This you probably know: three years ago today, abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was murdered in his church by anti-abortion terrorist Scott Roeder.
You may not know that this is also the 9th year anniversary of the arrest of Eric Rudolph, the anti-abortion terrorist who was eventually convicted of bombing a clinic in Birmingham, Alabama. That bomb, which was made of dynamite surrounded by nails, killed part-time security guard Robert Sanderson and critically injured nurse Emily Lyons.
Today is a day to stop and remember a man who often wore a button that said, simply, “trust women.” Dr. George Tiller provided women’s reproductive care for over thirty years, including later abortions that many providers couldn’t or wouldn’t do. Women travelled to his Kansas clinic from all over the United States to get the basic health care they couldn’t access anywhere else. Their reasons for going were as varied as the women themselves but Dr. Tiller knew that every choice was a thoughtful, justified one. He simply trusted women to know what was best for them and their families. For this radical act, he was shot in the head.
But today is also a day to remember that anti-abortion terrorism – and that’s what it is and so we must name it – is a very real threat. Following Dr. Tiller’s murder, there were 49 reported acts of trespassing and 114 acts of vandalism against abortion providers. Before Dr. Tiller’s death, violence directed at abortion providers killed seven people, including three doctors, two clinic employees, a security guard and a clinic escort.
As we remember Dr. Tiller today, clinics across the country are on high alert following three fires at women’s clinics in the south. One fire in Georgia targeted a gynecological office that didn’t provide abortions. Another broke out at an abortion clinic, also in Georgia, while there were patients and staff inside. And the offices of an organization in New Orleans that provides women’s health services and organizes on behalf of marginalized communities, Women With A Vision, was broken into and then burned to the ground. (Women With A Vision is accepting donations to rebuild and continue on with their work – if you can help, please do so here.)
Thankfully, no one was injured in any of these incidents. Yet it’s as clear as it was three years ago that trusting women is still, for some, a good enough reason to commit acts of terrorist violence.
I didn’t write this post to take away from the many wonderful remembrances of Dr. Tiller’s life that are being penned today. I didn’t write this post to get into an argument about whether or not all people who are opposed to abortion are in favor of violence to end it – they aren’t and there are many other days and many other spaces to discuss how the anti-abortion movement does and does not deal with terrorists in its ranks.
I wrote this post as a reminder that Dr. Tiller was not the first and sadly will probably not be the last victim of anti-abortion terrorism. I wrote this post to remind all of us who fight for reproductive freedom that the people who provide know that every day they walk into work they could be killed for doing their job AND THEY STILL DO IT because they, like Dr. Tiller, trust women. Dr. Tiller himself knew all too well that he could die for this conviction. If that’s not heroism that should be remembered and honored every day, well, I don’t know what is.