The Assassination of Dr. Tiller

If you haven’t seen it, you’ve got to see Rachel Maddow’s hour-long look at the murder of Dr. George Tiller in May 2009. There are several aspects to this special that makes it especially worth viewing.

The first part of “The Assassination of Dr. Tiller” that makes it such important viewing is the snippets of testimony from Tiller’s convicted assassin, Scott Roeder.

I think it’s easy to dismiss Roeder as a fringe political element. I also think that’s a wrong thing to do. Because I think more of what the right wing does is fueled by logic similar to Roeder’s than any observer might realize. I don’t think that many of these folks might have the stomach to gun a man down in his own church. But I do think that their seemingly righteous, simplistic call to “save the babies from being murdered” can lead to some monumental leaps of justification for them. I think a good number of right-wing politicos these days feel quite comfortable lying about their own record, lying outright about policy, about doing anything at any cost to win, because Jesus Christ wants them to stop all the horrible baby murdering. I believe that Scott Roeder’s simplistic world view is more pervasive than most of us might understand. And I believe it is driving a good deal of our politics.

I loved hearing Dr. Tiller describe how he came into his abortion practice. Here’s what he said, during an interview in 2000 by Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health.

Patients in the practice we had asked me if I was going to do abortions like my father did. And I was horrified! Why would these nice people say that he was a scumbag type physician? But the women in my father’s practice for whom he did abortions educated me and taught me that an abortion is a matter of survival for women.

In the beginning, Dr. Tiller took (and, it seems, simultaneously developed) his own best advice: Trust women.

The most outstanding aspect of this program comes about 22 minutes in, when Maddow interviews some of Tiller’s former patients. One woman was 25 weeks pregnant and was told that her child had less than a 3 percent chance of surviving the birth. The second had already painted the nursery but was told that her child would likely be severely disabled. What is clear from these interviews is that such a choice is never made lightly and is certainly something not to be judged until you’ve waddled a quarter-mile in some woman’s Crocs.

The scariest thing, I think, about this event is that it worked.

Dr. Tiller’s Wichita clinic closed, as did two others in that city. Now if you live in that neck of the woods and need such care, you gotta to to KCMO or to Denver. They may not have been able to overturn Roe yet in the courts. But they’re succeeding in pushing us back to pre-Roe days nonetheless.

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