Just about three hours ago, as he was walking into his church for Sunday services, Dr. George Tiller was murdered. Tiller was a hero, a doctor who was willing to perform abortions in a part of the country where a large proportion of the population doesn't care that it is a legal medical procedure, preferring to think of it as murder, no matter the circumstances. Earlier this month, his clinic was severely damaged by vandals, almost certainly because of his insistence on providing the women of Kansas with reproductive choice. Dr. Tiller has been a victim of violence before -- he was shot in both arms outside his clinic in 1993 by an anti-choice terrorist. And now the so-called "pro-life" movement that doesn't appear to give a damn about life outside the womb has murdered him.
And that makes Planned Parenthood and NARAL's job a little harder.
To be fair, we don't know that Dr. Tiller was murdered by an anti-choice terrorist. But that is the most likely scenario. And if that proves to be the case, Dr. Tiller was not the first doctor to be murdered by anti-abortion terrorists, and he probably won't be the last:
- In 1993, Dr. David Gunn was murdered outside his clinic in Pensacola, Florida, by Michael Griffin, a "pro-life" terrorist. Griffin was at the clinic for a "pro-life" protest and, like a coward, shot him three times in the back. According to published reports, the "pro-life" protesters appeared to be "happy" in the immediate aftermath of the murder. One of the organizers of the protest insisted that the protesters had no intention of hurting Dr. Gunn.
- The next year, also in Pensacola, Dr. John Britton and his clinic escort James Barrett were murdered outside their clinic by Paul Hill, a "pro-life" terrorist. Hill also critically wounded Barrett's wife. Hill was executed six years ago by the State of Florida for his crimes, but his terrorist organization, the "Army of God," continues to this day to hail him as a martyr and a hero and to spread the gospel of murder as an appropriate response to a legal medical procedure they don't like. (Did I mention that the guy running the website for the "Army of God" happens to be the chairman of Pro-Life Virginia? Yeah, that's the Reverend Donald Spitz. More on him in a bit.)
- In late December 1994, Lee Ann Nichols and Shannon Lowney, receptionists at two different clinics in Brookline, a suburb of Boston, were murdered by John Salvi, a "pro-life" terrorist. As he was murdering Nichols by firing ten shots into her body, Salvi shouted, "This is what you get! You should pray the rosary!" Just before being sentenced to consecutive life terms in prison plus another 18-20 years for his crimes, Salvi addressed the court, saying, "As you know, I haven't pled guilty though I am against abortion. My position is pro-welfare state, pro-Catholic labor union and, basically, pro-life." (Except, you know, for the part having to do with actual life, but what did we expect from a "pro-life" terrorist?)
- Today marks the sixth anniversary of the capture of Eric Rudolph, a "pro-life" terrorist who demonstrated his opposition to a legal medical procedure by bombing clinics in Sandy Springs, Georgia, in 1997, and Birmingham, Alabama, in 1998. His bombs were packed with nails -- a sure sign that his goal was not only to destroy the clinics, but to murder anyone inside. And he succeeded in murdering a security guard, Robert Sanderson, and critically injuring a nurse, Emily Lyons, in the Alabama bombing.
- One night in October 1998, Dr. Barnett Slepian returned home with his family from Friday night services at his local synagogue in Buffalo, New York, and went into his kitchen to prepare soup for their dinner. James Kopp, a "pro-life" terrorist, shot him through a window, murdering him. Even George Pataki, the Republican then-Governor of New York, called it a cold-blooded act of terrorism. The "pro-life" movement responded by celebrating the murder with a series of protests in Buffalo and Rochester. And Rev. Donald Spitz had this to say in the 2007 documentary, "Unborn in the USA: Inside the War on Abortion": "What would I say to the family of Slepian? They live in a $500,000 house that was paid for with blood money - the blood of those babies that Barnett Slepian murdered... He knew what he was doing, he was murdering children. That's too bad if he was killed in front of his family..."
And these are just examples, just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. All told, according to statistics provided by the National Abortion Federation and not including this morning's murder, since 1977, there have been seven murders, 17 attempted murders, 41 bombings, 175 arsons, 96 attempted bombings or arsons, 390 invasions, 1400 cases of vandalism, 1993 cases of trespassing, 100 butyric acid attacks, 659 anthrax threats, 179 cases of assault and battery, 406 death threats, four kidnappings, 151 burglaries, and 525 cases of stalking specifically directed at clinics, their workers, or their volunteers in the US and Canada. That's over 6,100 cases of terrorist activity by the "pro-life" movement. And that's just what was reported -- the actual numbers are probably much higher.
And every one of these incidents is a threat to reproductive freedom. Every one of these incidents makes it more difficult for pregnant women to seek the care and guidance they may need without fear of threats or harassment at the hands of a band of terrorists -- and that's especially true in places like Wichita, where Dr. Tiller worked, where there may not be another clinic around for many, many miles. Every one of these incidents increases the probability that some woman who needs to have an abortion for reasons of health, safety, abuse, economic reality, or any other reason that is nobody's business but her own, may not be able to get one.
Because, you see, the "pro-life" terrorists don't have to make abortion illegal to make it impossible to get one supervised by someone with appropriate medical training. They just have to make it so that there aren't enough heroes like George Tiller, David Gunn, John Britton, James Barrett, Lee Ann Nichols, Shannon Lowney, Robert Sanderson, Emily Lyons, and Barnett Slepian to ensure that every woman who needs access has it.
Planned Parenthood and NARAL are the vanguard defending reproductive freedom from all manner of onslaughts, be they legislative, judicial, financial, terrorist, or other. In these trying times, they are going to be the ones stepping up to ensure that Dr. Tiller's legacy endures for women all over the country. But they need our help.
When conservatives and Republicans -- the allies of the "pro-life" terrorists who committed the crimes discussed here, if not the actual terrorists themselves -- do something stupid or hateful, we respond, often with money. When Norm Coleman refuses to concede the Senate election in Minnesota after all the votes are counted and reveal him to be the loser, we donate money to the DNC and Al Franken for every day the Senator-Elect is not seated. When the Westboro Baptist Church launches another protest, we respond by donating a certain amount of money to gay rights organizations for every protester they get to show up. When Joe Lieberman helps Republicans raise money for their re-election efforts, we put together fundraisers for their Democratic opponents. And now we must turn our attention to the organizations that most forcefully defend reproductive freedom.
The jobs of all the folks at Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and myriad other pro-choice organizations just got a little bit harder with this latest act of terrorism from the "pro-life" movement. Consider this my call to this community to step up and help them. Donate to them if you can. Volunteer for them if you're able. It's not the safest thing you'll ever do in your life, but if you believe in the cause for which Dr. Tiller and so many others have died, it may be one of the most important.