When I met Dr. Tiller 17 years ago I was 19 years old and married with 2 small children. I had recently discovered that I was pregnant for a 3rd time and after much thought (because I don’t believe anyone makes a decision like this on a whim), I decided to have an abortion. I made an appointment and had a friend drive me the two hours to Dr. Tiller’s Wichita clinic.
Security at the facility was very tight, even though there were very few protestors outside. Over the years those protestors have become an amalgam in my memory of older white people, holding signs saying things like “Abortion is Murder” and “Don’t kill your baby. Give her to us”. Who knows anymore if that’s really what they said, but you get the gist.
The interior of the clinic was comfortable and professional. The only thing that really set this doctor’s office apart from my regular GP’s office, were the letters on the wall. To this day I remember reading the letters of thanks from people of all walks of life. People who had flown in from other states, parents who had brought their daughters in hopes of redemption, young women like me who had already started a family, desperate women who were not ready or had no intention of ever doing so, these letters ran the full gamut of possible circumstances that would compel one to seek out the services provided within those walls.
My impressions of Dr. Tiller to this day are of a professional man who was there to do his job. There were no Lifetime movie moments, no crying, gnashing of teeth or heart-to-hearts happening. We discussed the procedure itself, I was asked if I was sure this was the right choice for me and then he did his job. A few hours later, I went home and got on with my life.
What I failed to realize at the time was the risk Dr. Tiller was taking for me and for every other woman who sought out his services. I was given the dark blanket of anonymity which allowed me to remain righteous in the eyes of my Kansas neighbors while Dr. Tiller was being targeted by over-bloated hypocritical douchebags like Bill O’Reilly on a national stage. Three years before I would ever meet him, Dr. Tiller had been shot 5 times by an unhinged anti-choice activist. Prior to that, his clinic had been firebombed. After each incident, he recovered and rebuilt.
Now (and hindsight can sometimes be a real bitch) I think about what it must have taken for him to get up every day and be in the center of that fight, and I wish more than anything I could go back in time and thank him for bearing that burden on behalf of all his patients.
But I never wrote a thank you letter. I wish I had. At the time I assumed that the rights I exercised that day and the clinic that I chose for that process would always be there. Now, all over this great country, we are seeing hoards of religious and political leaders whittling away at a woman’s right to privacy and choice under the guise of moral superiority. Whether it comes in the form of mandatory vaginal ultrasounds or mandatory pre-abortion “counseling” the American Taliban movement is pushing further and further to marginalize my right to have control over my uterus. So now, it’s up to me to fight, like so many women before me have—not only for my daughter and all the daughters who may someday have to make a choice, but for Dr. Tiller as well, who fought for all of us until the day he was savagely murdered.
Better late than never:
Dear Dr. Tiller,
Thank you for your compassionate and professional help. You will never know this, but while I was in the recovery room after my procedure, the woman in the bed next to me struck up a conversation with me about her experience. She was having a late term termination and just wanted to talk about it. That’s all. She wanted an ear and I had no idea how to support what she was experiencing. I hope that whatever I said to her helped. I hope wherever she is she’s ok. She appreciated you, and so did I. I hope that your family knows how brave you were. I tell my children about heroes like you and use your example of true courage to inspire them to be better people. Forgive the rambling letter, and forgive those people who would do you harm. We will rise up to carry the burden for the next generation in your absence.