This Clinic Stays Open: Remembering Dr. Tiller

Three years ago today, the pro-choice movement lost one of its most fearless leaders.

Dr. George Tiller, one of the few doctors in America performing late abortions, was killed while attending a Sunday morning service in his hometown church, just miles from the Wichita, Kan., medical clinic he operated for more than 30 years. Tiller and his clinic had been the victims of domestic terrorist attacks for most of those years, fending off a 1986 bombing, a 1993 assassination attempt and countless acts of vandalism by a revolving cast of anti-choice extremists. Operation Rescue even moved its home base from California to Wichita, setting up a semi-permanent camp on the sidewalk in front of Dr. Tiller’s beige, one-story clinic. The anti-choice climate was hostile enough for the FBI to suggest Tiller wear body armor whenever he went out in public. He was wearing it the day he died–but he was shot point-blank in the head.

In Ms.‘ award-winning 2010 feature “Not a Lone Wolf,” reporter Amanda Robb interviewed Tiller’s murderer, Scott Roeder, more than a dozen times and concluded that none of these anti-choice extremists ever truly work alone–all are part of a much larger, violent network. In the years since Tiller’s murder, although no other physicians have been murdered, the extremist anti-abortion climate has grown worse.

Just last week, two women’s clinics outside of Atlanta were severely damaged by arson, months after the offices of the Georgia Obstetric and Gynecological Society and another local OB/GYN were burglarized. In April, a Wisconsin Planned Parenthood clinic was fire bombed by an anti-abortion terrorist who told reporters, “I’m here to do good and not wrong.” Mississippi is in danger of losing its one remaining abortion provider, thanks to newly passed TRAP laws. And as of May 1, seven states [PDF] have enacted bans on abortion after 20 weeks, which infringe upon the viability precedent set in Roe v. Wade.

As we remember Tiller and his legacy, we must also remember the thousands of women who need late-term abortions each year. That’s why the Abortion Gang and the Provider Project have invited discussions today on the importance of keeping such procedures safe and legal in the face of attacks. We at the Ms. Blog also invite you to share your opinions and stories in the comments section below.

We’ll leave you with these compassionate words from Dr. Tiller:

Make no mistake, this battle is about self-determination by women of the direction and course of their lives and their family’s lives. Abortion is about women’s hopes and dreams. Abortion is a matter of survival for women.

You can help keep other embattled late-term abortion clinics open–and providers safe–by donating to the Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Clinic Access Project.

TOP: Photo of the Boston vigil for Dr. George Tiller, May 2009, by Tim Pierce. BOTTOM RIGHT: Dr. Tiller, from Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons.


Lauren Barbato is a writer who enjoys focusing on the intersection of the arts and social justice. As a journalist, she has contributed to Ms., the Women's Media Center, IndieWire, MovieMaker Magazine and many others. She holds a B.F.A. degree in screenwriting from the University of Southern California. Follow her on Twitter @lauren_barbato.