Late-Term Abortionist "Saved" Them, Clients Said
February 2, 2010
Excerpt from the 11-page "Savior Vs. Savior" by Devin Friedman in the current GQ
(Editor's Note- Before I read this, my sympathies were with Scott Roeder, although I disapproved of his actions. I am against abortion but I believe the remedy is to confine sex to long-term loving relationships. This article reveals that many of Tiller's late-term clients were "fetal indication" patients, women whose babies were malformed and would require lifetime care. If society demands that these fetuses be protected, certainly society must also provide for them after birth.)
"Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were what they called clinic days.
These were first-trimester abortions, about fifty a week, no
complications. If these had been Tiller's only patients, Scott Roeder
would never have heard of him. George Tiller would still have run the
only abortion clinic in Wichita, but he wouldn't have been identified
and publicized as the most terrible face of what the movement called
"the abortion industry."
It was the clinic's other patients who made George Tiller who he was: conspicuously pregnant women who on this very Sunday were readying themselves for the trip to Wichita from Michigan or Arkansas or England or South America, traveling here because there were only three clinics in the United States that openly provided abortions for women in their third trimester. Of all these clinicians, George Tiller was widely acknowledged as the most skilled. Warren Hearn in Colorado and LeRoy Carhart in Nebraska may have been fine doctors, but people said they were both a little wonky as humans. George Tiller did around 300 of these abortions every year and marketed himself aggressively, and he had a reputation for a kind of saintly bedside manner, for deep patience and the ability to make women feel listened to.
...Dr. Tiller said he had to work slowly and deliberately, for more than three decades, to refine the techniques and protocols in late-term care. There were different types of cases. There were women whose health was at risk if the pregnancies were to be carried out; they are called maternal-indication patients. And there were women who'd discovered that the fetus was so compromised, malformed, that it could not survive outside the womb without extraordinary medical intervention; these were called fetal-indication patients. For women who were at risk themselves, Kansas law dictated that in order to have an abortion past twenty-one weeks, a major bodily function had to be at risk. Dr. Tiller had been instrumental in Kansas in fighting to make sure a woman's mental health was legally considered a major bodily function. For example, if a physician declared that a woman suffered acutely from depression--that the birth would profoundly debilitate her--she could be cleared for an abortion.8
On Monday morning, the late-term patients arrived at the clinic. They were scared; some of them were inconsolable. They were shown to a room where they watched a video. Dr. Tiller came on-screen and explained what would be happening to them over the next three or four days. The videos had been translated into Mandarin and French and German. Early on,9 Dr. Tiller did almost all the procedures, but now he focused almost exclusively on the fetal-indication patients. They were special. Dr. Tiller led them, with Cathy, in a group-therapy session that he'd modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. Everyone was required to sit in but not to talk if they didn't want to. When did you find out something was wrong with your baby? Were you angry? Did you find out you were pregnant only after you'd started chemo?
Tuesday was the most difficult. The women would leave their hotel rooms knowing that today they were going to kill their fetuses. At the clinic, they would lie on an exam table, Dr. Tiller would inject the fetus with digoxin, and in two to four hours its heart would stop beating. The women felt like monsters. Dr. Tiller told them it wasn't their fault. There was a protocol for talking to them about what they had done. You've saved your baby from a short life of pain. You have made a terribly difficult decision for the sake of this child. He hugged them. A device was inserted to begin opening the cervix. And then they would go back to their hotels and wait. At some point over the next three or four days, they would miscarry. When they went into labor, they'd go back to the clinic. Supplies were there to take footprints of the fetuses. Provisions were made for the parents to take photographs with their fetuses, if that's what they desired. A chaplain was on retainer, and he would come baptize the fetuses and name them if it was requested. Some of the bodies were flown back with the mothers in small caskets and buried in cemeteries. Others were taken to the crematorium.
The fetal-indication patients thought only about their babies. The other women, those who were in such emotional anguish that they thought they would kill themselves if their babies were born--these women wanted nothing to do with the fetuses. These two groups were kept apart. Their states of mind were toxic to each other. It's not hard to see how the separate filaments of morality--honoring the fetus as a human life for some women, honoring the belief of others that there was no life there--were thin and easily tangled. In the end, the ethos was that the fetus was what the mother imagined it to be. The women dreamed their babies into or out of existence, and Dr. Tiller and his staff responded accordingly.
Over time, the entire anti-abortion movement coalesced in opposition to him. In 1986, the clinic was bombed. And then, in 1991, Operation Rescue organized the so-called Summer of Mercy. Ten thousand people descended on Wichita for six weeks, chaining themselves to his gate and weeping in the streets. Twenty-seven hundred people were arrested. Two years later, a woman from Oregon traveled to Wichita and shot Dr. Tiller in both arms. In 2002, a charismatic, telegenic new leader for Operation Rescue named Troy Newman moved himself and his organization to Wichita to finish what they'd started and has lived there ever since, overseeing the strategy from the office he set up for symbolic reasons in a former abortion clinic. They've taken high-resolution pictures of everyone who worked at the clinic. They've followed them to their houses, plastered their neighborhoods with signs and postcards calling them murderers. One night, only a few weeks before the incident at Reformation, someone cut power to the security cameras, then to the outside lights, then drilled holes in the clinic's roof and stopped up the drain spouts just before a rainstorm.
Anyone associated with the clinic has been targeted. Residents from Wesley Medical Center looking to get training and earn extra money used to assist with the procedures, but they'd been pressured to stop. The late-term patients used to stay at the La Quinta Inn, but the hotel was targeted, so now the patients are spread among several hotels, their whereabouts kept secret. Off-duty police officers who used to provide security at the clinic declined to do it any longer. The company that hauled the garbage quit. Suppliers ceased doing business with the clinic. Certain taxi companies won't drop off at that address.
George tiller gave no sign that he was ever unsure about the act he was performing. If there was any doubt, it had never been exhibited. And for anyone who felt doubt on his staff, he handed down an intention to live with: Think about the woman. Because they saved people here. That's what George Tiller was saying. They didn't kill people; they saved them. All you had to do was to look at the walls. Framed letters from patients testifying to having been saved. That's how they described what happened to them. Hearing that was addictive. Everyone admitted that--felt a little guilty about getting off on it, but not too. Cathy and Joan used to wonder what they'd do when they retired and didn't get to feel that thing anymore. Even Roeder had heard about the letters, everyone in the network had; it blew their minds and filled their hearts with disappointment. The letters weren't relegated to a single wall. There was room after room of them, thanking and thanking, overwhelming you the first time you walked into the clinic. Answering the tacit question: No, we save people here.
Dr. Tiller's files, the ones that Phill Kline was after--the names and cases of the upwards of 10,000 women for whom George Tiller provided abortions--have been sealed in boxes and stored 650 feet belowground in an old salt mine in Hutchinson, Kansas, where they keep the masters of The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, and Star Wars. There are no more abortion clinics in Wichita, or for 200 miles around.