This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Sunday morning Scott Roeder walked into a Kansas church and killed Dr. George Tiller. After his murder, women and men across the country gathered together, not only to mourn the loss of Tiller, but to celebrate the life of a courageous man who saved countless women’s lives through his work.
At one such vigil here in Wisconsin, a woman came forward to share her story. She and her husband had children and desperately wanted another one. They were thrilled when they learned she was pregnant, but something went wrong late in her pregnancy. Faced with the difficult choice to terminate a wanted pregnancy or risk not being able to raise her other children, she flew to Kansas to see Tiller. As she shared her experience, she spoke not only of the medical care she received but of the compassion and empathy Tiller showed as he provided that care.
Tiller coined the phrase, “Trust women.” In his own quiet way, his life work became one of supporting and respecting women. He demonstrated the trust he placed in women every day in his Wichita, Kan., clinic, where he provided abortion services for women with nowhere else to turn -- those facing tragic circumstances and serious health consequences to continuing their pregnancy.
For more than two decades, Tiller and those individuals who helped provide care to his patients lived under intense harassment and persistent threats of violence. Even under these adverse circumstances, Tiller never wavered in his commitment to providing abortion care and other reproductive health services to women and their families.
Yet anti-choice extremist Scott Roeder sat through his trial without showing any remorse for murdering Tiller. The same people who spent years harassing Tiller and his patients outside his health center also showed no remorse and took no responsibility. They deny that their pattern of inflammatory rhetoric can lead to violence by extremists in their own anti-choice movement.
Now we claim Tiller’s mantle of privacy and freedom -- and his call to “Trust women.” We must not cede ground to violent anti-choice activists who seek to deny women the medical care they need and deserve. One year after Tiller’s murder, we must not forget what lengths the extreme right wing will go to in order to deny women freedom, equality and health. We must not forget his sacrifice and his family’s sacrifice.
In Wisconsin, the number of abortion providers declined from 16 in 1992 to nine in 2005. Today, there are just four abortion clinics in the entire state of Wisconsin -- in only three counties. Limited access to training opportunities for medical students, an aging population of providers, and laws designed to drive providers out of practice make this a difficult trend to reverse. And the renewed commitment to violence from anti-choice extremists makes it even more challenging to recruit new providers and ensure women have safe access to abortion services.
NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin honors Tiller’s commitment to women’s health by naming an award in his honor. The first annual Dr. George Tiller Memorial Award will be presented to an individual or organization that has exemplified Tiller’s motto -- “Trust women” -- in their work to ensure Wisconsin women have access to abortion care. Awards will be presented at NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin’s Wine and Choice Celebrations in Milwaukee and Madison in August. Nomination materials are available at www.prochoicewisconsin.org and will be accepted through June 25.
Let us unite and remember the words of Dr. George Tiller, “Trust women.”
Lisa Subeck is executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin.