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Bleeding Kansas

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 15 years ago, in 2009, on the World Wide Web.

I just received news that Dr. George Tiller was shot to death today in the lobby of his longtime church in Wichita, Kansas. Tiller had been singled out for special attention from both the political and the direct-action wings of the anti-abortion movement for years because he continued to perform second- and third-trimester abortions for women whose life or health would be endangered by continuing the pregnancy. Tiller was the only doctor in Kansas, and one of only a handful in the entire U.S., who would perform third-trimester abortions under any conditions. The police have detained a suspect but nothing has yet been announced officially about who committed the murder or why.

Unlike most of the bellowing blowhard sheepdogs of the world, who can’t get enough of trumpeting how they put their lives on the line, Dr. Tiller actually did so in the interest of serving the well-being and the free choices of willing patients who asked for his help in a time of crisis. He put his life on the line to provide women with life-saving safe abortions, in despite of the outrage of the entitled majority, and in the face of physical threats, day after day, showing not just boldness, but real courage, and honor.

We are, and have for a long time, been in a much more precarious position than we sometimes realize; we have spent too many years defending an ever-shrinking number of clinics and doctors against the repeated harassment, blockades, vandalism and guerrilla violence of the antis. We owe it to Dr. Tiller to remember him — to remember him and to remember Dr. Gunn, Dr. Patterson, Dr. Britton, James Barrett, Shannon Lowney, Lee Ann Nichols, Robert Sanderson, and Dr. Slepian — to remember our dead. But more than that, we need to work in honor of their memories, and to make sure that there are no more of whom we have nothing left but names.

R.I.P., Dr. George Tiller (August 8, 1941 – May 31, 2009).

I’ll post more when I find out more.

17 replies to Bleeding Kansas Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2009-05-31 – Hello Wichita:

    […] GT 2009-05-31: Bleeding Kansas […]

  2. Nick "Natasha" Manley

    Would not morbid realism suggest that abortion clinic staff go armed in high risk contexts?

  3. Marja Erwin

    Perhaps the methods of the Jane Network are appropriate here – not necessarily including the mirrors and everything, but including secret clinics.

  4. Gabriel

    I don’t understand the conflicting statements in the article. You say he performed third-trimester abortions under “any conditions”, yet the previous sentence implied he was mainly doing it in cases where the mother’s life is in danger. If his motivation was to save the lives of pregnant mothers, I agree he is a hero for risking his livelihood and existence to do it. But if he simply performed any third-trimester abortion asked for, that makes him a monster, not a hero. Late-trimester abortions, especially PB abortions, are equivalent to infanticide.

  5. Marja Erwin


    What part of under any conditions don’t you understand? Tiller was the only doctor wiling to perform these abortions – the other doctors would not perform under any conditions, not even to save the mother’s life.

  6. Rad Geek


    The seeming inconsistency is actually just a problem of my having used a quantifier with an unclear scope.

    Dr. Tiller performed second- and third-trimester abortions only when the life or bodily health of the mother was at stake, not on demand. (I don’t know what his personal convictions on the matter were, but in any case under Kansas state law abortion after fetal viability is only legal when the abortionist and at least one other independent physician concur that (1) The abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant woman; or (2) a continuation of the pregnancy will cause a substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman. (K.S.A. 65-6703.)

    The point is that many abortion providers in the U.S. will not perform second-trimester abortions, and almost no abortion provider in the U.S. will perform a third-trimester abortion, under any conditions whatsoever, even if the life of the mother is at stake. Tiller was one of a very few exceptions. Hence while most doctors would not perform these procedures under any conditions, Tiller would perform them under some, viz. to protect the life or health of the mother. Women have traveled from all over the country to Wichita because he would perform the procedure that would save their lives whereas no local abortion provider would.

    Part of the reason for that is because those few doctors with the courage to do so — Dr. Tiller among them — attract an extraordinary amount of fire from the anti-abortion movement, which in Tiller’s case included years of harassment from anti-choice D.A.s, blockades, death threats, threats against his wife and children, arson, assaults, a previous assassination attempt, and now, probably, murder.

    I disagree with you about elective third-trimester abortions, and intact D&X procedures (which are actually mainly used for late second-trimester abortions) — unless you’ve come up with some new technology to teleport fetuses out of a woman’s uterus without the trauma and risks necessarily involved in a hysterotomy, hysterectomy or vaginal birth. But honestly I’m not emotionally up for arguing with you about this just now.

  7. The Rude Dog

    Good for you Rad Geek, nobody on the left has had the courage to memorialize Dr. Tiller.

    I did not like Dr. Tiller’s work, but I know he thought he was helping people.

    Crooks and Liars and other big liberal blogs did not memorialize a man who died for his beliefs, they used today’s murder as cheap political football to hit Fox News of all things.

    Someday in the future, we may duel over an issue, but today I say good job in standing up for a man who died for your beliefs. Perhaps more on the left will follow your example.

    So many others did not.

  8. Soviet Onion


    I would say that the invention of mifepristone opens up new possibilities we haven’t considered before. All you’d really need is a distribution network for shipping and dispensing the drug, and people with a certain knowledge of logistics to run it. Those skills are a dime a dozen, and there’s be no need for any decked out medical facilities, just secure storage areas. I can’t imagine there’s a very big penalty for simple possession of prescription meds, but that needs to be looked into.

    Pills can be handed out by anyone, even through the same methods that contraceptives are. No static facility, just mobile vendors. Same as any other “substance” distribution.

    Now, mifepristone does carry a small risk of complications through excessive bleeding that would need medical intervention, but that’s a separate issue and, as far as emergency room MD’s are concerned, is simply a case of internal bleeding that they WILL treat.

    It is recommended that women using the medication do so with the help of a practitioner who can monitor their health during this time. Jane had a few doctors involved, but as long as they’re not performing any kind of specialize medical procedure I see no reason why even nurse practitioners wouldn’t be able to fill the role. It’s all a matter of listening to the person talking about their condition, measuring vitals and giving instruction on what other substances to avoid. There are also many more of of them than there are doctors, so they can more easily hide in plain sight.

    If the original Jane Network needed to evade the State to function, it seems that any modern counterpart would have to consider the social dynamic, and how to allow it’s participants to fly into the radar of the more defused and efficient suppression by anti-abortion terrorist cells. Somehow the word has to get out they exist without the prying eyes of the tight-knot local community(=) being able to zero in on the members.

    (=) Yes, that’s called picking an old fight from subtext.

  9. Marja Erwin

    What is the schedule involved? Some of the less-regulated drugs are easy enough to obtain on the open market. However, the same places which ship the less-regulated drugs tend to avoid the more-regulated ones.

  10. Gabriel

    Yeah I see the quantifier scope problem, sorry I misunderstood you. I don’t have the energy for a debate either so I’ll just give a few observations I found while researching this afternoon:

    The wiki article on C-sections is not very clear about health effects, it says “It is difficult to study the effects of caesarean sections because it can be difficult to separate out issues caused by the procedure itself versus issues caused by the conditions that require it.” That is, usually women with a medical problem in the first place are the ones to get C-sections done.

    I didn’t want to single out D&X versus other procedures in particular; I also had a hard time finding mortality statistics just from wikipedia on D&X and late-term abortions in general.

    Given your reference to teleporting it sounds like we agree on the basic principle, since if magical teleporting were available then a D&X would be infanticide. Similarly, my intuition is that if skilled professionals judge a particular woman’s risk of dying from a birth to be minimal then an abortion would be infanticide. How big that risk has to be from 0% to 50% to make the abortion completely OK I’m not sure of. If you have a source that discusses such things more in depth than wikipedia and isn’t run by loons from either side please let me know.

  11. Rad Geek


    In the interest of clarity, I’ll say that I think that that the availability of a safer alternative to surgical abortion would be necessary but not sufficient. Choosing the magical risk-free teleporting method to terminate the pregnancy, over a surgical abortion, would only be morally obligatory if the fetus is in fact a rights-bearing person, which I think hasn’t yet been established. (And establishing it for some fetuses — say at 7 or 8 months — is harder than establishing it for others — say those within the typical range at which intact D&X is used, around 4-6 months.) I don’t spend much time arguing about that latter claim, but it would become the relevant argument if the risk-free alternative were available.

    I also don’t agree that the only relevant risk to be considered in choosing among alternative procedures is the risk to the woman’s life. Defensive force has to be proportional to the threat but it doesn’t necessarily have to be equivalent; I think there are many cases in which deadly force is a proportional response even without a threat to the life of the person defending herself. (E.g., I would argue that deadly force is proportional in defense against rape, torture, enslavement, and a number of other profound violations of person. Risks that need to be considered may include not only threats to the mother’s survival but also threats to, e.g., her long-term health or her personal liberty.)

  12. Rad Geek

    Soviet Onion,

    I agree that mifepristone and misoprostol are an important part of a step forward. But they are only part of it. (It’s typically only used up to about 7-9 weeks. Tiller was targeted because he provided much later abortions than that.) Of course, everything’s only a partial solution, but it’s important to remember that at least some surgical abortions will need to be done for the forseeable future. (As for Jane, doctors were involved at the beginning but not anymore by the end. What they learned is that common surgical abortion procedures can be performed safely and easily by women whose training was limited to a fairly specific apprenticeship. Of course they took women to the hospital if any serious complications came up.)

    I don’t think that diffused anti-abortion vigilante networks have, as of yet, demonstrated any capacity to be more effective in suppressing abortion than the State was back when its official policy was prohibitionist. They have done terrible things and we in the pro-choice movement need to realize how precarious our position is, but (1) our position now is certainly different from our position in 1968. Abortions, and especially safe abortions, are far more accessible for far more women now than they were then. And (2) the extent to which anti-abortion terrorism has imperiled abortion access as much as it has, has very little to do with any intrinsic efficiency of small-scale guerrilla offensives, and a lot to do with artificial vulnerabilities created by the central State’s legalization schemes. Specifically with the way that three and a half decades of government permitting and harassment of clinics and doctors, government drug laws, TRAP laws, etc., has forced us into an artificially constricted handful of exposed and vulnerable specialized clinics and they have forced us to depend on the courage and the luck of a handful of very visible, government licensed specialist doctors.

    The main task of a revived Jane-style decentralized, counter-economic, grassroots, woman-centric abortion market would be to route around the bottlenecks created by State regulation and restriction, so that, just by covering the basics, without doing anything fancy above and beyond what Jane did originally, abortions would go on in private locations which may change without notice (whether in a big anonymous hospital or in a neighborhood free clinic or in an apartment bedroom or in a motel room, where “sidewalk counselors” don’t know to spy on you and where bombers and gunslingers don’t know to attack) so that they are performed by ordinary women who aren’t licensed by the state and don’t report on their whereabouts or activities to the authorities, who have a day job, who probably don’t even work in the medical industry; so that they are performed by thousands or millions of people across the country instead of by a few dozen doctors in a few dozen big cities; etc.

    Antiabortion terrorist networks like the Army of God have a strategy that depends on having a few easily-identifiable targets. If we can keep the central State from parading us all out in front of them, and painting big fucking bulls-eyes on our backs, then the danger that they pose will dissipate on its own.

    As for tight-knit local communities, well. Jane was a tight-knit local community.

  13. MBH

    Good stuff Rad Geek.

  14. Friend of Liberty KC

    Charles, I just noticed you’re too emotionally shaken to discuss the substantive issues raised in this thread. You have my condolences. I confess I haven’t been as emotionally involved in this issue as you have. The repulsion is the same, but it’s much more intellectualized for me.

  15. Discussed at littlealexinwonderland.wordpress.com

    Dr. Tiller and Scott Roeder Can’t Both be Murderers « Little Alex in Wonderland:

    […] Dr. Tiller was recognized well by fellow libertarian blogger Charles Johnson: […]

  16. Discussed at aaeblog.com

    The “Pro-Life” Culture of Death | Austro-Athenian Empire:

    […] out Charles’s posts (here and here) on the Tiller […]

· August 2009 ·

  1. Discussed at regeneratormag.com

    Re:Generator Magazine » Blog Archive » Let’s call it what it is:

    […] Rad Geek: We are, and have for a long time, been in a much more precarious position than we sometimes realize; we have spent too many years defending an ever-shrinking number of clinics and doctors against the repeated harassment, blockades, vandalism and guerrilla violence of the antis. We owe it to Dr. Tiller to remember him — to remember him and to remember Dr. Gunn, Dr. Patterson, Dr. Britton, James Barrett, Shannon Lowney, Lee Ann Nichols, Robert Sanderson, and Dr. Slepian — to remember our dead. But more than that, we need to work in honor of their memories, and to make sure that there are no more of whom we have nothing left but names. […]

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