit hole that involved a uniformed police officer, secret password, and hundreds of dollars that I didn’t have.

Young and terrified, unable to raise the money, and turned down by the therapeutic abortion committee at my local hospital, I eventually was forced to carry the pregnancy against my will and put the child up for adoption, an experience that was hands down the most difficult and painful of my life.

Now, as Chief Medical Officer at Planned Parenthood of New York City, I make sure that women have access to the reproductive health care they need. But on a day like today, the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I cannot help but think of another provider – a friend, colleague, and hero, Dr. George Tiller. George was a family physician who took over his father’s practice in Wichita after his parents, sister, and brother-in-law were killed in a plane crash. It was only when women in the community began asking him if he would offer them the same services that his father did that he learned that his father had provided then-illegal, but safe, abortions. When one of those women sought care from someone else and died because of it, George Tiller devoted his career to abortion provision, eventually becoming one of the few doctors in the country with the skills and commitment to provide later abortions to women whose wanted pregnancies had gone awry.  

For this dedication and service, he became the target of vehement anti-abortion hatred.  His clinic was firebombed, and he was shot in both arms, harassed relentlessly at his home, persecuted, prosecuted, and finally assassinated while serving as an usher in his church…the one place, the only place in his community where he said he always felt safe.  

I have often wondered to myself how Dr. George Tiller did what he did. Read more

Dear Sarah Palin: A Giffords Cousin Speaks Out

10:26 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Lynn Paltrow for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

See all articles on this issue at this link.

Dear Sarah Palin:

I am writing today about how you are responding to and how you will respond to the assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the murders of six other people.

By way of introduction and background, I am a cousin of Congresswoman Giffords. I am also an ally of Dr. George Tiller, the Kansas doctor who provided abortion services and who was assassinated on May 31, 2009.

When the Congresswoman’s offices were vandalized after her vote on healthcare reform, I wrote to her. As I recall, I congratulated her on her strong spirit in the face of that attack and other threats. I told her that I was proud of her courage on behalf of health care reform and sorry that she had to show the same courage as those who provide health care to pregnant women who need abortions and other reproductive health care services. Both have been the subjects of hateful, vitriolic language. Both have been put in rifle crosshairs.

In the aftermath of the murder of Dr. Tiller and the attempted murder of Congresswoman Giffords, many have spoken out about the role that hateful language played or might have played in encouraging these acts of violence. Immediately after Congresswoman Giffords was shot, many people voiced concern about such things as your “Take Back the 20” map targeting congressional districts of those representatives, including Congresswoman Giffords, who voted for health care reform by placing their districts in the crosshairs of a gun sight. Commentators have also noted your advice to people disappointed in the outcome of the 2008 elections to “lock and load” and “don’t retreat, reload.”

As I am sure you are now aware, Congresswoman Giffords herself had expressed concern about your map in particular. She said: “We need to realize that the rhetoric, and the firing people up and … for example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, the way she has it depicted, we’re in the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize that there are consequences to that action…”

Your response so far, has been to defend the images and language you use. Read more

ReproJustice Roadtrip: A Couple Facing Late Abortion Finds Red-state Obstacles in a Blue State

7:09 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Khadine Bennett for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

RH Reality Check is partnering with the American Civil Liberties Union to publish stories from a reproductive justice roadtrip through Illinois.

One of the reasons  we decided to embark on this road trip for reproductive health and access was that we wanted to provide individuals in Illinois with the opportunity to share, in their own words, examples of barriers they face when attempting to access reproductive health care and information. Today’s post will feature Amy S, a lifelong Illinois resident who currently lives in the Chicago suburbs. Amy’s experience when faced with the difficult decision to terminate a wanted pregnancy echoes that of two other women (one from central Illinois and the other from northwestern Illinois) who have reached out to us while on the road. We would like to thank Amy for her willingness to share her experience with all of you.

Amy S. – In Her Own Words:

In 2006, I was expecting my second child.  My husband and I are college sweethearts and will be married 14 years this year.  Our son Aidan was four at the time.  My pregnancy was uneventful.  I did all the screening tests and everything had come back great.  I went in for an ultrasound at 20 weeks gestation and the doctors told me to come back in four weeks, because they couldn’t see everything they wanted to see, but what they did see looked good.

When I went back in four weeks, the baby had turned and they had a clearer view.  They discovered that my son had a catastrophic brain malformation, holoprosencephaly.  Moreover it was the worst type, alobar.  My child would surely die.  When the doctor delivered the news, it did not register.  I did not get it until he told me "many would terminate the pregnancy for this."  Worse, my pregnancy dated 23 weeks and six days.  In terms of practitioners in Illinois, I had essentially no time to make up my mind.  Yet, I had to be sure.  I needed to know, irrational as it sounds, that the ultrasound machine was not broken.

I had an amniocentesis on the spot, went to see an MD who is a genetic counselor, and was able to get in for a prenatal MRI on my baby’s brain at Evanston Hospital.  My genetic counselor was at Lutheran General, and I live in Kane County, so I was all over the place.  The MRI confirmed the diagnosis.  The genetics counselor confirmed the prognosis.  If the baby was carried to term, he would essentially be a vegetable.  He would never sit, eat, or recognize his parents.  He would have seizures, not be able to regulate his temperature or blood sugar, and likely be in great, great pain.  And I thought, no way.  Not my child.  I would not let him suffer and die because I couldn’t muster the courage to do what I had to do for him to pass away in a more humane way.

What I had to do shocked and astounded me.  In a "blue" state, I never imagined that I would be told my OBs could not induce labor at my local hospital.  So the perinatologist, the geneticist and my OB all tried to pull in favors and call contacts to help me.  UIC, Rush, U of C, Evanston, Northwestern, Lutheran General, and my local hospital, Delnor, all said no.  I was too far along at 25 weeks.  At least at Lutheran General, it got before the ethics committee, but they said no because I was not "their" patient.  Where did that leave me?  Dr. Tiller’s clinic in Wichita, Kansas.  Dr. Tiller who was killed last year.

The fee had to be paid in cash, up front.  All told, including travel, it cost us $6000.  Blue Cross denied my claim as out of network.  I appealed and they denied it again.  It was a weeklong process.  I lied to my four-year-old that Christmas Eve was actually Christmas so we could have presents; we had to fly out Christmas Day.

I did not have Dr. Tiller but one of his colleagues.   The doctor was amazing, flying out from their home city one week a month to help out.  We crossed picket lines to go to the clinic each day.  My son began to have seizures in utero, I could tell by the wild and rhythmic movements.  I was scared silly; I did not want to deliver in a clinic.  It was my only choice.  We took pictures of my son and had him baptized.  He was tiny but looked like my other son.

The day after delivery, I was on my way back to Chicago.  I felt sure I was going to die on the plane.  I came home and tried to soldier on.  But, it was too much.  I began having panic attacks and was terrified that something would happen to my four-year-old.  I had what in the old days they would have called a "nervous breakdown" with no psychiatric history.  I was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety, panic disorder, PTSD from what I had to go through to end the pregnancy, OCD and depression.

Long story short, I worked hard to get past that.  I miss my baby terribly to this day.  I got better and went on to have a daughter last year.  My kids are six years apart.  People remark that it’s a big age difference.  I usually don’t tell them that the gaping hole did have another baby there.

My older son has owned this experience all along.  He never lets us forget about Owen.  For a long time he included him in drawings of the family.  He reminds people that he has a baby brother too, he’s just in heaven, and he’ll get to meet him one day.

We have most of Owen’s ashes but spread some at my father-in-law’s grave.  I like to think that they are together.

The entire experience moved me to go back to school for nursing.  I am now halfway through and hope to have my RN by this time next year.  I’m not sure if I want to help moms through labor and delivery, knowing the outcome is not always good and being able to comfort those moms, or through psych, working with people dealing with grief and loss as I have.  But I will not let this experience go without turning it into good, helping people.  I work in a psych hospital now, and I dedicate every day to my son, and hope he’s proud of me.