I learned about Dr. Tiller’s murder via twitter. I remember exactly where I was on May 31, 2009 — sitting on my couch, casually browsing the new internet phenomenon, not yet convinced that it was a worthwhile pursuit for me. I saw a friend’s tweet, “wtf Dr Tiller dead?!?” and at first it didn’t register. I looked around. Outside, the wind was blowing through the trees. My beagle was sleeping, snoring next to me. Dr. Tiller was dead. What?!
At the time, I worked at an abortion clinic. We referred our patients to Dr. Tiller if we couldn’t see them due to a later stage in pregnancy or a severe fetal abnormality. He was a hero in my mind, a kind of Abortion God who stood for justice, peace, and compassion. I aspired to live and work by his high standards, his well-known mantras.
I scoured the internet to read anything I could about the circumstances of his murder. I called my supervisor in a panic, afraid for my clinic, my patients, my co-workers. I was glued to my computer as the details unfolded, not taking calls from anyone who didn’t work in abortionland, my heart drenched in despair and anxiety.
I returned to the clinic the following day. We had a staff meeting to discuss our feelings, our concerns, and of course, our safety. Out of that meeting, one of the many sentiments expressed was the need for a space for abortion providers to tell our stories. We were always doing everything we could to support our patients through their experiences – what about our own? In creating such a space, perhaps we could humanize abortion providers and clinic staff. Maybe, we thought, if they see our faces, our compassion, they won’t kill us.
So I started the I Am Dr. Tiller project, which grew to a site with dozens of submissions from around the world of abortion providers telling their stories, their origins in the reproductive justice movement.
But until yesterday, the man who murdered Dr. Tiller remained unpunished. Until yesterday, the world remained as cruel and unjust as we’ve come to expect it as abortion providers. Yesterday, Scott Roeder was sentenced to the “Hard 50,” or 50 years in jail before possible parole. Does it bring my hero, Dr. Tiller, back? No. Does it stop anti-choice violence and lies? No. But it does send a message. The law is on our side. Killing doctors is illegal and morally abhorrent. This act of terrorism is not tolerated in the land of the free.
We need to celebrate this victory for justice, but we also need to celebrate Dr. Tiller’s legacy. Encourage your friends to tell their abortion stories. Ask your abortion provider how and why they got involved in abortion care work. Volunteer as an escort at an abortion clinic. Like Dr. Tiller said, trust women.
Our work is not done.