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Judge Rules Anti-Choice Terrorist Can Claim Religious Protection for Conversations with Tiller Murderer

10:10 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Priest collar

A court ruled communications with Tiller's killer to be covered by ministerial protections.

On Friday U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten handed anti-choice terrorist Angel Dillard a win, ruling Dillard doesn’t have to disclose “ministerial discussions” she had with Scott Roeder, the man convicted of murdering abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.

As reported in the Topeka Capital-Journal, Marten’s ruling reversed an earlier decision that Dillard’s communications with Roeder were not protected by the ministerial exception because Dillard is not an ordained minister. But Marten held that Dillard was acting as a lay minister and was therefore entitled to the protection. It’s an incredible expansion of the privilege and one which the radical anti-choice community is no doubt taking notice.

Dillard is accused of sending a threatening letter to Dr. Mila Means who was training to provide abortion services after Tiller’s murder. According to the Department of Justice complaint against Dillard, the letter to Means mentioned Tiller’s assassination and warned Means against providing abortion services in Wichita.

In the same ruling Marten said Dillard must disclose communications she had with another inmate, Robert Campbell. Campbell claims Dillard hired him to stalk Means, while Dillard denies this and claims Campbell is trying to blackmail her.

But just because those communications must be disclosed does not guarantee they will make it into evidence in the trial, currently slated for October. At the time of trial they can be excluded from evidence if a judge decides the statements are too unreliable, a fact judge Marten made clear in his ruling. At issue in the case is whether the letter Dillard wrote to Means was a “true threat” in violation of the federal law designed to protect access to abortion clinics. In the letter, Dillard allegedly wrote that thousands of people from across the nation were scrutinizing Means’ background and would know “your habits and routines.”

The letter is chilling. In it Dillard writes, “They know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live,” the letter said. “You will be checking under your car every day — because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.”

The Dillard trial has shed light on the violent underworld of radical anti-abortion activists and the last thing this community needs is any additional enabling by the federal courts. But that’s exactly what this ruling does. If someone like Dillard can claim to be a minister so as to shield communications with convicted assassins like Scott Roeder who have admitted to wanting to instigate more deadly violence against clinic workers, then we can expect to see a lot more ministers among the most violent actors in the anti-abortion movement.

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Media Silence on Gosnell? Let’s Talk About the Women of Color Without Decent Health Care

1:12 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

See all our coverage of the Kermit Gosnell case here.

Kermit Gosnell mugshot

The Gosnell case highlights issues of class, race and access to reproductive healthcare.

Some reporters and media critics have claimed that not enough is being written about the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, an illegal abortion provider who operated far outside the bounds of legitimate medical practice. In a recent column for USA Today, for example, Kirsten Powers claimed that the case is not receiving the attention that it deserves.

As a resident of Philadelphia and an abortion provider, I beg to differ. Gosnell’s atrocities have been covered widely. But what haven’t been covered as much as they should be are the reasons why the women who turned to Gosnell for abortion care were disproportionately low-income women of color who felt they had no other place to turn.

Whether you are a supporter or opponent of women’s health rights, or just interested in things related to reproductive justice, you should know that the Gosnell case has been written about steadily since February 2010, when Gosnell’s clinic was raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration and his license was suspended. The story was widely covered in the national mainstream media and by women’s health advocates in 2011 when the case’s Grand Jury report came out. So while the trial is news, there is little to no information that has not already been reported about Gosnell up to this point.

Indeed, when Google renders about 9,000 hits in 0.15 sec using the search term “Kermit Gosnell,” it’s hard to say this story lacks attention.

But this case is about more than just a practitioner who did bad things. His case embodies the “off-the-grid” abortions we can expect to see in states like Mississippi and North Dakota, where anti-choice harassment and regulations purposefully pass to close all clinics providing legal, safe abortion care mean only one clinic is left in each state, and even those are under threat of being shut down.

Gosnell’s “Women’s Medical Society” was not an unknown entity. In fact, it was surrounded by well-known and respected hospitals and clinics. But because they adhere to safe abortion care practices and because health care is expensive generally, the cost of care at these clinics was often out of reach to women who, without public assistance, don’t have and cannot afford regular health care of any kind.

Gosnell’s operation bears no resemblance to safe abortion care. His entire “practice” was illegal: There were untrained medical “assistants” and abortions performed at viability without medical cause. His “clinic” was unsanitary and unsafe and what Carole Joffe has referred to as a “chamber of horrors.”

Moreover, in a gruesome quid pro quo, Gosnell charged on a “sliding scale” for anesthesia; you got more anesthesia the more money you paid, so the poorer you were, the more pain you suffered. Women who went to Gosnell may have known of other places to receive abortion care, but they were either beyond the legal time limit when they could get an abortion in the state, or they could not afford safe abortion care.

What this case reveals is that the cost of dignity in health care has risen, and the attack on poor women intensified.

These realities underscore the real missing headline. In 2011, the Grand Jury report stated, “We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color.” Almost all of Gosnell’s patients are identified as poor women of color. Still, the mainstream media is largely not paying attention to the issues of race and class inherent in this story, which contribute to the reasons why Gosnell could thrive. Poor, under-insured women are not getting acceptable health care of any kind, but because this story is about abortion, these usually invisible women are suddenly the subject of public pity by anti-choice activists. They were made to suffer until many lives were taken.

In an age of rising stigma, discrimination, widespread misinformation, and violence against providers, facts get trampled. What Gosnell underscores is a point that women’s health and rights advocates have long asserted: Women who need to terminate a pregnancy will go to desperate lengths to do so, and by isolating abortion care, we drive women to back-alley providers.

Anti-choice conservatives know this but seem not to care. Mississippi state Rep. Lester “Bubba” Carpenter (R-Burnsville) put it bluntly at an Alcorn County GOP meeting:

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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." 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 →

In Memory of Dr. Tiller: Reflections on the Death of An American Hero One Year Later

6:27 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

This post draws from entries made in the author’s personal journal.

Over the past year, RH Reality Check has extensively covered the murder of Dr. George Tiller, the ensuing trial of Scott Roeder, and related issues. You will find a compilation of those posts here.

31 May 2009; En Route from Washington, DC to Wichita, KS

Today began as a clear crisp sunny day in Washington, D.C. I was at a conference for a national advocacy organization. I found out at 12:30 pm that my recent boss, mentor and father-like figure had been murdered —gunned down at 10:15 am in the lobby of his church – Reformation Lutheran Church while waiting to return to where his wife was singing, as a member of the choir.

This is a devastating day in American history.

I guess we were too successful – I could feel it in the months just before his assassination. The anti-choice, domestic terrorists couldn’t stand that the laws in this land gave him the right to practice medicine. They couldn’t stand that juror after juror wouldn’t kowtow to their beliefs and prosecute him and shut him down. They couldn’t stand that we defeated elected officials at the polls and could win races against their antiquated philosophies. They couldn’t stand it – so they murdered him in cold blood in the church where he worshiped his God.

Those forces of hate, bigotry and rigid ideology are just like the forces of the Taliban that so many Americans rail against, which are merely separated by culture and geography. These are the same people who say that “All life is sacred.”  This statement should be amended to say – “All life is sacred if and only if you prescribe to a certain ideology that defines our existence in very narrow terms. Then, life is sacred.”

Dr. George Tiller was a fine and wonderful man. He taught me a lot in the years that I worked with him. He was tough, a teacher and a remarkable leader. He taught me much about life and how to approach problems in a positive manner. He taught me to make lemonade out of lemons. He taught me how to find solutions to problems, how to make the best of any situation, to find the silver lining.

He didn’t sit around and wait for life to lead him around. He followed his passion and his dreams; he created his own reality. He did what he was led to do and that which he loved.

It’s interesting the path that we can find ourselves on in life and where those paths can lead. I never intended to end up, for a longer term, in the women’s rights movement. It’s amazing where life forces help us end up if we listen to them.

I’ve heard this story so many times from him – Dr. Tiller was in the Navy – a doc – and was going to do a dermatology residency. Members of his family, including his parents, were in traveling in a small aircraft when it crashed. He came back to Kansas to close his late father’s medical practice and then get on with his dermatology residency. He never made it – instead, he fell in love with the family practice, which then predominately grew into a predominately reproductive health care practice over the years. What he found out, was that his dad performed abortions for his patients. I think this fact, this notion, sparked what became his life’s mission.

Going back to life’s direction and mission. Maybe that was his life goal. If we believe in a God, which I do in a way that is derived from the energy of the world – an energy both good and bad – then the energy of the universe – God – led his life in that direction. He was born to, led to be an icon in the women’s rights movement. That was the purpose for him. He was built just for that – to provide reproductive health care services to women – he did that well, above and beyond the call – he practiced medicine in a loving, compassionate, tender, nonjudgmental manner.

He understood that women had to be able to welcome, each child into their family unit. It’s called understanding the “heart” of a woman. No one can understand abortion until one understands the heart of a woman. That is exactly why abortion will always be around for myriad reasons – women cannot always welcome an addition into their families. They make choices based on the current dynamic and what is right for that family.

This is exactly why the antis can NEVER win this battle. Women are intelligent enough to make the right choices for themselves AND they will continue to make these choices – with or without bloodshed. They could murder all the providers and women will continue to seek abortions – regardless.

This is why the killing of such a great man is so senseless – one of the many reasons – he did not control the decision-making of women. Abortions will still take place – it’s not Dr. Tiller acting as puppeteer of all these women – its women saying to him – I need this to happen.

I’ve been fielding numerous phone calls today from friends, family, colleagues and the media. F*$# the press – I swear – story hasn’t even been out for a couple of hours and they’re calling me – as if it’s not a personal loss – as if his death is of no consequence.

It angers me because they’ll go talk to “the other side” and get the “we don’t approve of that” speech, but they won’t do anything to condemn it. They just perpetuate the dynamic. If they would stop treating them like they’re legitimate. They aren’t legitimate – they’re the devil, they’re murderers, they lie and say anything to get their way. It’s said in the Good Book that the devil will come in sheep’s clothing. I believe, with all my heart that these people are the devil. It is evil that gathers energy from that source.

I never would have thought in a million years that I would have worked with him. This opportunity came up and I seized it. It was a wonderful decision. I’ve never regretted my work with him, it was a wonderful ride. We needed to do a job and we did it. We didn’t have any bad legislation pass, we didn’t let them win the court cases; we didn’t let them always win at the polls – at least in the big ones. They couldn’t f@#%!*& take it that they were losing – then, of course, Obama’s election and then he announces Sotomayor as an appointee to SCOTUS. They had to be very angry. Nothing was going their way. The country was going to hell. The wrath of God was eminent. It was the ultimate act of self-righteousness; to think you have some divine calling to take another’s life.

One year later: 21 May 2010; St. Louis, MO

Dr. Tiller’s death has left the pro-woman community devastated and struggling to come to terms with his assassination. A vast hole was left in provider care after his murder. Additional physicians across the country have been stepping up, in an attempt to fill the gap that was left by his death. The pro-choice community has been struggling to determine how to best fend off anti-choice tactics meant to shut providers down and deny women access.

It has become apparent that the anti-choice have become emboldened by Dr. Tiller’s murder; which was also driven by vehement opposition to health care reform at the national level. The anti’s have moved swiftly in places such as Kansas and Nebraska to limit abortion care in those states. Anti-choice leaders have taken Dr. Tiller’s assassination, and the fact that other physicians would be stepping in to provide care, as an opportunity for passing more restrictive legislation and redefining our abortion laws in the states, with the intent of having a national impact.

The climate in state legislatures was frustrating, to put it mildly. Both Kansas and Nebraska tirelessly worked to ban late termination of pregnancy, Oklahoma cranked out a plethora of punitive anti-choice bills and Utah sought to criminalize certain actions of pregnant women – these bills only scratch the surface of restrictive legislation proposed across the country.

One thing has become clear over the past year, the pro-choice community has to reevaluate the way in which we approach activism across the country, especially states that are all too often written off as “red” states or “fly over” states,” when in fact, these are the areas of the country that need the pro-woman movement the most. We cannot abandon the women in any state, nor in any corner of this country if we’re going to have equal rights for ALL women in this great nation.

The time has come for us, as a movement, in our own collective ways, whether it’s through education or activism or political engagement, to meet the anti-woman forces on their “own” turf. We must not cede any section of this country.

As I write this, I’m reminded of a sign that Dr. Tiller put up against a truck in his clinic driveway the day after he was shot in 1993. The sign simply said, “Hell no, we won’t go.” That was his motto then and we need to make it our motto now.

Another saying of Dr. Tiller’s, that I’ve meditated on numerous times since his assassination is this, “The only requirement for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” This is why, in the darkest, bleakest hours, we must continue moving forward, one step at a time, one woman at a time, until we achieve equality for all people of this land.

We love you Dr. Tiller and thank you for being a leader and a beacon of light.