June 2009 – Heroic Abortion Provider Dr. George Tiller Assassinated
Workers Vanguard No. 938 5 June 2009
Heroic Abortion Provider Dr. George Tiller Assassinated
JUNE 1—The bloody war against women’s right to abortion waged by “right to life” terrorists has claimed yet another life. On Sunday morning in Wichita, Kansas, Dr. George Tiller was gunned down in the foyer of his church. The service was just beginning when a man pulled a handgun and shot Tiller in cold blood as he served as an usher; Tiller’s wife was in the choir. Authorities have arrested a suspect, Scott Roeder, who “has long discussed violence against abortion providers and belonged to right-wing militia groups,” according to the Los Angeles Times (1 June).
Despite massive harassment, legal and extralegal, for over 35 years Dr. Tiller heroically provided women with abortions, including late in pregnancy. Just hours after his death his family issued a moving statement, declaring: “George dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality health care despite frequent threats and violence. We ask that he be remembered as a good husband, father and grandfather and a dedicated servant on behalf of the rights of women everywhere.”
Tiller’s Wichita clinic, Women’s Health Care Services, was one of the very few providers of “late-term” abortions remaining in the U.S. Tiller himself had been in the eye of the storm for decades. In 1991, tens of thousands of “Operation Rescue” fanatics blockaded his clinic for six weeks. In 1993, Tiller was shot in both arms. His clinic has been bombed and vandalized—as have other clinics across the country.
In 2007, the state of Kansas charged Tiller with 19 misdemeanor counts of violating a law requiring two doctors, without financial or legal ties to each other, to sign off on abortions done late in pregnancy. He was acquitted in March. But within moments of the verdict, the state’s health board announced that it was launching yet another prosecution—one that was still ongoing when Tiller was murdered. The repeated legal persecution of Tiller and other abortion providers has served to embolden the murderous bigots who terrorize patients and clinic staff and murder doctors.
Between 1993 and 1998 anti-abortion terrorists murdered seven people for providing abortions: Dr. David Gunn, shot dead in Pensacola, Florida, 1993; Dr. John Britton, shot dead along with an escort in Pensacola a year later; Lee Ann Nichols and Shannon Lowney, shot dead in a clinic in Brookline, Massachusetts, 1994; a security guard killed and a nurse severely wounded in a Birmingham, Alabama, firebombing, 1998. Also in 1998, Dr. Barnett Slepian, the only staff physician at the only clinic providing abortions in Buffalo, New York, was shot in the back and killed by a sniper outside his home.
It’s no accident that the last rash of vicious killings was in the 1990s, when anti-abortion terrorists felt they had lost the White House, and subsided when George W. Bush was in. Democrat Bill Clinton won the 1992 presidency with the support of women who favored his “pro-choice” stance. Determined to push their agenda, the “God squad” took to the streets. However, as Marxists we understand that the source of anti-woman bigotry in this violent country is not the particular capitalist party in power—Democrat or Republican—but the capitalist order that breeds oppression and bigotry as a necessary corollary to its system of exploitation, which both parties uphold. Despite the Democrats’ pretense to care for “women’s issues,” during Clinton’s presidency welfare for mothers was axed, safe access to abortion was massively reduced (the number of abortion providers plummeted 14 percent between 1992 and 1996) and state after state passed laws restricting abortion rights. According to the Guttmacher Institute, as of 2005 some 87 percent of U.S. counties, containing 35 percent of women aged 15-44, had no access to abortion providers.
Upon taking office, Barack Obama repealed George Bush’s restrictions on federal money for international family planning groups and embryonic stem cell research. But like Bill Clinton, who said “we should all work to reduce the number of abortions,” Obama seeks “dialogue” with the anti-abortion bigots. At his May 17 Notre Dame commencement speech, where “pro-life” demonstrators protested, Obama appealed to “both sides,” supporting a “sensible conscience clause” that would allow health care providers to withhold abortion or other services that conflicted with their religious beliefs. Picking up where Clinton left off, Obama said: “Let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions.”
Along with his emphasis on “faith” and “family values,” Obama’s accommodation to the anti-abortion reactionaries reflects a fundamental political reality: the institution of the family, the main source of the oppression of women, is a necessary social prop for the capitalist system of exploitation for profit, as it has been for all previous class-divided societies. While Obama claimed he was “outraged” by Tiller’s murder, as the Commander-in-Chief of U.S. imperialism, he is the class enemy of working and oppressed women around the world. Both capitalist parties are enemies of women’s liberation.
The wealthy will always get their medical care and their abortions, while the myriad anti-abortion laws target young, working-class and poor women, who can’t afford quality health care, childcare, housing. We demand free abortion on demand and free quality health care for all. The liberation of women requires a socialist revolution that will uproot the private property system and create a worldwide socialized planned economy. Only then will society be able to replace the institution of the family with socialized childcare and housework, bringing women into full participation in all areas of social and political life.
It is as communist fighters for women’s liberation that we honor Dr. George Tiller, murdered for his courageous stand for abortion rights.