Over the weekend The New York Times ran a lengthy, in-depth report about recently murdered abortion practitioner Dr. George R. Tiller. The doctor, who was called “Tiller the Killer” by some and praised as an American hero by others, lived a life defined by his controversial career. Like a real life version of “The Cider House Rules,” Dr. Tiller was one of three doctors in the United States who regularly performed late-term abortions. To some, he saved the lives of thousands of woman; to others, he killed thousands of babies. As glamorous as anti-abortion groups tried to paint Tiller’s life by pointing to his 8,500 square foot home and more than million dollar business profits from performing abortions, his life was far from desirable.To keep his clinic practicable, Tiller went to extreme lengths by “installing security cameras, bulletproof glass, metal detectors, fencing and floodlights. He hired armed guards, bought a bulletproof vest and drove an armored SUV. He spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on some of the state’s best lawyers and recruited an intensely loyal staff that dubbed itself Team Tiller. He lobbied politicians with large donations and photographs of severely deformed fetuses.”
He performed his first abortion in 1973, and two years later the protests began, with no end in sight. From threatening boycotts of any vendor who showed up at the clinic (they were never able to have pizza delivered for lunch), to tracking how many patients changed their minds after entering Tiller’s clinic, to sending letters that read, “Somebody should kill you, so you can’t kill anymore,” Tiller and his employees faced daily struggles with dissenters. But through it all, Dr. Tiller was determined to continue his practice.
Framed thank-you letters from patients hung on the clinic walls, along with “Tillerisms” like: “The only requirement for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” But he did not always keep his composure. He once got so worked up that he told one anti-abortion leader, “Too bad your mother’s abortion failed.” But regardless of those shortfalls, Tiller’s focus was on the lives he believed that he was saving. In a speech he said, “We have helped correct some of the results of rape and incest. We have helped battered women escape to a safer life. We have made recovery from chemical dependency possible. We have helped women and families struggle to save their unwell, unborn child a lifetime of pain.”
Outside of his office, the protesters did not stop. For a period of time, they made appearances at his church during Sunday mass. While this caused a stir, Dr. Tiller didn’t believe there was a true threat, so no action was taken. The church protesters faded with time, but it was at his church that he met his final fate. Scott Roeder, a radical anti-abortionist, shot and killed Tiller while he was ushering in the entryway of the church. This fatal shot resulted in the closing of the clinic and has ultimately put a hold on the number of abortions being performed in Tiller’s hometown and office headquarters of Wichita, Kansas. But to some of the protesters who spent more than three decades of dedication fighting Tiller’s pregnancy terminations, this was not what they wanted.
The Times writes about Mark S. Gietzen, the chairman of the Kansas Coalition for Life, one of Tiller’s strongest opponents:
Many years ago, he had wrestled with the question of whether it would be moral to kill Dr. Tiller. Only after months of reading and praying, he said, did he conclude that violence could never be justified. Killing men like Dr. Tiller, he said, will only put off the day when abortion is outlawed altogether.
As much as anti-abortionists despised Dr. George Tiller’s medical practices, Mr. Gietzen admits that Tiller was at most “a worthy adversary” who “was right back at us.” The larger point, which both supporters and opponents seemingly agree with, is that the death of Dr. Tiller was not the answer.