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The Nation

What Would George Tiller Do?

The late doctor trusted women. It was his philosophy and practice.

Today is the third anniversary of Dr. George Tiller’s assassination. On May 31, 2009, Tiller was shot and killed by Scott Roeder while he served as an usher in his Wichita church. Tiller was one of the only abortion providers in the country to provide late-term abortions. He often wore a button that said “Trust Women.”

I wonder, if Dr. Tiller were alive today, what he would think about the unwavering attack against women’s reproductive freedom and bodily integrity—if he could ever of imagined that American women would still not just be fighting for the right to abortion but for birth control. Or that there would be a national debate on whether or not it’s appropriate to call a woman who wants contraception coverage a “prostitute.” I imagine that even for a man who had seen a lot of misogyny in his life, the current climate against women would be shocking.

Since Tiller’s murder, the legislative agenda against reproductive justice—and common-sense decency—has been staggering.

We’ve seen mandated ultrasound laws that not only put an undue financial burden on women seeking abortions but that also require patients to be penetrated against their wills in order to procure a legal medical procedure.

Last month, Arizona passed a handful of anti-choice legislation—including one that defines pregnancies as beginning two weeks before conception. In Ohio a fetus “testified” in favor of an anti-choice law. The useless piece of meat surrounding the testifying fetus—what some call “the woman”—was silent.

Dr. Tiller trusted women. It was his philosophy and practice.

A bill proposed in Georgia didn’t want to just outlaw abortions—why aim so low?—but also would mandate that women who have miscarriages be investigated to make sure that there was “no human involvement whatsoever.” Women whose miscarriages were found to be suspect could face life in prison or even the death penalty.

South Dakota wants women who need abortions not only visit a crisis pregnancy center—religiously based organizations that rely on deception and false medical information to scare women—but also wait seventy-two hours after this “counseling” before being able to even schedule the procedure. Governor Dougaard said that he hopes women considering abortion “will use this three day period to make good choices.” As if we were unruly children in need of a time-out, instead of adults making decisions about our lives and family.

This barrage of anti-choice laws even explicitly puts people’s lives in danger, despite all the “pro-life” rhetoric.

Late last year the House passed the ironically named “Protect Life Act,” which would allow hospitals to refuse women abortions even if they needed them to save their lives. (The hospital wouldn’t even have to transfer the woman to a facility that would provide the life-saving procedure—they could simply watch her die.)

And last year, South Dakota (followed by Iowa and Nebraska) proposed a bill that would have made it legal to kill abortion providers. That’s right—kill them. The language of the bill made it so that murdering someone in defense of a fetus would be considered justifiable homicide. 

Dr. Tiller trusted women. It was his philosophy and practice.

But we live in a country where rape victims go untreated because healthcare providers think it’s within their right to deny them care. Where doctors can lie to women about prenatal test results in order to keep them from getting abortions. We live in states where women are made to jump through patneralistic hoops that make it near impossible to obtain abortions, and inconceivable that we could do so without being shamed or condescended to. I think Dr. Tiller would be horrified to know that America still doesn’t trust women—not with our health, our bodies, our decisions or our lives.

I wasn’t fortunate enough to know Dr. Tiller, but I miss him all the same. The world was a better place with him in it. To honor his memory, let’s practice what he preached: trust women. It’s not a lot to ask.

Jessica Valenti

Jessica Valenti is the author of three books, including The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women, which was recently made into a documentary. She is editor of the award-winning anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape and the founder of, which Columbia Journalism Review calls “head and shoulders above almost any writing on women’s issues in mainstream media.” Jessica was the recipient of the 2011 Hillman Journalism Prize and was called one of the Top 100 Inspiring Women in the world by The Guardian.

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