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After murder of abortion provider

Women vow to defeat anti-choice terrorism

Published Jun 3, 2009 1:44 PM

The response of reproductive rights organizations was swift and unequivocal when women’s health care provider Dr. George R. Tiller was assassinated in Wichita, Kan., May 31. All the national women’s rights and women’s health care groups denounced the murder and hailed Dr. Tiller as a hero in the fight for reproductive justice. (See statement from the National Women’s Fightback Network.)

Within hours of the murder, vigils were called in Wichita and Lawrence, Kan.; Los Angeles; and Washington, D.C. At least 20 others were held in cities from coast to coast on June 1 and 2.

While many, including President Barack Obama, expressed shock that Dr. Tiller was gunned down during a church service, many longtime activists were not surprised. Dr. Tiller had been a high-profile target of anti-choice abortion foes ever since his clinic was firebombed in 1986.

Dr. Tiller was one of the few doctors in the country who provided midpregnancy abortions. In 1991 his clinic and two others in Wichita endured a seven-week siege by rabid followers of Operation Rescue. In 1993 Dr. Tiller was shot in both hands by an “Army of God” adherent.

Not only has his family been followed and his church picketed, but Dr. Tiller has been legally harassed by state officials. In March he was acquitted in a jury trial of charges of violating Kansas regulations governing abortions. But that didn’t stop Fox’s Bill O’Reilly from mercilessly vilifying him.

Although some anti-choice groups disavowed the murder, their statements ring hollow. “Operation Rescue, the American Life League and other anti-abortion groups should be ashamed of themselves for pretending to be against violence when their rhetoric ramps up harassment, hatred and violence,” Eleanor J. Bader, co-author of “Targets of Hatred: Anti-Abortion Terrorism,” told Workers World.

On June 1, Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry said Dr. Tiller “reaped what he sowed” and declared, “I won’t tone down the rhetoric.” He added that Operation Rescue and other groups were not responsible for Dr. Tiller’s murder. (huffingtonpost.com)

But Dr. Warren Hern, one of the other providers of midpregnancy abortions, disagrees: “Dr. Tiller’s assassination is not the lone and inexplicable action of one deranged killer. This was a political assassination in a historic pattern of anti-abortion violence. It was terrorism.” (wibw.com, June 1)

“All previous deaths [of abortion providers] occurred under Clinton,” added Bader, “and it seems clear that when an administration perceived to be friendly to reproductive justice is in office, the antis become frustrated and some act out on their frustration.” Among President Obama’s pro-choice actions have been ending the global gag rule and nominating Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sibelius, a supporter of Dr. Tiller, to head the Department of Health and Human Services.

Scott Roeder, who was arrested May 31 and charged with first-degree murder for Tiller’s death, fits the profile of anti-abortion assassins. Not only does he have a history of violence and anti-choice activity, but, according to wibw.com, a 38-year-old man named Scott Roeder was charged in 1996 in Topeka with criminal use of explosives. The FBI identified him as a member of the ultraright Freemen group, which held off the FBI in Montana for almost three months in 1995-96.

The connection between anti-choice zealots and groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis is well-documented. Though the murder of Dr. Tiller was calculated to intimidate the reproductive rights movement, it has had the opposite effect. Not only has Dr. Tiller’s clinic, Women’s Health Care Services, vowed to continue to work in his name, but activists all over the country are rolling up their sleeves.

“We have to step up our efforts to fight for reproductive justice on behalf of all women,” Debbie Johnson, co-chair of DANFORR, the Detroit Action Network For Reproductive Rights, told Workers World. “We here in Detroit are at ground zero in the economic crisis, and we won’t let reactionary forces deter us on the road to economic and social change. Only a massive, united, multinational mobilization, which includes the demand for reproductive justice, can push the rightwing back as we fight for the rights of all working and oppressed people.”