I've seen conservative bloggers ranting about how wrong it is for the liberals to "lionize" George Tiller and declare him a hero, when what he really was is a murderer.
I have a problem with this. You see, these bloggers don't have a "difference of opinion" with me and other liberals. This isn't about whether or not abortion should be legal, or whether it's a valid choice. They are flat-out wrong. What they are saying is bullshit. Let me explain why.
I'm going to cut the following not for my usual spare-the-friendslist-my-politics reasons--this is about clearing up misinformation, not debating differing views on abortion--but because I have pregnant women and new mothers on my friendslist, and this is upsetting.
Dr. Tiller was a hero regardless of where you stand politically, and those who are saying otherwise are either woefully misinformed or deliberately lying. See, for the most part, he wasn't your average abortion doctor. Someone like that probably performs procedures to remove six-week-old embryos and the like: clusters of cells that may or may not have otherwise grown into living human beings in the future. I am 100% in support the right of women to have that procedure, but I can understand why someone would disagree.
Tiller primarily performed dilation and extraction, or D&X, abortions.¹ These are only used very late in the pregnancy, when the fetus has reached what would normally be the point of viability. I say normally, because when a D&X abortion is done, the fetus may be past the point of viability, but it's nevertheless dead, dying, brain-dead, or certain to be born in horrible pain or as a vegetable with no chance of ever living an actual life.
These abortions are not performed when a woman decides that she just doesn't want that baby after all--if a woman eight months pregnant with a healthy baby were to see her situation change suddenly in such a way as to make her rethink her desire to raise a child, she would have the kid and put it up for adoption. She might, if she was young and careless, briefly consider having an abortion, but upon actually getting the information (and no one would perform this procedure on a woman without giving her the information first), she would change her mind. You know why? Because going through with the remaining month or two of pregnancy and then giving the kid up is quite clearly less traumatic than having it pulled out of your womb almost-but-not-quite alive.
It's also already illegal--Roe v. Wade does not, in fact, guarantee a woman the right to abort a fetus whenever she wants for whatever reason she wants. It does not. It allows her the right to abort for any reason she wants up to the point of viability. Its companion case, Doe v. Bolton, allows a woman to obtain an abortion after the point of viability in order to protect her physical or mental health. Bill O'Reilly alleged in his long-standing smear campaign that Dr. Tiller performed these abortions to "alleviate temporary depression," but there is no actual evidence whatsoever to back up any of these claims.²
You know when else these abortions are not performed? When a woman discovers that the baby would have Downs' syndrome, or be blind or deaf. Those either happen earlier, or they don't happen at all; it's a separate issue. The kind of deformities that influence a woman to choose an abortion this late in her pregnancy are much more extreme. Anencephaly is a major one--that's when most of the brain fails to develop, so the fetus develops normally from the neck down but dies before or shortly after birth from lack of brain function. Similar conditions might let the fetus survive a while longer, but only as a vegetable, and only with constant hospitalization. And then there are situations where the doctors aren't sure whether or not the fetus will survive, but they know that letting the pregnancy continue poses a serious risk to the mother. Abortion becomes an option then, too.
I'm going to reiterate here, because this argument comes up every fucking time: aborting an anencephalic or otherwise already-dying fetus is unfathomably far from aborting a fetus with a disability or minor deformity. If you attempt to argue that women should be forced to have stillborn or brain-dead babies because it's the only way to protect the rights of the disabled, then you are stupid or deliberately deceitful. End of story.
To sum up: these abortions do not happen because a woman decided having a kid would be inconvenient. I won't deny that some first-trimester abortions do happen for that reason (although I think that the fact that some people make the decision irresponsibly is not an argument for taking away everyone's right to make it at all). This boils down to the simple reason that having this kind of abortion is less "convenient" (and also more, you know, traumatic) than actually having the baby and putting it up for adoption.
Now, if that's the case, why is this procedure so controversial? The answer is again simple and also really depressing: because someone in the upper echelons of the pro-life movement saw that it would be really useful as a way to chip away at the standing of Roe v. Wade. Killing almost-grown babies: what more emotive topic could there be? Sure, they'd be spreading lots of lies about it, but for the sake of the cause, for the sake of all the innocents who were being slaughtered, it was worth it. Even if it meant endangering the health of any woman who might need this procedure--grown women, after all, are an acceptable sacrifice for innocent babies.
Fortunately, most people who oppose this procedure don't think like that. They're just misinformed. They've been told that this kind of abortion is much more common than it is (there are about a thousand of them every year in the United States) and that it happens in much less desperate situations. So they think that it's all about women killing healthy babies because they feel like it. Let me repeat: it is not. Deciding to abort at eight months without valid health reasons is already illegal. And although people (including Bill O'Reilly) attempted to pin this charge on George Tiller, he was acquitted twice. By a Kansas jury.
So we're finally back to my original topic: the indisputability of Dr. Tiller's heroism. See, any woman who needs this kind of abortion is going to be in terrible condition physically, mentally, or both. She may be distraught with grief at discovering that the healthy child she had already grown to love is actually dying inside her. She may be about to go into a coma and die because the fetus inside her is killing her. Tiller helped women like this: people at their most vulnerable and desperate. Sometimes he saved their lives; sometimes he allowed them to give their children a peaceful death instead of the few hours or days (maybe weeks) of unrelenting pain they would otherwise have had. He did this knowing that his life was in danger from misinformed extremists. He did this even though he had previously been shot in both arms for it. He helped people who were hurting even though he always knew he could be killed for it.
That sounds like a pretty clear case of being a hero to me.
¹ These have been labeled "partial-birth abortions" by the pro-life movement in a deliberate (and successful) attempt to demonize the procedure. You'll notice I don't use that term.
² Considering that a woman who is this pregnant has felt the baby move inside her (and almost certainly thought of it as "the baby" rather than "the fetus"), I find it extraordinarily unlikely that she would want it dead to "alleviate temporary depression." Even if there were one or two women out there who did feel that way, somehow, there would certainly not be enough for it to be the routine occurrence that O'Reilly ranted about it being. Anyone who really thinks that so many women would undertake this procedure so cavalierly is an extreme misogynist.
I would like everyone to know that in the process of doing the research for this post, I have needed to utter "FUCK HUMANITY" many times.