In Honor of Dr. George Tiller
This text below is adapted from a the text of a speech that Carol Downer gave at a vigil for Dr. George Tiller on June 6, 2009, in Los Angeles.
MY NAME IS CAROL DOWNER AND I AM HERE TODAY TO HONOR GEORGE TILLER BY ACKNOWLEDGING HIS HUMANITY AND HIS CONTRIBUTIONS TO OUR SOCIETY.
OUR CLINIC, THE FEMINISTS WOMEN’S HEALTH CENTER, PROVIDED ABORTIONS IN LOS ANGELES FROM 1973, 50 DAYS AFTER THE ROE V. WADE DECISION. IT WAS BURNED DOWN BY ANTI-ABORTIONISTS IN 1984.
IT WAS MY PRIVILEGE TO KNOW DR. TILLER WHEN I WAS A MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL ABORTION FEDERATION WHERE I WAS ACTIVE FOR ALMOST 20 YEARS.
HE WAS A WARM, GENEROUS AND EXTREMELY WISE PERSON. I AM GRIEVING HIS DEATH DEEPLY.
GEORGE EXPRESSED HIS PROFOUND RESPECT FOR A WOMAN’S DECISION TO HAVE AN ABORTION.
I QUOTE: “IT IS MY FUNDAMENTAL PHILOSOPHY THAT PATIENTS ARE EMOTIONALLY, MENTALLY, MORALLY, SPIRITUALLY AND PHYSICALLY COMPETENT TO STRUGGLE WITH COMPLEX HEALTH ISSUES AND COME TO DECISIONS THAT ARE APPROPRIATE FOR THEM” Dr. George Tiller
Although only 5% of abortions are performed past the 20th week of pregnancy, and only 1% of abortions are performed past the 24th week of pregnancy, the circumstances that only the most ignorant or malevolent person would deny a girl or a woman access to an abortion, no matter what their religious belief.
Unfortunately, we have few physicians who are willing to perform abortions after the 18th week of pregnancy. Why? Because doctors not only fear that, if they have a complication, they will be harassed or even killed, but also because they fear they will lose their license to practice medicine, or they will even be criminally prosecuted. Remember, although early abortion is a safe, pretty easy procedure, later abortion becomes more risky, although never as risky as carrying the pregnancy to term and giving birth. So, even with the best of care, complications will happen. In the State of California, we have vicious people who have dedicated their lives to pressuring county coroners and the state licensing boards to investigate and prosecute every doctor who has a serious complication.
In 1996, Dr. Bruce Steir was charged in Riverside County with second-degree murder for the abortion-related death of a woman who was 20 weeks pregnant, and, despite the testimony of several nationally-known and respected medical experts at the preliminary hearing that he had done absolutely nothing below the standard of care, the Judge ordered a trial. Depleted of his life savings and fearing an unfair trial, Dr. Steir, 74 years old at the time, plea bargained and, there he was, a doctor who had performed thousands of abortions, sitting gin jail for six months.
Today, as I stand here, I can safely predict that within the next few years, another abortion doctor will find herself or himself needing support for a legal defense. Complications will happen, despite the best of care. We must not let abortion doctors who have committed no wrong find themselves serving time in jail or ending up penniless because they were not adequately supported by the pro-choice community.
Now I want to talk about what needs to be done.
It is necessary to speak-out about the lack of protection that Dr. Tiller and other abortion providers get from law enforcement agencies. Hopefully, they will the protests of the pro-choice community. But, it is not enough. Think about it. Approximately a million American women each year benefit from the courage and commitment and caring of abortion providers, hospitals, doctors, clinics and escorts and other supporters. I know these millions of women are with us in spirit today, but they are not coming forward to protest the killing of an abortion doctor.
Justice Blackmun, in his Roe v. Wade decision built a great, big closet for us who get abortions to hide in. He called it “The Right to Privacy”. And, by the millions, we have hidden in that closet, and we have stayed hidden in that closet. We have got to come out of that closet if we want to protect the right of other women to have help, like we got help when we needed it. We have got to say,
“Yes, I had an abortion. My name is Carol Downer. I had an abortion in 1965 when I already had four children and was getting a much-needed divorce. Then, after remarrying and having two more children, I had another in Los Angeles, and my e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org“
We need privacy when we become unhappily pregnancy, to consider our alternatives and we need privacy to seek out and receive abortion care. But, after our personal crisis is over, if we don’t start coming out of that closet in the hundreds and in the thousands, the killers and bombers and screamers and misanthropes will get their way. George TIller will have died in vain.
I would like to ask anyone who has had an abortion and who is willing to speak-out publically to come forward to identify herself right now. Brothers, and sisters who have not had an abortion, we need your support too, but right now, right this minute, from this time forward, this is the time for us who have had abortions to make our voices heard. So, as Harvey Milk would say, come on out!
Many women have responded to Dr. George Tiller’s murder and Carol’s moving speech speaking out about their abortion stories. We at Women’s Health Specialists have launched an Abortion Speak Out Campaign, so that women can participate in this campaign on our website. Please follow this link to read about and sign up for the Out Speak Out Campaign.