A bullet came to visit a doctor in his one safe place

In the United States on Sunday George Tiller, a doctor, was shot and killed as he attended church. Tiller, who ran one of only three remaining clinics providing late term abortions in the US, had been shot in 1993, his name has been on anti-abortion assassination lists and his clinic was bombed in 1985.

In New Zealand we have never had an abortion doctor killed, but we have had doctors, nurses and clinic staff threatened, attacked and harassed. I pray that no further anti-abortion violence comes to New Zealand, and at the same time I pray that we will progress the issue to give women the right to control their own bodies and that we will find a social consensus for a woman’s right to choose.

But right now the cost seems very high, and all I can do is pray for the safety of everyone ensuring women continue to have access to the limited choices they are given. George Tiller was a great man whose personal actions gave more to women than I could ever hope to.

I try to not end too many posts with lyrics, but today I can’t help posting a section of Ani DiFranco’s Hello Birmingham. With an echo of Pablo’s recent posts, she is talking, at least in part, of the powerlessness of electors to make the changes that matter.

           now i’ve drawn closed the curtain 
in this little booth where the truth has no place 
to stand 
and i am feeling oh so powerless 
in this stupid booth with this useless 
little lever in my hand 
and outside, my city is bracing 
for the next killing thing 
standing by the bridge and praying 
for the next doctor 

it was just one shot 
through the kitchen window 
it was just one or two miles from here 
if you fly like a crow 
a bullet came to visit a doctor 
in his one safe place 
a bullet insuring the right to life 
whizzed past his kid and his wife 
and knocked his glasses 
right off of his face 

and the blood poured off the pulpit 
the blood poured down the picket line 
yeah, the hatred was immediate 
and the vengance was devine 
so they went and stuffed god 
down the barrel of a gun 
and after him 
they stuffed his only son

31 thoughts on “A bullet came to visit a doctor in his one safe place

  1. While I am horrified by the murder of this man, I think it is a bit of a stretch comparing his death to Martin Luther King. Doctor Tiller was a late-term abortionist who made a vast amount of money by cornering the “market”. His “campaigning” for woman’s “rights” was entirely self-interested.

    And while I am disgusted by the way Americans squabble rabidly over the abortion issue, I don’t think that the pro-abortion/pro-choice lobby is entirely innocent of the hate-mongering that is the underlying cause of this travesty.

  2. Kevin,

    Yes, as I said in the first paragraph his was one of only three clinics in the US performing late term abortions.


    I’m pretty sure DiFranco is not saying that Barnett Slepian (the doctor whose death she refers to) was like Martin Luther King. Birmingham is her hometown and a place significant to the story of Martin Luther King, I would guess that she’s saying, in response both to the killing and the powerless of the elector, that we need another iconic charismatic leader who will advance civil and human rights (one of which, I would argue, is access to abortion).

    Do you have any evidence that Tiller’s stand was “entirely self-interested”? From what I’ve read it was an ethical/moral stand grounded in his family and faith. Sure he – like other doctors – made money off his practice, but he would have made money as a doctor doing other procedures without the shootings, the bombings, the threats and the eventual murder.

    I could make an argument that most anti-abortionists’ actions are “entirely self-interested” but I don’t, because I simply don’t believe it. I think that everyone active in this debate roots their actions in their ethical/moral framework.

  3. Tiller was not just a doctor who performed abortions. He was an advocate of late term abortions. He made the case for infanticide by showing graphic photos of unborn babies with abnormalities. He has admitted on tape to having aborted babies a day before the mother’s due date.

    Tiller often failed to get a second opinion from an independent doctor when aborting. It was about less paperwork.

  4. Pingback: Murdering the Murderer | MacDoctor

  5. That a debate has broken out about the ethics of this doctor would indicate that the fact of his death is secondary. He is gone but there will be no peace for his family while the actual and figurative post mortems proceed.

  6. Murdering the murderer was a good post title, wasn’t it. Does no one on the Left care for the rights of the unborn, especially those fully formed?

  7. Tanya,

    Even if I believed that late term abortion was an absolute wrong, I would still believe it was wrong to kill him. I don’t believe in capital punishment and believe that mirror retribution should be avoided (actually see this other thread for that argument in more detail).

    Are you saying that it would be right to kill a murderer?

  8. Just to set the record straight, Anita has told me on my site that my comments on Martin Luther were a misinterpretation of what she was saying. I accept that and just repeat my apology to her that I have posted in my comments section.

    Anita: Apologies for misrepresenting you. I have always interpreted Hello, Birmingham as comparing Martin Luther’s assassination with the killing of the local doctor in the song. Therefore I assumed you were extending the association. However, I see we have different interpretations.

    Moral of the story: never get into an argument based on interpretations of poetry.

  9. Do you have any evidence that Tiller’s stand was “entirely self-interested”? From what I’ve read it was an ethical/moral stand grounded in his family and faith. Sure he – like other doctors – made money off his practice, but he would have made money as a doctor doing other procedures without the shootings, the bombings, the threats and the eventual murder.

    It is true that most of our motivations are self-interested in some form or another. However, Tiller had a powerful financial motivation. The cost of a late term abortion averages at about $2000 a pop and Tiller, over his entire career, has performed over 80,000 of them.

    $160 million seems like a fairly strong motive to me. And that doesn’t include his cut from the other doctors at the clinic (he owns the clinic). In contrast, an OBGYN earns between $600,000 and a million a year.

  10. MacDoctor,

    Are you fudging the numbers a little? Presumably the $2000 includes the costs of all staff (not just Tiller), equipment, pharmaceuticals, facilities, overheads etc etc.

  11. Are you fudging the numbers a little? Presumably the $2000 includes the costs of all staff (not just Tiller), equipment, pharmaceuticals, facilities, overheads etc etc.

    No, I haven’t fudged these figures, Anita. I can’t get access to Tiller’s site but the cost of a similar late-term abortion in New Mexico is $2995 (found here). The cost of the actual care, including salaries should be no more than 1/3 of the total, considering Tiller owns his building. I therefore estimate he should have been getting about $2000 per procedure personally.

    Bear in mind also that Tiller specialised in very late abortions, 27 weeks plus, for which he most certainly would have been charging extra.

  12. Macdoctor: if you really have a problem with doctors having a financial interest in performing medical procedures, are you in favour of socialising medicine? Any enthusiasm for becoming a public servant yourself? I don’t see how right-wingers can hold up doctors having financial interests in recommending people for particular medical procedures as an unalloyed moral good when it’s discussed in general terms, and then feign moral outrage when the doctor in question is an abortionist. It’s either wrong or it’s not – which is it?

  13. Psycho Milt: I don’t have any problem with doctors making money from medicine. I don’t even have a problem with doctors making money from abortions. I do have a problem with doctors championing some sort of cause when they have a deeply vested financial interest in it and pretending it is because they care about the cause.

    I am too old and too cynical to think that this could possibly be true.

  14. MacDoctor,

    Are you saying it is impossible for a doctor to do do medicine because they care? Or only as long as they have a financial interest? Or only if the medicine in question is abortion?

    Would you argue that all midwives only do it for the money? Or will you allow that they may do it, at least in part, because they care about the babies and families they work with?

  15. For my part, I figure the guy must have had serious sympathy with this cause to live with the constant threat of death – the idea of someone being that attached to the income differential late-term abortions provided over less controversial surgery just seems counter-intuitive.

  16. MacDoctor,

    BTW I suggest reading this if you haven’t already, perhaps you’ll read a cynical doctor selling a service to make a profit. I read a man talking about where his ethical and moral framework comes from.

  17. Anita, abortion itself is an absolute wrong, so especially so in the late term. Was it wrong to kill him? Yes. But what he was doing was also wrong, so I won’t be crying any tears for him, sorry. As long as abortion is legal, child abuse will continue to be rife, because the two are linked. Abortion helps to label children as curses rather than blessings, to diminish their worth. How sad it is that the Left bleats on about protecting and advocating human rights, but refuses to stand up for those who cannot yet speak for themselves, and once aborted, never will. Can you not see the hypocrisy?

  18. Tanya,

    I’m not sure that “x is an absolute wrong especially under condition y” is a logical statement, either it’s an absolute wrong or is variably wrong.

    Like many on the left I consider that foetuses do have rights, they just don’t have the same rights as a human being. Like most of the left I am used to navigating a sea of grey, to balancing competing rights, to recognising that there is often no good answer, just a less bad one.

    If an 11 year old girl got pregnant when raped by her father, would you insist on her carrying the pregnancy to term?

    If a 27 year old woman with two children under four is pregnant, and doctors know with certainty that continuing the pregnancy will kill her long before the foetus becomes viable, would you insist that she continue the pregnancy until it kills her knowing that the foetus has no chance of life?

  19. Straying from the rather obvious question of whether Dr Tiller ought to have been shot (obviously not) and toward the rather more controversial question of whether (and if so, what kind of) abortion is moral, I must confess that, to me, it seems clear. Let me preface my statements with the admission that I expected becoming a father (my little girl is six months old tomorrow!) would cause me to reevaluate and probably change my position on such matters, but that it hasn’t really. I’ve thrashed these arguments out before in other fora (including at great length on a Julie Fairey guest post at The Standard), but nobody has yet broken my reasoning, so I submit it to you for due breakage. Anita, I’m sorry if this is a threadjack – but it looked like this was where it was headed anyhow.

    Essentially I see the issue of unwanted, dangerous or otherwise inappropriate pregnancy, and the consequent question of abortion as an old-fashioned moral hazard; that is, nobody other than the person required to bear the full consequences of the decision really has standing to insist on its outcome, since it won’t affect them one way or the other – or at least, it will affect the person whose decision it is to a much greater degree. I may (in the future) disapprove most deeply of my daughter’s (possible) decision to abort a baby, but unless I can put my actions where my remonstrations are and take the baby from her and care for it myself, those remonstrations are irrelevant at a basic biological level. They may have value at a social or familial level (that is, she may decide to keep the baby because she doesn’t want to alienate her Papa), but ultimately there’s nothing I can actually do to rear the child if the mother isn’t willing to do so. Essentially, by this logic, the only question any woman considering an abortion need ask those who would force her to keep it is “will you carry it, then?” In almost all cases, they can’t.

    On these grounds, my reasoning is that only the mother can without moral hazard decide the baby’s fate until such time as the baby can survive without her. Not without any surrogate, but without that specific woman in whose womb the baby resides. I’m not a doctor, but I think 26 weeks is the accepted viable term, and on this basis I think this is the time beyond which abortion should generally be circumscribed in favour of other methods such as pre-term caesarean section delivery and subsequent adoption, or whatever. Maybe they’ll develop a means of transferring pre-term babies from womb to womb in such cases, I don’t know.

    Basically, I think that once the baby has a realistic prospect of life regardless of whether its mother wants to help it live or not, it ought to be given a shot at that life. But before that time the fact of it being wholly and completely dependent on its mother renders the choice moot: until the point of independent viability, the baby is morally and ethically (if not medically) a part of its mother – it cannot survive but for its mother’s consent. If she doesn’t want to give the baby life, I don’t believe society is justified in forcing her to do so. On the other hand, once the baby is viable on its own it must be protected and its life safeguarded as any other person would be.

    Break away.


  20. Anita:

    Are you saying it is impossible for a doctor to do do medicine because they care? Or only as long as they have a financial interest? Or only if the medicine in question is abortion?

    Now you are misquoting me! I’m simply saying that if you are making a large amount of money out of one particular issue then your judgement on an issue will be partisan, regardless of your moral or ethical system. It is exactly the same situation if a person has a bridge-building company and lobbies the government to build more bridges “for the good of the people”. It’s a definite Tui moment.

    Lew: 24 weeks is considered viable at present, although a number of 22-week-olds have been known to survive.

  21. Here’s a post from Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings with a few quotes from cases about why people get late term abortions, at least 1 from a patient of Dr Tiller:


    In the intro she refers to the terrorism that Dr Tiller had to put up with. If you think she is being extreme, read this post first:


    This post, by sara at orcinus, talks more about this as terrorism, and notes that Dr Tiller’s killing took place on the sixth anniversary of Eric Rudolph’s capture. Doubtfull that that is an accident. It is the second right wing act of terror to take place in a liberal church this year. Which is not to say that there is a large organised component, but merely that
    individuals are sending similar messages.


    A short while back US right wingers got all in a tizz because the DHS issued a report, (asked for by GWB) that said right wing extremists were and are a serious threat.

    Are Anti abortionists all complicit? No, of course not. But the use of rhetoric like ‘baby killer’ and ‘Murderer’ are not without risk. That risk needs to be borne in mind by people using that rhetoric. Not everyone sees it as metaphor, even those that use it. If it is not a metaphor, acts like this killing become justifiable. It really is that simple.

    Words have consequences.

  22. Lew,

    No worries about the threadjack (although you might want to post your comment as a post, it’s a goodie! :).

    I won’t break your model, but I do want to add a complicating factor. I think that a foetus has some rights, and considerably more than an unfertilised egg or a free swimming sperm (but considerably less than a baby). On that basis I think that we have a moral responsibility to, where possible, prevent conception rather than creating a foetus which will be aborted.

    I believe that argument is morally consistent with allowing women the right to abort a non-viable foetus. It leads us to providing good sex education and free an appropriate birth control and advice to all New Zealanders no matter their age or gender.

  23. But what he was doing was also wrong, so I won’t be crying any tears for him, sorry.

    Dr Tiller performed late-term abortions for women whose foetuses were not going to survive more than a few hours outside the womb. Dr Tiller saved the lives of women whose foetuses were already dead but who still could not find another medical practitioner or facility willing to extract the rotting corpse of their planned, wanted child because that is the atmosphere created by medically illiterate rubbish like the “partial-birth abortion” ban.

    There have been dozens of stories told by patients in the wake of Dr Tiller’s assassination. How he was a comfort to them in a time when everything was going horribly wrong. How he saved the lives of living adult women who had nowhere else to go because the anti-choice movement thinks controlling women’s reproduction is more important than medically necessary procedures.

    What a monster Dr Tiller was, right, Tanya?

  24. MacDoctor,

    Hmm… I think there’s a cause and effect problem here.

    Let’s imagine I believe passionately in ethical vegetarianism, for example, and lobby hard for it and also invest my own money in vegetarian food products because it’s the way I can best act to make them happen. If vegetarianism takes off and becomes the next big thing and my investment becomes incredibly valuable, would that reduce my passion or ethical commitment to vegetarianism?

    P.S. Sorry for misattributing :)

  25. Anita:

    Good analogy. However, Dr. Tiller purposefully specialised in late-term abortion because it was an untapped niche market (read: nobody else in their right mind would touch it). He was then hailed as a saviour by the women’s rights movement and seized on that opportunity to lobby for further liberalisation of late-term abortion laws. This is despite the simple fact that there are very few medical reasons beyond severe foetal abnormality to use this. Beyond 24 weeks the foetus can be delivered normally and is likely to survive with medical management. Women gain nothing at all terminating their foetus at this stage.

  26. Monster is a fitting word, yes. No one will now ever know if those late-term babes he aborted wwould have survived or not, they were never given the chance. He was about taking innocent lives, not saving them.

  27. If the options are adoption or abortion, obviously adoption sounds better, but by whom? Certainly the father would be the obvious choice, but the reality is that many adopted kids go to places where they are subjected to the loving mercy of the Lord in all its wonderful flavours.

  28. MacDoctor – I think the biggest flaw in your argument is the facts. The one thread that has been very clear in all the comments from patients and people that knew him was that if women had no money, Dr Tiller would provide abortion (or other services) for free. A doctor in Alabama talked about how some of his patients were so poor they couldn’t pay for petrol to get to Kansas, and so the doctor would give them money for gas, knowing that Dr Tiller would take care of them when they got there.

  29. I’m sorry, Tanya. The objective, plain truth of the matter is that you are wrong.

    Dr Tiller performed late-term abortions for women whose babies were either already dead or going to live only hours outside the womb. That is why women have late-term abortions.

    The notion that even a small percentage of Dr Tiller’s patients – who paid a lot of money and travelled huge distances and underwent traumatic medical procedures – did so just because they were shallow tarts who wanted to wear miniskirts again is incorrect.

    I would invite you to provide any kind of evidence for your assertions, but you won’t.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *