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Thursday, May 31, 2012

In Memory of Dr. Geoge Tiller, Warrior for Women

If you mention George Tiller in conversation, many won't have any idea who you're talking about. Many people don't know that a little more than three years ago, George Tiller was one of only 3 doctors in the United States that would perform late term abortions. If you google him, you will find far more horror stories than raves. But peppered among those horror stories are stories from women who went to him. Women who were desperate. Women who were (and are still) devastated. Women who are grateful. 

For Dr. Tiller's family and these patients and their families, today marks a very sad day. Today is the third anniversary of Dr. Tiller's death. And what makes it worse is how he died. He didn't die peacefully in his sleep. He didn't have a heart attack. He wasn't killed in a car accident. No, Dr. Tiller was standing in the lobby of his church, with his wife just on the other side of the auditorium doors, when Scott Roeder walked up to him, and shot him in the head at point blank range.

I first learned of Dr. Tiller in 2010, while doing research for a pro-life paper that I was writing for a psychology class. At first, all I found were the horror stories. As a mother, I was appalled. I just kept thinking, why would a mother abort her child, much less if the pregnancy is in a later stage?!. I was naive. And after everything I read started to sink in, I thought that there must be positive stories about Dr. Tiller somewhere on the internet. I decided that I needed to find and read those before deciding how I really felt about this. This was too big of a deal to be so black and white. So my research shifted. Soon, I found websites with pages like "Kansas stories", stories of women who had traveled to Wichita for Dr. Tiller to end their pregnancy. I came across a Terminations for Medical Reasons board on a parenting website. The stories were truly devastating. One woman talked about the ultrasound where she and her husband found our that their very planned, loved, and wanted baby had no brain. She talked about the pain of letting her child go. Another woman talked about finding out that her baby had a devastating case of spina bifida. These were things that I could never imagine dealing with. As a mother, my heart broke for them. I started contacting women from that board. Most of them were happy to share their experiences with me. I went to the Operation Rescue website and did a little research on George Tiller and came up with information on his former employees. I looked those ladies up and tried contacting them, as well. These people had no reason to talk to me. For all they knew, I could have been a pro-life extremist phishing for information. And let's be honest, I was just a student doing a paper. But one lady took a chance on me. Bonnie Moss-Rhodes accepted my friends request on Facebook. I was extremely nervous to reach out, but that didn't last long. Bonnie was very willing to answer my questions and shed new light for me. With the things she told me, along with the women I had spoken to and the stories I had read from patients, my mind was made up. My views had changed. Suddenly, I couldn't feel anything but sympathy for these mothers and their families, and respect for Dr. Tiller. I was officially pro-choice. But I was also left with about 1,000,002 questions.

For the third anniversary of his death, Bonnie Moss-Rhodes agreed to answer some questions for me, that will hopefully shed light on this issue for everyone, regardless of what side of the fence you stand on. I, in no way, wanted to be intrusive to her memories or over-step my bounds. I would have been happy with answers to one of my questions, but I asked 10. She gave me detailed answers to every question I asked and was happy to do so. I'll post the Q & A below, with a description of what is being talked about in bold, if I feel it needs further explaining to others. I would also like to say that Bonnie answered these questions while only speaking for herself.

Q. What is one memory of Dr. Tiller that sticks out in your mind?
A: My most intense memory is of the Doctor sitting next to the bed of a patient all night talking to her and her husband. I had called to tell him that he was needed back in around midnight. This was after a long day at work. He was so caring and sweet with this couple. He could not have been more concerned if it was his own family.

Q: Was there any particular case that strengthened your feelings about a woman's right to choose while you were working with Dr. Tiller?
A:  There were so many cases where patients just tore at your heart. Especially where rape was involved or the cases where the patient had already watched a child die from a genetic condition over months or years and simply could not see another face the same fate. There were also those families that had tried so hard to become pregnant and then had to deal with having to terminate. So many of them had made their decision out of love for that baby they so longed for, choosing to terminate the pregnancy instead rather than to cause it more suffering. Every week there were reasons to recommit and they strengthened the fact that women and their families must have an option of what is best for their families.

Q: Do you and the other former workers keep in touch? Is there a type of comradery between all of you?
A: Not just from working at Dr. Tillers. I have friends I made thirty or so years ago when I first started in clinic defense. There is a comrade in arms feeling. We were under siege and under attack daily. When the anti went to my co workers houses with bull horns it would just make you so angry for them. There is also the very real fear that every time you say good bye at the end of the shift something terrible might happen to these good folks. Yes, I keep in touch with most of those I worked with. I think we went through something that only we can really understand.

Q: Do you have good memories from working with Dr. Tiller, or is it possible to have good memories when you're working in such a traumatic environment (protesters, threats, harassment, sad women and families, etc.)?
A: I have very good memories of working at Women's Health Care. Good memories of the staff and the patients and their families. The protesters are an irritant but not really very noticeable beyond the gate. You are aware that they are there and as I worked all night and watched the monitors, often you are not focused on them. I felt good that I was there to help these women and their families in a time of need. I enjoyed working with different doctors and their different ways of doing things. It is a good feeling to be where you are needed for a reason you believe in.

Q: Is it true, as Operation Rescue (an extremely prolife organization) has reported, that Dr. Tiller was getting ready to retire?
A: I do not know for sure, but that is very likely. He had been a target of so much hatred and harassment for so long. I know how deeply he loved his family and I hope he was planning to spend more time with them away from the crazies (the "crazies" being the pro-life extremists). He certainly had earned it.  

Q: Was there any sense among you, and the other workers, or Dr. Tiller that the work was coming to an end?
A: No, I did not get that impression. We had several other very good doctors. Dr. Tiller's retirement did not mean closing the clinic. It took a cold-blooded murderer to do that. Even with that being done, our other doctors and some of the nurses are still providing services for the patients in other states.

Q: Do you remember how work was handled on the Sunday (or few days after, for the women who had already started the process) that Dr. Tiller was murdered?
A: I did not work in the office, but I believe that all patients were called and told the circumstance and then directed to where they could receive service.

Q: Do you think the decision to close the clinic permanently (Dr. Tiller's family decided to permanently close the clinic in the days following his death) was the best idea? Do you think that in some way, the other side "won" when the clinic closed?
A: I do not think the other side won anything when the clinic closed. I think the clinic closing was the best thing for the family. They had lived under threat for so long and had had their husband and father murdered in cold blood. Dr. Tiller remains a force in the pro-choice movement. His murder, once again, showed how little the other side has accomplished in the debate. They could not bully the Doctor into closing, so they, for the sixth time (Dr. Tiller was the 6th abortionist murdered by pro-life extremists), chose to murder.

Q: Do you think, that at this point, fighting for women's rights is a losing battle?
A: Absolutely not. Birth control, abortion, women's health...I grew up with this fight. We cannot go back to the way it was when I was a young woman. Women are more important than any political candidate. I have daughters and granddaughters that I will fight to the death for. We may have setbacks and we may relax and let the other side get control of the conversation, but we have way too much to lose to ever give up.

Q: If you could tell pro-lifers who were willing to listening, ANYTHING (about Dr. Tiller, women's rights, your own experiences at the clinic, etc.), what would it be?
A: In regards to Dr. Tiller, I would tell them that the fact that so many lies were readily believed by the anti-choice (pro-life) side about this good man, that the attempt to portray him as some demon only shows how little truth the anti's had on their side of the debate. I would tell them that if they were really concerned about babies, they would be promoting policies to make sure that not a single child in this country went hungry or lacked all educational opportunities and an equal chance at achievement. I would say that if they really wanted to prevent a great many abortions, that they would support access to birth control and make sure that women were supported while pregnant so that they (pregnant women) did not have to choose between feeding the children that they already have and keeping a roof over their head over carrying a pregnancy to term. They would fight for subsidized, safe childcare for poor, working women and for the education of women that enables them to become truly self-supported. To just insist on a woman carrying to term without these things shows that the real agenda of the anti-choice movement is not saving babies, but controlling women. I would tell them that when a woman's life and health is on the line, it is not up to them to decide that the woman must sacrifice herself. I would tell them that there are cases where a fetus is so damaged that if born, it will only live a few minutes or hours or days, in pain and suffering, and that for the parents to be forced to endure the suffering of a baby with no hope is just immoral.

After I asked her these 10 questions, I asked Bonnie one more thing. I asked her if she, like so many pro-lifers like to believe about her and the other workers, was pro-abortion. This is an idea that has always irked me because, really, who thinks, "Hey! Let's see how many women we can talk into having abortions today!"....yeah, no one. Abortion is no one's ideal. Bonnie's response was simple:
"I honestly believe that it is the decision of the woman, and her's alone to make". And then she went on to explain that she would love to see a world where abortion was a rare thing, where birth control improved to the point where unintended pregnancy was rare. She said she would love to see genetic anomalies treatable, if not a thing of the past. A world where women were not impregnated through rape, where women were supported to the point where they could choose to carry this child, while supporting that child. She said that even in a perfect world, abortion would still be necessary, but rare while readily available to those who need it. 

Through our conversation, she also added that in all her years, she has never met anyone who was happy about having an abortion. Relieved and grateful, maybe, but never happy. (I have to agree, I have often said that no girl or woman ever aspires to have an abortion.) She said that all of her patients had put considerable time into making the decision to terminate, often with the support of family and friends. Something very interesting to note is that she said all of the doctors and counselors that she worked with were able to weed out patients who were there because someone was forcing them to be, or when they were there, but clearly didn't want an abortion. The staff was able to give these women resources and send them on their way, as Bonnie puts it. She even says that the staff at Women's Health Care (The Wichita clinic that Dr. Tiller ran) was probably able to weed out more of these kinds of woman in a month than the amount of people standing at the gate to protest. And if you've ever looked up pictures from any of these ((daily)) protests, you will see that that is quite a bit. 

I hope that you walk away from this post with valuable insight. And that even if you don't agree with the work that was done, you can still respect the man, those who worked beside him, and the families that sought his services. One thing that I have learned through this research, along with my own experiences in motherhood, is that baby-making is not a perfect science. In fact, it can be pretty catastrophic, and when it is it's devastating. No one can ever say whether or not they'd go through with an abortion (whether it be an early or late term abortion) until they are in the position to. I hope none of my readers are ever in that position, but if they are, I want them to have access to safe, legal, and compassionate care. I do not want them to face judgement from people, let alone people who have never been in their shoes. I want them to receive the counseling before and after the procedure that is so essential to the healing process. 

I hope that today, on this somber anniversary, Dr. Tiller's family is able to look back and remember their father...their husband...the hero, without giving a second thought to Scott Roeder. He doesn't deserve their brain space. I hope they are able to look past the awful way he died, to remember the amazing work that he did. I hope they can push the hateful memories out of their minds, and remember the women who are so grateful to have been able to go to Dr. Tiller. 

As Bonnie told me, we have to keep the conversation going. We have to keep this issue present in people's minds. Women who have had abortions, for whatever reason, need to speak out so that we can start to erase the stigma. Women who haven't had abortions should be thankful, and support the ones that have. If you are pro-choice, work for the cause. Even if that means all you can do is blog about it, or vote for pro-choice politicians...DO IT! Don't think that because you aren't working 5 days a week at a clinic that what you are doing is any less important. 

Please, pass this post along to your friends and family. See what everyone has to say. As always, any view is welcome, as long as it is presented respectfully. I would also like to give a HUGE thank you to Mrs. Bonnie Moss-Rhodes. This post wouldn't have been nearly as important or moving without her input. 

In Loving Memory of Dr. George Tiller
August 8, 1941-May 31, 2009
"Attitude is Everything"

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Remembering Dr. Tiller

On Thursday, May 31st, we will mark the 3 year anniversary of George Tiller's death. Of course, as most of you know, Dr. Tiller was shot at point blank range in his church in Wichita on Sunday, May 31st, 2009 but Scott Roeder.

I can't help but wonder what he was doing this time in 2009. Was the thought of assassination weighing heavily on his mind? Was it always on his mind? Did he think he was in the clear? Did he have any eerie feeling that his life was about to end? And if so, did he take the time to let his loved ones know how much he cared? Did anyone around him have an inkling that it was all coming to an end?

What a scary thought to think that any of us, regardless of our political choices, regardless of our personal beliefs, could be snuffed out at any time. Scary to think that at this time next year, people could be marking the one year anniversary of my death. We just never know.

I hope that this year, the Tiller family is able to remember their husband, father, uncle and not think of the horror that Scott Roeder brought to their lives, but of the good that Dr. Tiller was able to do while he was here...the women and girls that he was able to help. I hope that Scott Roeder isn't able to take up a moment of their thoughts....I hope they don't give him the unknowing satisfaction. I hope that they take the day to remember Dr. Tiller's life and not his death.

I'll be posting more closer to the actual anniversary, but until then, let's hear what you think.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Way to go, Nate!

Yesterday, on May 2nd, Georgia governor Nathan Deal signed into law, a bill that not only bans abortion after 20 weeks, but has no (I repeat, NO) exception for rape OR incest. This new law will go into effect January 1, 2013. Let it also be noted that the bill states that any abortion done AFTER 20 weeks, will be done in such a way that the fetus will be born alive. Good going, Mr. Deal! Because we all know that watching a 20 wk baby struggle and die is MUCH more humane than an injection to the heart with a peaceful, dignified death to follow.  And let's not even mention what a wonderful effect this will have on a mother. This will was passed because some people believe that at 20 weeks, a baby can start to feel pain. I won't pretend that I know when a baby is able to feel pain. I DO know that all of the neurological stuff has to be in order so that the brain can send pain signals to the nerves. Again, I'm not sure exactly when this happens. BUT, if a 20 weeker DOES feel pain, wouldn't it feel the struggle of an induced premature labor?

The only exception is for medically futile pregnancies.

The 12 year old who's uncle has raped her, yet she doesn't know what the signs of symptoms of pregnancy are, and her parents don't realize until she's 5 or 6 months along? No luck for her! I can't imagine the effects this will have on some of these women.

Of course, no one wants to have a 20 week abortion. NO abortion is ideal...especially one that is this far along for whatever reason. But it happens. There are reasons BEHIND them. And if you are one of unlucky ones to have your body violated and have it result in pregnancy and you live in Georgia, you're shit out of luck.

Call me a bra burning feminist but, I have a hard time believing that any woman would pass such a bill.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

An open mind?

As many of you know, I follow the pro-life side, as well as pro-choice side. I find both sides interesting and I am always open to hearing what a respectful pro-lifer has to say. Hell, I'm even open to hearing what they have to say when they're being obnoxious. But there is nothing I hate more than going into an "open" forum where all sides are welcome, asking a pro-lifer a question, and being treated like an idiot because of my beliefs. It never fails to amaze me how condescending pro-lifers can be, when their main goal Wouldn't you think that they would be anxious to answer honest questions from the other side of the fence? Me too. Apparently, this is not the case.

For about a year, I've been following Jenni Coffin on Facebook. I had never heard of her, but a pro-life friend of mine recommended her on his page, so I checked her out. She lists her page as Jenni Coffin-Pro Life Educator. Again, I'm thinking this girl would welcome questions. From what I can tell, she's a mom. She looks awfully young, but says that she has CNA experience, that she's working towards her Doctorate in Elementary/Administrative Education and a Masters in Anthropology. Right off the bat, at the end of her "about" section, she writes a message to the "trolls" and tells them that she has no interest in stalking their pages, but thanks them for taking the time to obsess over her. Hm. Okay. I can imagine the girl has been bombed (so to speak) but pro-choicers before. But seeing as she describes herself as an educator, I figured that questions were welcome on the page...especially since the "info" section says "EVERYONE is welcome here". So I ask, "Jenni, I have to say, I'm pro choice. But I respect the pro-life side as I spent the majority of my life there. I realize that this might come off like I am trying to start something, but in ((whatever section it was, I can't remember now)), you said that if people can't watch a partial birth abortion, that they should not support abortion. My question is, seeing as you're a CNA, have you ever seen one?". I realize that that was a difficult question for me to ask without it coming off the wrong way, but I did. The first reply I get is from an admin. He says something along the lines of "Jenni is out of town with Abby Johnson right now promoting the awesome pro-life cause. She'll be back in town and will answer your question soon. She's on her way back home now". Okay. So I wait. Later that night I get a reply from Jenni, herself. "Yes, I have. I also have medical videos if you'd like me to send them to you, or you could go to your local medical library and view one for "educational purposes". Happy viewing....though I'm really being sarcastic cause really it'll make you cry". My first thought was, "how condescending" and "Why is she coming off so defensive?". So I reply and ask her if the videos are her's, as in, videos of the PBA's that she saw, and that her reply certainly doesn't leave one with the feeling that EVERYone is welcome. She replies "No....they're medical videos. I'm not a medical recorder" and then something insinuating that I'm an idiot for thinking that she's being rude over a facebook status. It was weird. Finally, I just unliked her page and chalked it up to the fact that some people really don't know how to defend their stance without immediately being defensive and assuming that the other party is "the bad guy". But before I could even get my cursor over the button to unlike the page, she replies AGAIN and says that the fact that I stated my opinion of her being rude shows why I'm "really" there and that she has no time for this and is going to bed. Goodnight.

Well....goodnight, Jenni Coffin. I hope you feel better?