you say you want an end to violence
feel safe in the universe
—Laura Nyro, “The brighter song”
They killed George Tiller today.
In the lobby of his church.
I say “they,” although it was an individual white man who fired the gun.
They are the insane foes of a woman’s right to choose if and when she’ll give birth. They are the people who scream “murderer!” at women driving into the parking lots of clinics that perform abortions. They are the people who fetishize fetuses—the “unborn”—but no longer recognize the life and soul in a full-grown, breathing, compassionate human being. They are hypocrites.
“When hate speech meets insanity, this is the result,” wrote Melinda Henneberger of the blog “Politics Daily.” Indeed, as my filmmaker friend Arthur Dong pointed out in his powerful documentary Licensed to Kill—about men who had murdered gay men—those killers had been “licensed,” so to speak, by the hatemongers, who can then plead innocence. “We didn’t pull the trigger,” they can say. Yes, but they loaded the guns.
I met George Tiller a few years ago in the offices of the Feminist Majority Foundation and Ms. magazine, where I’m an editor. You know how you can quickly recognize a loving person? A person of incredible bravery? A person with a mission, a calling? Those are the qualities I immediately saw in Dr. Tiller. I was deeply moved by his story. How he’d carried on the work his father, also a doctor, had done underground in Wichita, Kansas, before Roe v. Wade. How he stepped in to help terrified, very young girls get late-term abortions, perhaps because they’d been too frightened to admit their pregnancies earlier. Perhaps because they’d been raped, or incested by a family member. One of the most famous anti-abortion groups is known as Operation Rescue, but George Tiller was the true rescuer.
His killer was certainly a true believer. A “godly” man, he probably considered himself, because who but a god could have told him it was all right to take a life? In a church, no less: a sanctuary where George Tiller regularly went for prayer and solace, and certainly for strength. For too many years to count, George Tiller has been a lone, brave man in the U.S. heartland, willing to offer his services to girls and women even though he has been constantly picketed, harassed, prosecuted, shot, and now, in a heartbreaking conclusion, killed.
I’ve never needed an abortion myself, but God bless my legal right to the integrity of my own body. Just imagine being told that you cannot have that right. That the State can tell you that you must have a child, even though you don’t want to carry a pregnancy to term. That the State can invade your bedroom, your body, your soul. How fine a line is it between the determination that women must have children and a dystopian world in which women are forced to have children for the State’s purposes. Science fiction writers often speculate on that scenario; given the virulent, violent, murderous actions of anti-abortion fanatics, it’s easy to see why that horrifying vision gets played out in novels, let alone women’s worst nightmares.
I’ve cried all morning about this man I met just once, but of whom my magazine has written many, many times. He was a hero to women. He was a hero in a society that distorts religion—distorts the notion of God—to turn love into hate and murder. You can kill George Tiller, because even a great and brave man cannot stop a bullet from draining out his life. But you can’t stop another dedicated, fearless soul from stepping up to continue his work, offering women hope in a patriarchal society that wants to keep us, still, forever, in our place.