Archive | May, 2012

Honoring Dr. Tiller: A Collective Remembrance

31 May

May 31 marks the third year since Dr.  Tiller, an abortion provider in Wichita, Kansas, was brutally murdered while serving as an usher in his church. Dr. Tiller was known worldwide as a provider of compassionate, kind, respectful later abortion services that focused on preserving the dignity and integrity of his patients.

To honor his legacy, we and the Provider Project asked folks to respond to this question: How can the pro-choice and reproductive justice movements better support the people who have later abortions and providers who perform them? Below is a list of posts taking on this topic and thinking about Dr. Tiller. This list will be updated as the day goes on:

Patient First 
May 31, 2009: Welcome to America
What Would George Tiller Do?
Honor Dr. Tiller: Keep Late-Term Abortions Available
The Good Samaritan
Dr. Tiller Would Trust Women
Thoughts on the Anniversary of Dr. Tiller’s Death
Thinking About Dr. Tiller
I Write Letters
Anniversary of Loss
We Are the Moral Side: Honoring Dr. Tiller
Remembering Dr. George Tiller
The Terrorism That Killed Dr. Tiller Remains a Threat

This Clinic Stays Open: Remembering Dr. Tiller
Three Years Later
Honoring Dr. Tiller ~ by fml and Servalbear

If you’ve written a post for the collective remembrance and don’t see it above, please email the URL to or tweet the link to @IAmDrTiller.



Honoring Dr. Tiller: A Call for Collective (Blog) Remembrance

30 May

Tomorrow, May 31, marks the three year anniversary of Dr. Tiller’s murder. In the wake of increasing restrictionson later abortions and mounting violence against abortion clinics, we at the Abortion Gang and the Provider Project want to honor Dr. Tiller’s legacy of compassionate care by hosting a collective blog remembrance in response to this question: How can the pro-choice and reproductive justice movements better support the people who have later abortions and providers who perform them?

Your post can directly answer this question, or use it as a jumping off point to talk about other issues, such as:

  • Why is it so difficult for our movement to talk about and support later abortions?
  • Reflecting on Dr. Tiller’s famous quote: “Make no mistake, this battle is about self-determination by women of the direction and course of their lives and their family’s lives. Abortion is about women’s hopes and dreams. Abortion is a matter of survival for women.”

In your post, please link back to this blog post so that folks can come here and find links to other reflections on Dr. Tiller.

The Abortion Gang and the Provider Project will post links to pieces written answering this question, starting Thursday, May 31 through the following Thursday, June 7. Please feel free to forward this call for posts to anyone who you think would be interested in honoring Dr. Tiller’s legacy. Send the links to your posts to and, or tweet them to @IAmDrTiller and @Provider Project.

Remembering Dr. Tiller: The Good Samaritan

30 May

When Dr. Tiller was murdered I was working at a small, progressive non-profit in Washington, D.C., where our job was to watch the news all day, every day. Our office contained dozens of televisions; we would watch the same 24 hour news cycle on an endless loop. I watched coverage of Dr. Tiller’s assassination the way people once watched President Kennedy’s. I cried. My boss was sympathetic but unhelpful. I had no way to explain.

In this battle for “women’s rights,” where the battleground is our very bodies and the enemy is within and without, I see our futures: mine, my friends, my aunts, my sisters and cousins, my future someday daughters. Dr. Tiller once said, “Make no mistake, this battle is about self-determination by women of the direction and course of their lives and their family’s lives. Abortion is about women’s hopes and dreams. Abortion is a matter of survival.” He said “survival for women;” I say survival for us all.

It was rare to hear of a doctor who performed later abortions before Dr. Tiller’s murder, rarer to hear from them, and now, since his death, rarer still to discover people still do this work. But they do. A doctor came forward recently to talk about it. He said he was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who, in telling the fable of The Good Samaritan, said that what made the Samaritan “Good” was that his concern wasn’t, “What will happen to me if I stop to help this person?” but rather, “What will happen to this person if I do not stop to help them?” The question of what would happen to the women he saw in desperate need of later abortions was powerful enough to eventually bring this Christian over from staunch anti-choice beginnings to a practice in extremely rare and personally dangerous later abortions.

When we talk about later abortions, we so often tell stories. We talk about the woman who wanted her child and discovered a severe fetal abnormality and waited, waited, hoping the tests would tell her everything was all right, until it was too late, and she needed an abortion when only a few people would perform one. We tell the story of the very young girl who needed one after her rape, or the women – so many women – who were too poor to pay for one until they were past their second trimester, women tripped up by the stumbling blocks put up by state legislatures with that very goal in mind. And these stories are true, and I would, personally, love to hear these women tell them. But they don’t tell them; we do.

They don’t tell their stories because it’s dangerous and someone might hurt them and people will certainly harass them, their children, and their families. We tell their stories so people will understand, so someday, other women won’t face the same stigma. And so we create sides: the people the stories happened to, and the people fighting for new stories by telling the old ones.

To change it, we have to take it all apart.

Another highly controversial question is the so-called “sex-selective” abortion: specifically aborting a female fetus in order to try and get pregnant with a boy. Anti-choice activists decry this as sexism, and want to pass laws to prevent these abortions, the idea apparently being that restricting women’s right to independent family planning will, ultimately, fight sexism (?).

The fight against later abortions and sex-selective abortion is the same; the fight against all abortions is the same. The fight against abortion is about limiting people’s choices – not just women’s, but all people’s choices – about such highly, intensely personal things as how to create a family. The fight for abortion, at every level, in every instance, is the fight to allow people to dream whatever they wish; to create families in the time and way they determine is best for them; to subsequently create and live lives in the context of free will and self-power. To fight for abortion is to fight for a worldworth bringing children into.

The question we begin from today is, “How can we support providers of later abortions and people who have later abortions?” I believe we must start by eliminating the qualifier. It calls for stories, you see. It says, “tell me why youdeserve this, when your abortion is different than other abortions, when the abortion you provide is different, maybe worse, than other abortions.” But every abortion is an act of free will. Every provider of every abortion puts themselves in danger to consider the needs of another human being over their own. Every decision to parent or not to parent is an act of thought and bravery when done with awareness of the consequences and support from community. Stripping away access to things that allow for an informed decision is a step towards creating an unequal and imprisoned life; providing access is a step towards a world that offers far more freedom and requires far more responsibility.

Make no mistake, reproductive decisions are thoughtful ones, whether they are made by thoughtful people or not. It requires thought and care to prevent an unplanned pregnancy, it requires thought and care to choose to parent, it requires thought and care to decide to terminate. And when none of those things are your problem, when you could blithely proceed down the road, it requires not only thought and care, but compassion to stop and ask a stranger, “How can I help?”

The Abortion ‘Debate’ and Refusing to Engage

28 May

Anti-choice Canadians are likely feeling pretty heady right now with Stephen Woodworth’s Motion-312, which seeks to examine when a fetus becomes a human being within the meaning of the Criminal Code. Despite being absolutely trounced in the House of Commons during the first hour of debate, the antis may be down but they are certainly not out. Round 2 is Thursday June 7, and the vote is June 13. We cannot let our guard down yet.

Woodworth asks pro-choicers what are we “afraid of,” why are we afraid of the “truth” since all he proposes is that we “look at the evidence.” As NDP MP Boivin pointed out, this would be the first time that the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) would be interested in evidence and science. Well I am here to tell Mr. Woodworth that I am not afraid of the evidence, I am not afraid of the ‘debate’, and I would be happy to ‘debate’ him, if only he would agree to stay away from logical fallacies, references to religion/god, and actually look at the evidence.

Antis have taken to quoting Madame Justice Bertha Wilson, who wrote the decision for the majority in the R. v. Morgentaler in 1988, the case that declared Canada’s abortion restriction unconstitutional. Despite finding that the criminalization of abortion was unconstitutional, she left the door open for Parliament to legislation when she wrote,

I think s. 1 of the Charter authorizes reasonable limits to be put upon the woman’s right having regard to the fact of the developing foetus within her body. The question is: at what point in the pregnancy does the protection of the foetus become such a pressing and substantial concern as to outweigh the fundamental right of the woman to decide whether or not to carry the foetus to term?

Antis have jumped on this as “support” from feminist ally Justice Wilson to restrict later term abortions, or at least have a ‘debate’ about them. Andrew Coyne of the National Post, in criticizing pro-choicer’s staunch “defence of the status quo” wrote,

…it is dishonest to pretend [R. v. Morgentaler] means the matter has been settled, now and forever, or that dissenters from the status quo are, by definition, extremists.

He has unfortunately missed a glaring fact: when Justice Wilson wrote that decision she could not have anticipated that almost 25 years later Canada would still have no abortion law and that statistics would show that 90% of abortions occur between 0 and 12 weeks, 9% between 12 and 20 weeks, and only 0.4% after 20 weeks. When she wrote that she could foresee limitations on later term abortions, she could not have known that women could be trusted to make the correct moral decision relating to termination. I can only speculate as to whether Justice Wilson would have made that statement had she known that abortions after 20 weeks are incredibly rare but I can certainly criticize those who, knowing those facts, still continue to quote her when suggesting that not having the ‘debate’ is ‘anti-democratic,’ as Mr. Coyne does.

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S.E. Cupp, Hustler, and Reproductive Justice

24 May

A guest post by Gwen Emmons.

Those of us who don’t read Hustler regularly miss out on the monthly misogynistic gems they throw out.  But this month’s print edition is notable for an image of conservative commentator S.E. Cupp…with a penis Photoshopped in her mouth.

Hustler writes:

S.E. Cupp is a lovely young lady who read too much Ayn Rand in high school and ended up joining the dark side.  Cupp, an author and media commentator who often shows up on Fox News programs, is undeniably cute.  But her hotness is diminished when she espouses dumb ideas like defunding Planned Parenthood.  Perhaps the method pictured here is Ms. Cupp’s suggestion for avoiding an unwanted pregnancy.

They’re right – defunding Planned Parenthood is a dumb idea.  For many, Planned Parenthood clinics are the only place to turn to for accurate sexual health information, cancer screenings, contraception, and STI tests.  Attacks on Planned Parenthood aren’t just about restricting access to abortion — they’re about shutting down access to health care services for the least advantaged among us. See how I just refuted Cupp’s argument without resorting to childish and offensive Photoshopping?

When sexual insults are used to denigrate someone for their intellectual or political views, all of us lose.  Make no mistake, Hustler isn’t defending reproductive justice here – if they wanted to stand up for funding Planned Parenthood, they would have engaged in a real conversation about funding, instead of focusing on faux oral sex shots.  They’re attacking a woman for being outspoken, plain and simple.

I agree with Cupp on virtually nothing, but an attack like this is just as terrible, just as out-of-place, and just as menacing as the months of innuendo-laced attacks piled on Sandra Fluke a few months ago.  And the Cupp image should be condemned as resolutely as the attacks on Fluke were, because sexually based attacks like these are a reproductive justice issue.  They’re made to shame women into staying quiet, into staying complicit, and to standing on the sidelines of a debate that belongs to us.  It’s not “satire,” as Hustler publisher Larry Flynt is claiming.  It’s silencing. 

As reproductive justice activists, we should stand by Cupp – not because we agree with what she says, but because we understand that these attacks are made with an attempt to devalue and silence the passion of intelligent women on both sides of this issue. Make your voice heard: Stand with S.E. Cupp.

What does the Gallup poll on abortion really mean?

23 May

It’s that time of year again–Gallup Poll season! Which means it’s also the season of “anti-choicers claiming and celebrating their majority.”

We’ve talked about before how antichoicers are only interested in how they look, not what good they actually do (See Mississippi Representative Lester “Bubba” Carpenter admitting he doesn’t care if women die as long as abortion is illegal). The Gallup poll rejoicing is another one of those situations. This year’s poll shows that 50% of those polled identify as “pro-life,” and 41% identify as “pro-choice.” This is a change from last year’s 49% prochoice and 45% prolife.

Now, this might sound like a serious problem to some pro-choice advocates. However, one needs to look further into the polling to see the real situation.

52% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal under some circumstances. An additional 25% believe it should be legal under any circumstances.  Together, that means a whole 77% of Americans support abortion being legal.  In contrast, only 20% believe abortion should always be illegal (and that’s down 2% from last year!).

Obviously, this is a case of people not understanding what “pro-choice” and “pro-life” really mean.

Now, are some of the people who think abortion should be legal “sometimes” perhaps prolife? Yes. But we asked antis last year if they would really accept people who found abortion to be okay sometimes (if you truly believe abortion is murder, would you be okay with people saying ‘sure, murder is acceptable sometimes?’). My feeling is that no, the leaders of the anti-choice movement do not want those on the fence people. So really, they’re celebrating a hollow victory.

Pro-choicers, on the other hand, do have something to celebrate. Even with all the numerous attacks across state lines against abortion, birth control and freedom, support for abortion hasn’t declined. The number of people who think abortion should be legal in all circumstances hasn’t fallen below 23% in at least 10 years. The number of people who think it should be legal in some circumstances has steadily hung out in the 50-58%. As Gallup says, “it is notable that while Americans’ labeling of their position has changed, their fundamental views on the issue have not..”

Perhaps people are more worried about calling themselves “pro-choice” in an environment of constant anti-choice attacks.Or, perhaps we are taking back the pro-life label–because we are pro-life when we are pro-choice. We are saving, supporting, and creating lives. And that is something we should always celebrate.

Telling Abortion Stories Without Disrespecting People Who Have Abortions

18 May

Imagine that you just had an abortion. Imagine that you had to travel out of state for the procedure and stay overnight at a stranger’s house after your first day at the clinic. Imagine, a week later, relieved that everything is over, to find the story of your abortion online, posted by the person who so generously welcomed you into her home. Your story, posted without permission, lacking your name, but going into specific details about your scenario.

We are all guilty of doing this–using the stories of people who have abortions, with and without their permission, to decrease abortion stigma, raise money for our abortion funds, or raise awareness of the lengths people will go to in order to access abortion care. We have the best of intentions. But at what point are we crossing the line and exploiting these stories for our own political or research purposes instead of empowering these folks to share their own experiences on their own terms? If we host someone in our home, or give them money to fund their abortion, does that person then “owe” us their story in return?

Exhale has a Story Sharing Guide for Ethical Advocates that, to my knowledge, is the only publication that begins to address these issues. They open their guide with this:

A woman who is an equal partner with an advocate, who is able to direct when and how her story will be used, and who has full decision-making power over the advocacy agenda in which her story is used is a woman in an empowered position. On the other hand, it is a form of exploitation to take all or parts of a story from a woman and use it for advocacy purposes without receiving her consent or without empowering her with the authority to make decisions about how her story is used.

It’s not just women who have abortions, but you get the point. If someone comes into our clinic, obtains funding from our abortion fund, or even stays at our home during her two day abortion procedure, she doesn’t owe us anything. If we’re going to use abortion stories in a fundraising pitch, in a letter to the editor, or in an advocacy packet for legislators,  we need to let the people who have abortions be the storytellers. We need to do more than ask their permission–we need to actively engage them in the process of sharing their own story, if they choose to do so, on their own terms, in their own way.

There is no doubt that sharing abortion stories is a powerful advocacy tool, whether used for legislators or in your organization’s emails to supporters. In an ideal world, abortion would be part of routine medicine, and we wouldn’t need to use abortion stories to convince others that access to safe, compassionate abortion care is a human right. But because abortion is both political and personal, it’s up to advocates to create safe spaces for people who’ve had abortions to share their experiences free from political posturing. And then we can let people who’ve had abortions decide for themselves whether they wan their stories to be used for advocacy purposes.

What could this look like in practice? It could mean following the model of the Chicago Abortion Fund’s My Voice, My Choice Leadership Group, a group led by young women who’ve received funding from CAF that provides them with community organizing and advocacy skills. It could mean using the My Abortion, My Life model to engage patients from your clinic who’ve had abortions in a public awareness campaign around abortion stigma.  Or it could be participating in the 1 in 3 campaign, a project of Advocates for Youth which allows folks to share their own abortion stories through self-made videos. These efforts allow people to share their own experiences on their own terms, and allows the person who had the abortion to dictate how and in what context their abortion story is used.

As Exhale says in their guide: “Each [person] must have the information, resources, and support she needs to share her story in ways that further her wellbeing, uphold her rights, and keep her in control of the use of her own narrative. Work with people, not stories.”