WICHITA, Kan. - I was at work when my mother called me to tell me that someone had shot Dr. Tiller. That call momentarily paralyzed me with a peculiar shock. I knew this tragedy was a possibility, but I never fathomed it would become a reality. As I put down the phone, my young co-worker asked what was wrong. I told her the horrifying news about George Tiller. She asked me who he was, and I told her that he was the abortion doctor in Wichita.
Later that night, I attended a vigil with my son in Lawrence. He was 5 at the time, and I couldn't find the adequate words to explain to him why we were there. I told him that we were there to honor a man and to pray for peace. I explained that a man - a doctor, had a job that some people did not agree with. One of those people decided that he would kill the doctor because of that. I stressed the need for us to show people that it was not okay to hurt someone because you do not agree with them. The truth is, we were there because of so much more than I conveyed to him; and Dr. Tiller was so much more than an abortion doctor from Kansas.
Among other distinguished titles, Dr. Tiller was a husband, a father, a physician, an advocate, and a humanitarian. During his career, he performed medical procedures that ultimately made him the target of multiple and unconscionable acts of hate. His clinic was fire bombed and he was shot at. People blocked the entrance to his office, and yelled detestable names at him. None of this deterred him enough to make him quit. Dr. Tiller bravely faced such danger so that he could provide compassionate care to women in a very personal time of need.
Dr. Tiller didn't know me or the young woman I worked with on the day of his death, but he still fought to protect our rights to make that very personal decision. When my co-worker asked who he was, I regret that my first description of the man was that he was the abortion doctor from Wichita. However, his death opened a door for dialect between us. Over the course of our discussions, I realized that neither of us remembered a time when abortions were illegal. It is not a part of history that we were taught about in schools. The doctors' work played a crucial part in making sure that history didn't repeat itself.
As activists, we must not only mourn his death but also celebrate his life. More people need to know the story of the courageous doctor from Kansas. People should know not only of the adversity that he faced, but the manner in which he faced it, and even more importantly, why he did so.
Two years ago, I stood at a vigil with my son and told him that a doctor was murdered. I tried to speak to him about the devastation that is contained in hate. While the message of peace still stands, there is more that we need to take from the doctor's life.
When I think of Dr. Tiller, I will remember the countless lives that he helped. Dr. Tiller's murder was not just a personal attack on the doctor and his family, but was also a vile attack on a woman's right to have access to safe abortions in Kansas. We cannot let Dr. Tiller's message to trust women end. It is up to us to care enough about each other to continue to spread his message of respect and his compassion. I issue a challenge to young women to carry his work forward. We cannot expect others to fight for our rights any longer. I do not accept Dr. Tiller's assassination as just another casualty of the war against our right to choose, and don't you dare do so either.