Revolution #167, June 7, 2009
From readers in Chicago:
Outrage over the Murder of Dr. Tiller
Barely a month after Barack Obama spoke at Notre Dame and called for finding “common ground” with Christian fascists and women-haters on the issue of abortion, Dr. George Tiller, one of the few doctors in the country to openly and publicly perform late-term abortions, was gunned down while attending Sunday services in Wichita, Kansas. Dr. Tiller was widely known as a courageous, caring man who stood uncompromisingly – even in the face of death threats, bombings, trumped up legal investigations and prosecutions, and attempts on his life - in support of the right of any woman, in any circumstances, to choose whether or not to have an abortion. The assassination of such a hero to the people as Dr. Tiller – and the attempt to deny women the medical care he provided – brought people into the streets across the country to honor his service to the people and to stand up defiantly after his murder to boldly call for “Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!”
People gathered in downtown Chicago the day after Dr. Tiller's murder for a tribute rally and march. The overall sentiment of the crowd of mainly young women at the rally was outrage and sadness over the death of Dr Tiller. The rally was organized in under 24 hours when Revolution Books sent out a call over email, facebook, and phone. Many had just heard about it through the internet and rushed to the rally to voice their outrage over his murder and the attempt to further chill the right of women to abortions. Within a half hour the rally had grown to about 75 people, with nurses, doctors, women in scrubs, some from a local rape hot line, students, women and men filling the corner of a busy downtown intersection.
One young woman, pushing a stroller filled with her two small children, was so outraged upon hearing of Dr. Tiller’s murder that she called Planned Parenthood to find out if there was a protest, and if so, where the protest was. She said she knew there had to be one; this had to be answered in the streets. One young Black woman came who had an abortion when she just turned 15 while living in a foster home. She spoke of how she was adamant about not carrying forward with her pregnancy - ‘young women who think having a kid will be easy are wrong.' She spoke of her struggle with the foster home to allow her to get an abortion - arguing that she was not ready to have a child. She did feel that Obama was taking “some step” with the removal of the international gag order - but didn’t agree with how “seeking common ground” with Christian fascists would lead to further attacks. She got a copy of the issue of Revolution newspaper with an article by Sunsara Taylor on Notre Dame, where it speaks to how “Obama is legitimizing and strengthening a viciously anti-woman program while both abandoning the much needed fight to expand access to abortion and birth control and giving up the moral and ideological basis on which the pro-choice position stands”.
Another woman, a nurse, knew Dr. Tiller. She talked of crying all day Sunday, then picking herself up and organizing two other nurses to protest after receiving “too many emails to count” about the rally. She spoke to two other abortion providers that day who were determined to carry on the work for which Dr. Tiller gave his life. A doctor from a county hospital in Chicago who works in pediatrics spoke about referring a patient to Dr. Tiller – a young girl (10 or 12) who had been raped by a family member and hid the pregnancy until the third trimester – out of fear and ignorance. Dr. Tiller was the only provider who could help. She spoke in outrage and mourning about what the loss of Dr. Tiller means to young women and girls like that across the country.
One woman said she heard about the demonstration from the NOW e-list. She used to be active, was on NOW’s board of directors for a brief period, but became discouraged and wrapped up in other parts of her life. But upon hearing of Dr. Tiller’s murder, she knew this was the time for her to stand up. She wanted to know what could be done next, that this protest had to be a beginning. This sentiment was voiced by a number of women.
A woman who had been an activist in the pro-choice movement in the ‘90s bemoaned the compromising in that movement and stated she didn’t want to apologize any more for any woman’s right to an abortion. Others felt that women had to speak up - a real defiance in the face of this murder - that if we didn’t, the right to abortion would be rapidly being taken away. Some felt that we had to be at the clinics - that there was no telling what the anti-abortion people would be doing in this next period - that there could be more copycat killings or attacks against abortion providers.
An organizer with World Can’t Wait talked about doing clinic defense outside of Dr. Tiller’s clinic in 2001. She agitated against the likes of Randall Terry and Joe Scheidler (the head of Operation Rescue who lives near Chicago) who told her outside of that clinic that women should be submissive and that they should kneel before the men in charge. She upheld Dr. Tiller’s defiance in the face of these fascists, and that this was something to learn from and carry forward.
Another woman, a 30-year-old nurse, heard about the event from word of mouth and on Facebook. She heard the news about Dr. Tiller on the Internet and was “shocked.” She talked about how the more she began to read what had happened, she became angry. She came to the rally to show support for medical personnel providing this service and to support abortion as a medical decision. She strongly agreed that this is a life or death question and that without this it amounts to the enslavement of half of humanity. She expressed that she was “very disappointed” about Obama’s speech at Notre Dame: “He’s talking about how everyone needs to understand how touchy of a subject this is and how we have to listen to both sides and then this happens. I was hoping he would take a stronger stand than this.” She talked about how abortion was a medical decision – that a fetus and a baby are two different things, and that a fetus is part of a women’s body and “she has every right to do with it as she sees fit”.
A number of women were sick of the defensiveness that had overtaken the women’s movement - one young women asked, “where are they when a killing like this occurs?” Some wanted to know about Obama's Supreme Court nominee Judge Sotomayor – would she stand up for abortion? Others felt that it was very unclear what she would do and didn’t give much hope that this would make the kind of change needed. Others wanted to know how we should go forward - how to keep the momentum up.
A college student from UIC got on the mic and talked about organizing friends of his on his campus to drive off anti-abortion protesters just a few months ago. He also said that the men who were there shouldn’t be thanked – defending a woman’s right to choose and honoring the providers who make that possible is all of our responsibility.
After numerous people stepped up to the mic to talk about why they had come, we started to march through the streets of downtown Chicago behind a huge banner that read “Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!” One of the chants we shouted while marching was "Dr. Tiller was a hero to the people, for giving women a choice. Abortion is a needed right, stand up and raise your voice!"
There can be no “common ground” with Christian fascists like the man who murdered Dr. Tiller and those who uphold the enslavement and subjugation of women and would deny women the right to control their lives and reproduction. The struggle for women's reproductive rights must be part of building a revolutionary movement in this country to get rid of this capitalist system of exploitation and oppression. Because the full liberation of women can only come about with the emancipation of humanity as a whole.
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