It was three years ago this past Thursday, at about 11 in the morning, when I got a call from an old friend who runs an abortion clinic here in Virginia. We hadn’t talked in a while, so when I heard her trying to choke out the words, I knew something was terribly wrong. Finally, I heard her say “they killed George Tiller.” My dear old friend and colleague had been ushering parishioners into his church when an anti-abortion zealot crept up behind him and shot him in the back of the head.
To be honest, I was more sad than shocked because we all knew – and he did as well – that Doctor George Tiller was a target. Indeed, there had been an attempt on his live once before. This was the world he lived in, he took his precautions but he also knew he couldn’t live in an air tight security bubble.
As one of the few doctors in the world who performed third trimester abortions, Doctor Tiller always attracted attention. Even amongst his fellow abortion providers, he was the subject of great interest and, yes, curiosity. At conventions, attendees would struggle to get up close to this mild mannered Kansas doctor who was always in the middle of the anti-abortion war against providers. And, yes, some of his colleagues, when talking about his late term abortion practice, would sound a little guilty that their limits were much lower in terms of weeks and then they’d end the conversation with “thank God he is there for those women.”
The inquisitiveness even extended to pro-lifers. Years ago, I was invited to meet with about 30 priests at the invitation of Priests for Life and, after a long monologue about the abortion procedure, the clinics and the world of abortion providers, you’d think they would start asking me questions about how abortions were performed, disposed of, etc. Instead, the first question (and the three subsequent questions) was “What is George Tiller really like?”
Obviously, the media was fascinated by him as well, especially the likes of Bill O’Reilly who, weeks before his murder, relentlessly referred to Doctor Tiller as “Tiller the Killer.” Ann Coulter and her group couldn’t resist either, constantly reminding their listeners that Tiller performed abortions “until the moment of birth.”
Yes, his murder was no surprise to many of us. We knew we might get the call one day.
And now Doctor Lee Carhart has taken up the mantle, immediately announcing after George’s murder that he would start doing late term abortions in a clinic in Maryland. I found out about Lees’ plans on the front page of the Washington Post and my first reaction was that Lee was next on the target list. Weeks later, I visited Lee on a day when the clinic was the subject of some special protest which attracted a few hundred people in front of the office complex. Lee, a low key Midwesterner like Tiller, chuckled a bit about the folks outside and just seemed ready to see his patients. When I left I told him to “be safe.” I’m not sure if he even heard me.
Doctors like George Tiller, Lee Carhart, and Warren Hern in Colorado are not naïve. They chose to perform a very unique and, yes, controversial medical procedure. Lee and Warren know that it could all end in an instant. But what keeps them going is the satisfaction of helping women from all over the world who come to them for help.