One Year Later: Honoring Dr. George Tiller

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Huffington Post

One Year Later: Honoring Dr. George Tiller

We are days away from marking the one-year anniversary of the Sunday morning Scott Roeder walked into Dr. George Tiller's church in Kansas and shot him at close range.

After his murder, many women and men came to our blog to express their appreciation for what Dr. Tiller had done for their sisters, wives, relatives, and friends. Many of these women had found themselves in desperate and heart-breaking circumstances and turned to Dr. Tiller in their time of need.

Karen from Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania gives us one example of what Dr. Tiller meant to women:

Dr. Tiller, you saved my niece Jeanette's life, you helped our family through one of the darkest, most desperate and unthinkable moments we ever experienced. When we thought there was no where to turn, there you were. I called you the 'Wizard,' because of the incredible journey we had taken to find you, in Kansas. You are, and will always be my Hero.

It makes me angry when I think about how Roeder sat through his trial without showing any remorse for his actions. He reached new lows of callousness and disrespect for the Tiller family and for families like Karen's. It's equally infuriating that the same people who spent years harassing Dr. Tiller and his patients outside his health center showed no remorse. They rejected the notion that their pattern of inflammatory rhetoric could lead to violence by the more extreme elements of their own anti-choice movement.

We didn't have to wait long for the intimidation to resume. Less than four months after Dr. Tiller's murder, the members of the notorious Operation Rescue picked up their signs and bullhorns and moved 328 miles north to Omaha, Nebraska. Dr. Tiller's murder didn't change their tactics; they just changed their mailing address -- and their target.

They took aim at Dr. LeRoy Carhart, who is one of the few abortion providers to whom women in heart-breaking circumstances can turn. Many of these women have wanted and cherished pregnancies but something goes wrong, such as a fetal anomaly or a condition that threatens their life or health. These circumstances are of no interest to Operation Rescue. Their goal is to close his clinic, too.

I am proud to report that pro-choice Americans in the heartland sent a strong message to Operation Rescue. On the day of Operation Rescue's protest, pro-choice activists outnumbered their protesters two to one.

Unfortunately, our numbers weren't as strong when it came to the Nebraska Legislature, where anti-choice lawmakers hold an overwhelming advantage. What Operation Rescue couldn't achieve through violence and harassment, anti-choice politicians in Nebraska made possible through legislation. Just this spring, the state enacted a divisive and invasive anti-choice law aimed directly at threatening Dr. Carhart and the women he serves.

In a further sign of disrespect for women, the National Right to Life Committee's Mary Spaulding Balch told Politico how her group capitalized on tragedy for political gain:

When George Tiller was killed, LeRoy Carhart had national attention...That alerted Speaker Mike Flood to the problem in Nebraska and he worked to address that.

An anti-choice operative's callous words that reduce women in tragic situations to pawns in a political game are outrageous -- and we cannot let them go unchecked.

As we mark the one-year anniversary of Dr. Tiller's murder, those of us in America's pro-choice majority must be vigilant about telling our friends and family that what happened in Kansas was not an isolated incident. It is a part of an ongoing campaign of threats -- in legislative chambers and outside abortion providers' offices and homes -- to make it more difficult and dangerous for women to access abortion care.

Frankly, we cannot control anti-choice lawmakers or Operation Rescue, but we can call out their outrageous statements and aggressive tactics.

We can take inspiration from the pro-choice activists who stared down anti-choice demonstrators in Omaha. Not all of us can go to Nebraska, but we can join others in sending messages of support to Dr. Carhart. We can share our reasons for being pro-choice and standing up for women with friends and family. We can pledge to only vote for pro-choice candidates at all levels of government, so that groups like the National Right to Life Committee can't coerce their followers into attacking women through the legislative process.

We can -- and will, I have no doubt -- pay tribute to Dr. Tiller, his family, and the women he served by speaking openly and honestly about our pro-choice values.

As we speak out, let's always remember to use the two powerful words that guided Dr. Tiller's work: Trust Women.

Nancy Keenan

Nancy Keenan began her tenure as president of NARAL Pro-Choice America in December 2004. Committed to working on behalf of America’s pro-choice majority, Nancy took the reigns of the organization pledging to protect and defend the American values of freedom, privacy and personal responsibility.

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