Sunday, May 31, 2009

hello birmingham



a bullet came to visit a doctor
in his one safe place ...


today dr. george tiller was murdered while serving as an usher at his church in wichita, kansas. an unapologetic abortion provider, he was one of the few u.s. physicians to perform late-term abortions. (the photo above, taken from the AP story at link in previous sentence, is of his body being removed from the church.) as a medical professional who had been doing this since the 1973 roe v. wade supreme court decision, he was, of course, used to threats. and indeed, dr. tiller had been shot before, in both arms, in 1993 by an anti-choice hater. (it was the same year that david gunn became the first u.s. abortion doctor to be shot dead, in pensacola, florida.) tiller usually had a bodyguard when going to/from his clinic -- which was bombed in 1986 and often the target of vandalism. but he didn't have a bodyguard in church ... b/c church is supposed to be safe.

as it turns out -- and as ani difranco underscored in her 1999 song "hello birmingham" (quoted above) -- nowhere is safe from these fanatics.

ever since president barack obama spoke at notre dame's commencement, i've been thinking about barnett slepian. until today, he was the most recent medical professional to have been killed by an anti-choice activist: in 1998, slepian was murdered by james charles kopp, shot at through his kitchen window while making dinner in his home in amherst, near buffalo, new york. the crime inspired difranco to write "hello birmingham," which is a thoughtful yet rawly emotional song. it's very moving, especially when heard in concert.

dr. slepian has been on my mind for a couple of weeks, because i wanted to blog about obama's speech but i was just too angry about what he said. before he went to notre dame, some had denounced the university for inviting obama -- a dirty, abortion-rights-supporting bastard -- to address the graduating class. so obama decided to directly address the controversial issue. and it was just too much to see the president, who is supposed to be pro-choice, using the opportunity to continue the democrats' mealy-mouthed campaign to appease the opposition by (a) acting as though people who think women don't have human rights have any sort of point and (b) implying that each "side" in this conflict is equally guilty of lacking fair-mindedness and of "demonizing" the other.

but angry rants are just so 20th century, so ... no post. still it bugged me, the idea that we who believe in abortion on demand, without apology, somehow need to be more open-minded about those who think they have some moral right to run women's lives. that we need to watch our language and not call such people "right-wing idealogues" -- b/c that's not "fair-minded."

i looked up "idealogue" in webster's. here's what it says:

1 : an impractical idealist: THEORIST
2 : an often blindly partisan advocate or adherent of a particular ideology


considering that pro-lifers tend to think there's no circumstance under which abortion is justifiable, and that this means they believe women should be forced to give birth even if they don't want to, it actually sounds like a totally accurate word to me.

in the days that followed the president's speech, the pro-life camp lived up to our unfair characterizations, with lots of letters to the editor and web comments declaring endless variations on the assertion that no common ground was possible with people who don't believe abortion is murdering baybeez. the crazy was going off to such an extent that i started wondering if perhaps obama's comments had been some kind of twisted rahm emmanuel ploy to expose the anti-choicers' true colors.

a nice dream, but the truth is that obama belongs to the sadly misguided "let's compromise to show how reasonable we are" crowd (of which hillary clinton is also a member). the ones who have fallen into the trap of letting fetuses and debates about when life begins trump defending women's rights. who never fail to cede ground when accused of being too liberal on abortion. who yak on about reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and assure the haters that they, too, understand how abortion is a "moral," "ethical" issue. bollocks to that. it's a personal, medical issue ... and if morality (aka religion in this scenario) comes into it, then it's between the woman and her god or representative thereof.

while browsing the news links after the speech, i read an editorial (which i didn't bookmark and now cannot find for the life of me) that discussed obama's notion about the two sides finding ways to come together. the piece mentioned his statement about each side demonizing the other and noted (paraphrasing) that pro-lifers had bombed clinics and killed doctors, while pro-choicers had called the opposition really bad names.

after the slepian killing, pro-life forces rallied and protested at clinics in buffalo and rochester. an operation rescue rep mocked calls for nonviolence and warned that more blood would be spilled. today, after tiller was murdered (some would say assassinated, and i would agree), the wichita-based operation rescue claimed to be shocked by the killing (for which a suspect, reported anti-choice "fanatic" scott roeder, was arrested this afternoon) ... even though its website ran a "tiller watch" page (no longer available for viewing) and labeled him a murderer. i know i'm paranoid and suspicious, but i just don't think they were really that shocked.

i think i preferred it when such groups were open with their hate, rather than this hypocritical PR speak. (not that there wasn't plenty of faux hand-wringing back in 1998, too.) the lip service paid to the doctor's killing was quickly followed by operation rescue founder randall terry fretting that obama would somehow use this act of terrorism to persecute those who oppose abortion rights. (this came somewhere after his claim that it was tragic how the doctor had died before he had a chance to get right with god. how the hell would randall terry know what state of grace, or not, dr. tiller was in?)

yes, let's show how reasonable we are to people who can turn the cold-blooded murder of a doctor who saved lives into a threat to their existence. let's play nice with fanatics who would rather see our viewpoint eradicated (a viewpoint, by the way, that is still the rule of law in this land) than live and let live.

of course obama condemned tiller's killing today. i'm sure HE actually was shocked by it. and i'm certainly not suggesting that the president is somehow responsible for this. i'm just saying that we've suddenly been brutally reminded that this fluffy dream of everyone coming to the table ... or at least coming to an agree-to-disagree type of understanding ... is disingenuous and naive. it has been and always will be the anti-choice camp that takes things too far -- too far to tolerate.

it's people who support a woman's right to choose who are bombed, who are harassed, who are killed for doing what's right. obama and his ilk only undermine the position they're supposed to defend by making it seem like pro-choicers aren't doing enough to find common ground. i find it hard to believe they don't get that nothing but total surrender will ever be enough for the haters. so why perpetuate the illusion that the so-called pro-life movement is reasonable? it isn't. and it's because of THEM, not us, that true accord will never happen.

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