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Reflections on Memorial Day

The Legacy of George Tiller

Today's post is from Carole Joffe, author of Dispatches from the Abortion Wars: The Costs of Fanaticism to Doctors, Patients, and the Rest of Us. Joffe is a professor in the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco. See her much-read original response to Dr. George Tiller's killing, here. Take action here.

In the year since the murder of Dr. Tiller, the polarization around abortion in the United States shows no signs of abating. State legislatures have passed a host of measures restricting abortion provision in various ways, measures which are noteworthy for the mean-spiritedness directed toward women. In Oklahoma, for example, among the new laws are a mandate that women must view an ultrasound of their fetus and hear a doctor describe various parts of the fetal body (with no exception for victims of rape or incest), and another law that requires that women fill out a 36-page questionnaire, giving extensive demographic information as well as the reason for their abortion. Yet another law passed in that state exempts doctors from lawsuits if they decide to withhold information about fetal anomalies from pregnant women, as a strategy to prevent these women from aborting.

In the period since Dr. Tiller's death, many clinics have reported an upsurge in threatening and aggressive behavior by protestors. Tiller himself continues to be vilified by his enemies, most recently at the annual meeting of ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), where protestors stood outside the conference hotel carrying signs that read "George Tiller is burning in hell."

Far more encouraging, however, are the actions that have been taken by Tiller's former colleagues in the abortion providing community. Aware that Tiller's death left a huge gap for those women needing later (post 24-week) abortions (as discussed in the piece linked here), physicians, researchers and advocates have formed a network which is strategizing how to increase the availability of such services, and which disseminates accurate information about this subject to both clinicians and prospective patients.

Most notably, Dr. Curtis Boyd, a longtime abortion provider in New Mexico, and a close friend for decades with George Tiller, has recently expanded his practice to include post-24 week abortions "on a case-by-case basis." Two of the physicians who worked with Dr. Tiller in Kansas now work with Dr. Boyd. When I asked Dr. Boyd about this change in his practice, he told me, "We felt we had to do it…both for the women who need this service and to honor George's memory."