A Gentle, Compassionate Man: Remembering Dr. George Tiller

Dr. Tiller’s memory is honored at a vigil in San Francisco, June 1, 2009. Photo: Steve Rhodes

Ten years ago this week, Dr. George Tiller was murdered in church on Sunday morning, May 31, 2009. Since the the Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling in McCullen v. Coakley, which ended buffer zones at abortion clinics, violence in the anti-abortion movement has increased, as has racist violence, since the 2016 election. Leaders of what became the Christian right first mobilized their congregants to political action after private Christian schools were forced to integrate or lose tax-exempt status, and abortion was chosen by these leaders as the issue to keep their followers politically involved.


People who know nothing about the complex medical and personal needs that lead to late abortions tell stories that sow mass hysteria among abortion opponents.


When I volunteered to write something commemorating this sad anniversary, I was thinking of the connection between racism and the religious right, and of recent murders in churches, synagogues, and mosques. In this political moment, with the religious right passing flagrantly unconstitutional laws against abortion to get a case to the Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v. Wade, with the government itself stepping up violence against minorities and women, revisiting Dr. Tiller’s assassination seemed more crucial than ever.

But the more I learned about Dr. Tiller, the more I was captivated by the man and the doctor, by his essential decency and kindness, his commitment to his patients, and the way those who knew him felt about him. So, rather than a political argument, this post will be a tribute to Dr. George Tiller, using his own words and the words of those who knew and worked with him. Continue reading

Ending a Wanted Pregnancy: Jacqueline’s Story

The following guest post comes to us via Jacqueline M.

My name is Jacqueline. I’m 31, part of the upper-middle class, happily married to the love of my life, and I had a second-trimester abortion.

My world turned upside down on February 4, 2019. At my 19.5-week ultrasound, the tech became strangely quiet following several minutes of joking with my husband and me. I thought nothing of it as my eyes obsessed over every inch of my little girl on the screen. The ultrasound complete, I cleaned the cold gel off of my belly and eagerly dressed to go speak with my PA.


“As all of my daydreams about raising a child vanished in an onslaught of medical terminology, my husband and I knew one thing: We could not put our daughter through the brief life of agony that awaited her.”


When she walked in the door, I excitedly gushed my questions and observations, which she answered without the enthusiasm I had come to expect during my appointments with her. When I finally paused, she looked me in the eye and said, “We’ve noticed what looks to be an omphalocele. Your daughter will need surgery the moment she is born to put her intestines back inside of her, but there is a 90 percent survival rate. There is also a 3-inch cyst on your ovaries. It’s so large that we can’t tell whether it’s on one or both, and we need to send you to a high-risk prenatal doctor.”

Sad and afraid, but determined, we went to see the high-risk OB the very next day. I was given a detailed level 2 ultrasound by a tech, and I took in all of the tiny details of my little girl that I wasn’t able to enjoy from the quality of my routine images: her tiny toes, a dainty hand, the small curve in her button nose. I gobbled her up, my daughter, my first child, still completely unaware of how terribly wrong my pregnancy had gone. Continue reading

Sound Science and Unsound Ideology: Sixty Years of Obstetric Ultrasound

Ultrasound image used in an anti-abortion billboard in Ireland, 2012. Photo: The Vagenda

For decades now, ultrasound technology has been a fixture in the journey from pregnancy to parenthood. It has also become a prized weapon among abortion opponents in the battle over reproductive rights.

Ultrasound, which uses high-frequency sound waves to render images of a developing fetus, had its beginning 60 years ago this week, with the publication of a seminal paper in the British medical journal The Lancet. The development of the technology has a colorful history, one involving flying mammals, German submarines, a desert-dwelling inventor, and countless medical professionals who saw a range of patient care possibilities.


Ultrasound is a powerful tool, which can benefit patients or be used as a cudgel by abortion opponents.


But that colorful history belies the drab and fuzzy appearance of most ultrasounds. That limitation, though, has never stopped it from taking on enormous significance. When the technology was first developed, it gave obstetricians an unprecedented ability to survey fetal development, making it one of the most important advances in their field during the latter half of the 20th century.

By the same token, ultrasound has not only been a valuable medical tool but also a powerful storytelling tool. Today, it is often put to use four or more times before a patient’s due date. While the FDA and other authorities advise against ultrasounds that aren’t medically necessary — recommending just two for a low-risk pregnancy — many patients opt for additional, elective ultrasounds for the sake of having keepsake images. Posting those images online has become a popular way to share their news with family and friends. Continue reading

What’s in a Name? Frances Oldham Kelsey and the Power of Skepticism

If Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey had been named Mary, Helen, or Dorothy, it’s possible that thousands of babies would have died or been born with debilitating birth defects.

In the mid-1930s, after earning a master’s degree in pharmacology in her native Canada, Frances Oldham wrote to Eugene Geiling, a researcher at the University of Chicago, asking to work in his lab and study for a doctorate. Assuming Frances was a man, Dr. Geiling replied with an offer of a scholarship, addressing the letter to “Mr. Oldham.”


Dr. Kelsey upends the stereotype of the government bureaucrat. She saved lives by being a stickler for details.


Reflecting on the incident in an autobiography, she remembered Dr. Geiling as a “very conservative and old-fashioned” man who “did not hold too much with women as scientists.” His assumption that Frances Oldham was male might have played a role in her scholarship and subsequent education, which prepared her for a career that touched every American.

From an Early Victory in Chicago to a New Career in Washington, D.C.

After moving to Chicago, Frances Oldham earned a doctorate in pharmacology in 1938 and a medical degree in 1950. Along the way, she got married, becoming Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey, and gave birth to two daughters.

Her work in Dr. Geiling’s lab provided early experience in unraveling medical mysteries. In 1937, more than 100 people, including 34 children, died after taking a liquid sulfa drug formulated with an artificial fruit flavor. Dr. Geiling’s team of scientists soon identified the problem: The medicine was composed primarily of antifreeze — along with the active ingredient, coloring, and flavorings. It was sent to market with no testing. Public outrage led to the 1938 passage of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which required manufacturers to provide evidence to the FDA that their drugs were safe. Continue reading

SB 1367: Grieving Families Are a Casualty of Arizona’s Latest Attack on Abortion

The following guest post comes to us via Kelley Dupps, public policy manager for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.

Senate Bill 1367, also known as the “live delivery” or “fetal torture” bill, depending on your worldview, was signed into law on March 31 by Gov. Doug Ducey.

Proponents of SB 1367 framed the bill as one that would give “survivors” of abortion a “chance at life” by requiring abortion providers to be trained in and stock equipment needed for “neonatal resuscitation” to keep the baby alive by any means necessary. Opponents pointed out that the chances of a late abortion resulting in a live delivery are slim to none, and the law would have “cruel consequences for grieving parents.” Families who learn their baby has fatal defects would be denied the chance to hold their newborn for the brief time they have with it, instead forcing doctors to perform heroic measures that could cause extreme suffering. Parents whose babies won’t have more than a few minutes or hours of life deserve to decide for themselves how they will spend that precious time.


Doctors will be bound to a law written by people who don’t understand how medicine is practiced.


SB 1367, an abortion bill that will do nothing more than traumatize patients, was introduced by extremist politicians looking for a fight with Planned Parenthood — although Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona intentionally stayed out of the debate. Planned Parenthood Arizona (PPAZ) does not perform late abortions, and we didn’t want deceptive lawmakers to distract the public by turning SB 1367 into a “Planned Parenthood bill,” which would draw focus from more pertinent underlying issues. To be clear: This bill stigmatizes abortion, denies compassion to families facing heartbreaking decisions, and does not impact the services provided by the amazing health care professionals at Planned Parenthood. PPAZ stands in solidarity with patients in need of health care and providers of legal, late abortions.

In the face of science, SB 1367 doubles down on the obscure and morbid aspects of abortion care in hopes of getting closer to the extremists’ coveted abortion ban. SB 1367 would require fetuses delivered at 20-24 weeks to be given “lifesaving” measures, regardless of the clinicians and patients in the room, regardless of the nonexistent instruments made tiny enough to achieve “lifesaving” measures, regardless of the ethics, morality, and humanity around grieving families and the care their specialists provide. Continue reading

Mike Pence’s America

mike-penceSince the election of Donald Trump in November, countless people have reveled in the hope that perhaps some obscure constitutional gambit or criminal indictment would take place preventing him from taking office on January 20.


Mike Pence’s legislative record stands in opposition to his self-proclaimed reverence for life.


The sentiment is understandable to those of us who abhor this man and all that he stands for, but such a scenario would present an awful alternative in the form of Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who would take Trump’s place in the Oval Office as our new president.

While Trump has spoken about his frightening and detestable political views, he has no legislative record to back them up. Former congressman and current Indiana governor, Mike Pence, however, has a lengthy one.

And it is positively horrifying. Continue reading

Movie Night: After Tiller

After Tiller is an award-winning documentary film that takes us inside the lives of the remaining four doctors who were openly providing third-trimester abortions in the United States after the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller, a staunch defender and provider of those abortions. The 88-minute film, released in 2013, seeks to shed light, rather than more heat, and move beyond the national shouting match about abortion later in pregnancy.

You can see the trailer here:

Is this film for you? Probably, if you ponder the following:

  1. Why would a pregnant woman wait so late into a pregnancy to decide to have an abortion?
  2. Why would a woman who loves her unborn baby have a late abortion?
  3. After 24 weeks’ gestation, should abortion (always, sometimes, never) be illegal?
  4. What kind of people provide third-trimester abortions?
  5. Do third-trimester abortions differ much from premature, natural childbirth?

Continue reading