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Roe v. Wade 37th Anniversary: Time to Be Thankful for Doctors

By Kari Ann Rinker
Advocacy | January 24, 2010

WICHITA, Kan. - On January 22, 2010, Kansas NOW and Wichita NOW held a candlelight vigil in honor of the 37th Anniversary of the historic Supreme Court decision. The program was dedicated to the late Dr. George Tiller, the thousands of women who died prior to Roe v. Wade and the abortion providers and staff that the nation has lost to senseless acts of violence.

The New York Times cover from January 23, 1973;
Lyndon B. Johnson died the same day the Roe case was decided
It was an emotional evening that featured a candlelight ceremony to honor our fallen heroes. You can listen to an NPR story that features some audio coverage of the vigil here.

Tiffany Campbell came from South Dakota to share about her personal abortion story. Attendees shared their personal stories of abortion and how important it is that it remain safe, legal and accessible.

I have shared some of the evening's transcript below, which includes statements provided for the event from Dr. Warren Hern and Dr. Susan Wicklund....

Dr. George Tiller led a life of purpose. Like many of us, he stumbled upon his purpose. His purpose began to expose itself with his father's sudden death and his subsequent takeover of the family practice. His purpose showed itself through the women who asked him to provide them with the abortions that his father once had. Dr. Tiller hesitated to do so, until he lost a patient who had turned to him for help. Dr. Tiller's purpose became evident. His purpose was to liberate and save women by providing them with abortion care. It was a purpose that continually put both he and his family in jeopardy. I am grateful for his sacrifice. I am humbled by his unwavering faith and dedication.

As I began planning this evening's event, I envisioned a solemn remembrance of Dr. Tiller, a tribute to the women who have died from unsafe and illegal abortions prior to Roe v. Wade and somber recognition of the other doctors and staff that have been murdered in the war against abortion providers. My original intention was to make this an event absent of any political statements... an event absent from the anger that so many of us feel when abortion is the topic of discussion. Then I received the statement written for this evening's event by Dr. Warren Hern. I knew then that being non-political would not be an option. The political is at the heart of the pain that encompasses the battle for reproductive choice. The anger is in part what provides us with the energy to continue fighting.

Dr. Warren Hern is an abortion provider. He specializes in the late term abortions that were also the specialty of Dr. George Tiller. Dr. Hern has been getting death threats since 1973, when he started the first nonprofit abortion clinic in Boulder, Colorado. He sleeps with a rifle next to his bed. He has had bricks thrown through his windows, and then the bricks turned into gunfire. His name has appeared on so-called "pro-life" hit lists. He rides in armored cars everywhere he goes. His 93-year-old mother has an unlisted telephone number because she receives threatening phone calls. His mother discussed her son's reaction to Dr. Tiller's murder with a reporter from Esquire magazine...

"He called her as soon as it happened. He said, Jeanne just told me that George was shot in church. He said MSNBC wanted to interview him, told her what time to watch, trying to stay calm, but she could tell how upset he really was. It was all he could do to keep from losing it. I could hear the terror in his voice," she said. "But when he was on TV that night, all you saw was his anger."

Statement written by Dr. Warren Hern, Director, Boulder Abortion Clinic for the NOW rally in Wichita, January 22, 2010:

Thank you for being here to celebrate the 37th Anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision and to remember our friend, colleague, and hero, Dr. George Tiller. Dr. Tiller's brutal political assassination on May 31, 2009 was an act of cowardice, ignorance and inhumanity by a monster who represents the worst of anti-abortion fanaticism in America. Unfortunately, he also represents a broad fascist, terrorist movement in America that is opposed to basic premises of not only American society and democracy but of western culture itself. This anti-abortion fanaticism is increasingly inspired by fundamentalist evangelical Christianity and financed by the radical political right. It is a movement that is dangerous and antithetical to all of the best in America, to the U.S. Constitution, to the rule of law, to civil society, and to both thought an reason. It is mass psychosis and Jihadist madness.

Dr. George Tiller was not just my friend; I loved him as a brother and I miss him. George was a wonderful, kind, generous human being and dedicated physician. We grieve for our loss, and we also grieve for the cruel loss for his family, to whom he was dedicated and by whom he was loved.

We will carry on and continue to help women and their families in spite of the hatred and violence of the anti-abortion fanatics. I will never forgive them. May they roast in Hell.

Dr. Susan Wicklund has been providing abortion services for over 20 years, putting in 100 hour weeks in abortion clinics in the Midwest and then in her clinic located in Montana.

Salon.com wrote,

"Wicklund describes her work as a privilege and an honor. But it's also a job, often a dangerous one. She has donned disguises to get past the protesters who scream and wave signs outside both her home and her medical office. She's worn a bulletproof vest and carried a gun. In some states, Wicklund is required to read abortion patients misleading, politician-penned scripts that refer to an embryo as an "unborn baby" and warn that the procedure can be fatal (with no mention of the fact that wisdom tooth removal is far riskier)".

Dr. Wicklund has written a book titled This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor. The book tells of her personal story, as well as the stories of her patients. It is a powerful reflection on abortion policies that are misleading, condescending and unsafe.

Below is the statement provided by Dr. Susan Wicklund for the NOW rally in Wichita, January 22, 2010:

Hello to everyone here showing your respect for Dr Tiller and your belief in the freedom of choice. I am sorry I am not physically here with you, but please know that I am here in spirit.

None of us can pretend to know what Dr Tiller would say to us right now. We know what he used to say about understanding the heart of a woman. We know what he believed about each woman having the knowledge to really understand what was best for HER. We know, tragically, that he gave his life for what he believed in. We know that his family lost a husband, a father, a grandfather, We know that the Pro Choice movement lost one of our biggest heroes, a compassionate, extremely competent physician, a voice that spoke truth, a rock we all thought could never be moved.

What we DON'T know is what will become of the women in this country if the right to safe, legal abortion continues to be eroded and compromised and marginalized and becomes even more inaccessible. We don't know to what extent the anti-choice forces will go to deny even more women the right to control their own destinies. We don't know how many more clinics will be burned, staff terrorized or doctors killed. We don't know if our government will actually step up and make sure abortion is treated as the basic health care we all know it is.

But I personally know this: George Tiller would tell us to never back down, to never stop telling the truth, to never forget the individual woman who walks in the door of a clinic in need of help in ending a pregnancy she is not prepared for. And he knew that this is about us. All of us. And it is about your mothers and wives, your sisters and daughters and granddaughters and best friends. It is about someone else wanting to control us. It is about power.

Please, in honor of Dr George Tiller, use your voices, your presence, your skills and your hearts to keep abortion safe, legal and available to every woman, to every family that needs this care.

This is not some esoteric concept. This is a matter of life and death.

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