Today is a good day. Scott Roeder–the man who, in cold blood and with years of premeditation–walked into a church and shot Dr. George Tiller in the head–was convicted of first degree murder charges. After only 37 minutes of deliberation, the jury in the case sent an unequivocal message: there is no level of disagreement with someone that justifies killing them in cold blood.
Like many people, particularly people committed to ensuring that women have access to safe, legal abortion and family planning services, I am celebrating Mr. Roeder’s conviction and looking forward to the day when he is sentenced for his crimes.
But, even as I am thrilled with the outcome of his trial, I think Mr. Roeder is getting way too much attention today. I am happy he was convicted but I am still mourning the loss of Dr. Tiller–a man who dedicated thirty years of his life to women’s health. Despite having his clinic bombed, despite having been shot in both arms in 1993 (by another anti-choice zealot), Dr. Tiller continued his practice. He chose not to let the daily threats, the attempts on his life, the violence with which his foes confronted him on a regular basis, deter him from providing LEGAL and necessary medical care.
George Tiller had a wife. Children. Grandchildren. Patients. A community. People who loved him personally and who depended on him professionally. He was in church the day he died–acting as an usher, welcoming people and handing out pamphlets. I’m not a religious person, but I respect what people’s faith means to them–I respect the fact that a church is supposed to be a sanctuary, to protect you from harm. There was no protection for Dr. Tiller. There is nothing that can protect his family from the pain of his loss. There is nothing that can erase the images of his murder from the minds of those that witnessed it–people who were just going about their daily lives, attending church with him.
And there is nothing that can change the fact that he helped countless women over the years, particularly given the difficultly of many of their situations–medical, social, economic circumstances–he stood for them, for their right to self-determination and for their right to control what happened to their bodies. That is a gift, one that I will never forget. I never had the pleasure of meeting him, nor did I ever need his services…I hope I never do. Especially now that there is one less person willing to provide them.
Rest in Peace, Dr. Tiller. For me, today is about you, way more than it is Scott Roeder. You are sorely missed. I hope against hope that this verdict gives your family some peace too. And, I can only dream that your death was not in vain, that it remains a reminder to those of us who would otherwise be complacent, convinced that our right to choose was preserved, forever, by Roe v. Wade. In losing you, we know that is not the case.