Remembering Dr. Tiller: The Day My World Stood Still

3 Jun

In late May 2009, the college choir left Kansas to sing at Carnegie Hall in NYC. This included several days of rehearsals in the hotel, including one on a Sunday. Morning is not my favorite time of day, especially not on a weekend during the summer, so the majority of the rehearsal happened while I was in a fog of sleep.

Break time came, and I headed to the bathroom. A group of girls gathered around the sinks, talking. They were pretty, conservative girls, not the type I would generally talk to, but nice enough to smile and say hello if we bumped into each other. As I dried my hands, I heard one of them say, “Well, thank the Lord I guess, one life for millions!” The others chattered in agreement. I suddenly woke up. What in the world could they be talking about, what happened? Who had died?

I decided it was worth checking out, and pulled up the browser on my phone. Top headline–“Abortion doctor slain in church.” I didn’t have to read any further or look at the picture to know who the doctor was. It took a great deal of energy not to start crying as rehearsal began again.

Later I sat in the hotel room with my grandparents and mom, watching the news reports. We listened to Keith Olbermann condemn a certain Fox News personality. We watched as Rachel Maddow continued the story line. We saw pictures of my city on the news in the City.

That’s when my grandpa said to me, “I wish I were younger and didn’t faint at the sight of blood. Hell, I wish you would’ve stayed with science as a major. We need someone to step up and take his place, and soon.”

I decided that day that even though I wasn’t medically inclined, I was going to do something that I knew would make Dr. Tiller proud. I decided that my future career teaching English to international students would someday turn into teaching English to future doctors, who would go home and hopefully give proper reproductive health services to women (and men) in the countries that needed it most.

But I decided something else that day. Our fight for reproductive rights is not just against the crazies like Scott Roeder. Those girls in the bathroom who had seen Dr. Tiller’s murder as a blessing were sweet, kind, conservative Catholic girls who for the most part practiced what they preached. They didn’t scream or hold signs at Dr. Tiller’s clinic. Instead, a few days every month they stood across the street with their rosary beads, quietly praying. They never harassed women going into the clinic. I would assume that most of them would never know the fear of an unplanned pregnancy, and most of them had probably never met someone who had been through it (or if they did, that person was probably the “wrong” sort for them to being talking to, anyway). They called his murder a good thing, when they didn’t even scratch the surface of what it meant for families and women in the Midwest.

Dr. Tiller’s clinic is now closed, and it makes me sad every time I drive by it. People rejoiced when it happened; now women have to go to a suburb of Kansas City for abortions, or risk the rules and rhetoric of Oklahoma’s clinics.

I’m leaving Dr. Tiller’s home city in a few months, since I’ve got graduate school to attend. I shouldn’t be sad, because NYC holds so many opportunities for me to accomplish my goals. However, it reminds me that I’m one more voice for choice leaving this state, one more vote, one more liberal.

RIP, Dr. Tiller, I hope this wonderful state never forgets the miraculous things you did for so, so many women and families.


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