Dr. George Tiller

My thoughts are with the family of Dr. George Tiller, who was killed today.

I’m not sure how many doctors still perform late-term abortions in this country — one and two seem to be the most common estimates. This is, of course, due to the campaign of terrorism that has been waged against them. I cannot imagine the courage it takes to go on doing what you think is right in the face not only of consistent harassment and death threats, but of actual attempts on your life.

Why go on doing it? Here’s one reason:

“Sometime early in the 8th month my wife, an RN who at the time was working in an infertility clinic asked the Dr. she was working for what he thought of her discomfort. He examined her and said that he couldn’t be certain but thought that she might be having twins. We were thrilled and couldn’t wait to get a new sonogram that hopefully would confirm his thoughts. Two days later our joy was turned to unspeakable sadness when the new sonogram showed conjoined twins. Conjoined twins alone is not what was so difficult but the way they were joined meant that at best only one child would survive the surgery to separate them and the survivor would more than likely live a brief and painful life filled with surgery and organ transplants. We were advised that our options were to deliver into the world a child who’s life would be filled with horrible pain and suffering or fly out to Wichita Kansas and to terminate the pregnancy under the direction of Dr. George Tiller.

We made an informed decision to go to Kansas. One can only imagine the pain borne by a woman who happily carries a child for 8 months only to find out near the end of term that the children were not to be and that she had to make the decision to terminate the pregnancy and go against everything she had been taught to believe was right. This was what my wife had to do. Dr. Tiller is a true American hero. The nightmare of our decision and the aftermath was only made bearable by the warmth and compassion of Dr. Tiller and his remarkable staff. Dr. Tiller understood that this decision was the most difficult thing that a woman could ever decide and he took the time to educate us and guide us along with the other two couples who at the time were being forced to make the same decision after discovering that they too were carrying children impacted by horrible fetal anomalies. I could describe in great detail the procedures and the pain and suffering that everyone is subjected to in these situations. However, that is not the point of the post. We can all imagine that this is not something that we would wish on anyone. The point is that the pain and suffering were only mitigated by the compassion and competence of Dr. George Tiller and his staff. We are all diminished today for a host of reasons but most of all because a man of great compassion and courage has been lost to the world.”

Here’s another:

“A routine ultrasound on October 26–meant to be a time of great joy (my best friend came with us to the appointment–revealed terrible news: one of the twins had died, probably about a week before. We went from the ultrasound appointment to my obstetrician’s office and were met with even more grim news. My weight had spiked up about 18 pounds, my blood pressure was soaring, and I had protein in my urine.

It turned out that I was in full-blown preeclampsia. I was admitted to the hospital immediately.

After that, everything happened very quickly. I was put on medication (magnesium sulfate) in an attempt to treat the preeclampsia and save the remaining twin until he reached outside-the-womb viability–a mere two weeks away (I was just over 22 weeks pregnant). But I got much worse overnight; my blood pressure couldn’t be controlled, I had a massive headache and was vomiting uncontrollably. My kidneys shut down. I was moments away from seizures, coma, and death when the doctors came and told us the bad news: my remaining twin could not be saved. My pregnancy had to be terminated or both the baby and I would die.

You might, Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain, be able to imagine what it felt like to be my husband–to imagine being terrified of losing your children and your wife in one fell swoop. Ms. Clinton, you might be able to imagine lying in the hospital, so sick you barely feel any of what is happening, only knowing that the long-fought-for children you so desperately wanted are now both going to be dead.

Here’s the part of the story where choice comes in. I could, of course, have gone through induced labor and delivered my tiny twins. But my blood pressure was hovering around 165/120 (often going higher), even with treatment. Can you imagine what labor would have done to my body with blood pressure that high? My doctor recommended, and I agreed, that I undergo the much less stressful intact dilation and extraction procedure–what the “pro-life” forces often like to call a “partial birth abortion.” (…)

As I lay on the gurney, waiting for my procedure to start, I felt a gulf of grief and emptiness the like of which I have never known. I felt abandoned by God. I lay there, crying, alone, surrounded by doctors and nurses. You can’t imagine the sadness.

I was lucky. Are you surprised that I would say that? I was lucky because the partial-birth abortion ban was not yet in effect in October of 2004. If it had been, I would have been forced to undergo labor and delivery, no matter the risks to my health, and I might right now be either dead or so brain damaged I would be unable to type this.”

And this:

“I also know a woman who had two “partial-birth abortions,” or D&Xs (dilation and extraction) as they are more accurately called. My friend Tiffany is a carrier of a terrible genetic abnormality. In addition to other defects, her babies developed with no faces, with no way to eat or breathe. They were doomed. The only way to extract them without hurting her chances of ever having another baby was through a D&X.”

And this essay that I will never forget, about a woman whose child died in her womb, and who couldn’t find anyone to do a dilation and evacuation, the safest procedure for someone in her condition, because it was too controversial:

“I could feel my baby’s dead body inside of mine. This baby had thrilled me with kicks and flutters, those first soft tickles of life bringing a smile to my face and my hand to my rounding belly. Now this baby floated, limp and heavy, from one side to the other, as I rolled in my bed.

And within a day, I started to bleed. My body, with or without a doctor’s help, was starting to expel the fetus. Technically, I was threatening a spontaneous abortion, the least safe of the available options.

I did what any pregnant patient would do. I called my doctor. And she advised me to wait. (…)

On my fourth morning, with the bleeding and cramping increasing, I couldn’t wait any more. I called my doctor and was told that since I wasn’t hemorrhaging, I should not come in. Her partner, on call, pedantically explained that women can safely lose a lot of blood, even during a routine period.

I began calling labor and delivery units at the top five medical centers in my area. I told them I had been 19 weeks along. The baby is dead. I’m bleeding, I said. I’m scheduled for a D&E in a few days. If I come in right now, what could you do for me, I asked.

Don’t come in, they told me again and again. “Go to your emergency room if you are hemorrhaging to avoid bleeding to death. No one here can do a D&E today, and unless you’re really in active labor you’re safer to wait.””

Why didn’t her own Ob/Gyn do the procedure?

“I can’t do these myself,” said my doctor. “I trained at a Catholic hospital.”

George Tiller endured decades of terrorism to help women like these, women in unspeakably awful situations whom very few people were willing to help, given the price domestic terrorists had decided that anyone who helped them would have to pay. Now he has given his life.