Over the last week I’ve had the unbelievable privilege of attending two remarkable events: the Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health honors ceremony and a fundraiser for Trust Women PAC. Both events had inspiring speakers that included Dr. Carhart, members of the Tiller family, Emily Lyons, and others. The PRCH event honored the lifework of two outstanding abortion providers, while the Trust Women PAC specifically honored the life of Dr. Tiller. The energy at each event was different – at PRCH, we were celebratory but somber, at Trust Women PAC, we were engaged and enraged. Why the difference?
The PRCH Honors was a gathering of physicians and healthcare professionals who lost a colleague, a mentor, and a friend. The assassination of Dr. Tiller affected their work in a way that many of us can’t comprehend. How do you move on when someone in your field is murdered because they are in that field? Can you move on? Do you keep doing your job knowing that you’re putting your life in danger? Your family’s well-being in danger? Being in a room of clinicians and providers who do just that floored me. It makes sense to me that we were all teary after hearing Jeanne Tiller (Dr. George Tiller’s wife) and her daughter speak. The event was as much about celebrating the achievements of abortion providers as it was about mourning the loss of one of the field’s heroes. There was some political talk, but the evening was mostly focused on honoring the work of specific providers. I left feeling proud to be a member of a community so courageous and so involved in honoring women’s life choices.
At Trust Women PAC, it was a different story. We listened to Dr. Carhart and Emily Lyons tell their stories about themselves and about Dr. Tiller. We all got stuck on a comment by Dr. Carhart about the pro-choice movement. He explained that he couldn’t understand why there is so much in-fighting among pro-choice groups, when we have the same end goal: to protect women’s health and rights. You can imagine how the discussion went from there (hint: we all kept talking/shouting over each other). We got stuck on a few key points that I want to offer up to everyone:
- We need women to share their abortion stories in order to destigmatize abortion
- We need women to share their stories before state legislatures to put a face on women who have abortions, to help politicians better understand the need for abortion services and the absurdity of anti-choice laws
- We need to reach out to women in a way that makes sense to them culturally, emotionally, religiously, spiritually, etc BUT:
- How do we do this in a way that respects women’s decisions and emotions, especially if a woman decides she does not want to be public about her abortion experience?
Honoring Dr. Tiller’s legacy, continuing with the work he began for us, means asking these difficult questions. We need the input of activists AND providers in reaching these goals. We need to work together to learn how to trust and serve women.