Dr. George Tiller’s Death: Five Years Later

Dr. Tiller's supporters remember him at a vigil in San Francisco, June 1, 2009. Image: Steve Rhodes

Dr. Tiller’s supporters remember him at a vigil in San Francisco, June 1, 2009. Image: Steve Rhodes

On May 31, 2009, Dr. George Tiller was murdered by Scott Roeder while attending church services in Wichita, Kansas. This Saturday is the fifth anniversary of his assassination. From 1975 until his death, Tiller was an ob/gyn who also performed late-term abortions.


Dr. Tiller is remembered for the compassion he showed his patients.


A late-term abortion is a medical procedure in which a pregnancy is terminated during the later stages. The definition of “late-term” varies — even among medical journals — because of its correlation to fetus viability (i.e., when a fetus can survive outside of the uterus on its own). The medical community has not established an age at which a fetus becomes viable, as its survivability is contingent upon conditions internal and external to the womb; however, the survivability of a fetus greatly increases after 25 weeks, or almost 6 months from a woman’s last menstrual period. For reference, the expected gestation of a pregnancy is 40 weeks, or 9 months. Only 1.2 percent of abortions take place at or after 21 weeks.

Late-term abortions remain particularly controversial because of the issue of fetus viability, as well as the methods used to perform the medical procedure (e.g., inducing labor). Late-term abortions also have the potential to be more physically and emotionally challenging for the woman than those performed during earlier stages of pregnancy. While a woman should not be required by law to account for herself and the reasoning behind her medical decision-making, there are numerous medical reasons why a late-term abortion is a valid medical choice. Continue reading

Freedom of Access Under Attack

Clinic escorts in Minnesota. Image: Brianne

Clinic escorts in Minnesota. Image: Brianne

One of the saddest — and most infuriating — things I witnessed during my time as a Planned Parenthood clinic escort was the relentless, unyielding harassment that women were forced to withstand at the hands of anti-abortion protesters, simply for seeking reproductive health care.

Now that we are in the midst of another annual “40 Days For Life” campaign, which always causes a dramatic increase in protester presence, my memories of escorting are even more vivid.


Buffer zones prevent raging extremists from occupying clinic property and blocking patients’ movement.


Before our clinic on 7th Avenue in Phoenix was relocated, I stood outside every Sunday morning for more than a year serving as an access advocate for women. Not only were our patients subjected to extreme haranguing by Planned Parenthood protesters, I was as well. Not one Sunday would pass where I wouldn’t be (loudly) accused of being some kind of an accomplice to murder — or a “murderer” myself.

I constantly questioned not only their tactics, but also their motivation. What kind of people spend their mornings and afternoons preying on women who are going to get health care? Debasing and denigrating unsuspecting women they don’t know at all. Taking mental snapshots of them. Capturing their identities. Glaring directly into their eyes. And voraciously leering at them as they go in and out of a clinic.

It’s a feral, savage practice if you think about it. Incredibly voyeuristic and wildly invasive. Continue reading

This Month in History: Scheidler v. NOW

Photo: Lisa Bennett via NOW

Photo: Lisa Bennett via NOW

This month marks the anniversaries of two of the three Supreme Court decisions in the Scheidler v. NOW “trilogy.”

You remember those cases, right? Of course you do. Well, unless you’re in what is probably the majority of people who tend to remember only the more famous names of sexual and reproductive justice-related Supreme Court cases. Roe v. Wade? Of course. Lawrence v. Texas? Sure. Griswold v. Connecticut? Probably. But, get to any cases with fewer public discourse references and less name recognition, and the response is far more likely to be, “What?”


The Scheidler v. NOW cases generated national dialogue over abortion clinics’ need for legal recourse in the face of increasingly violent protesters.


For most people, the Scheidler v. NOW saga almost certainly falls into “What?” territory. However, in a climate where many abortion providers risk being targets of violence and harassment and where some state governments are systemically working to functionally eliminate abortion access, perhaps the Scheidler cases merit being more well known in public conversation.


Background of the cases: Throughout the 1980s, anti-abortion activists became increasingly violent in their tactics. The Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN), a group founded by Joseph Scheidler and alternately known as the Pro-Life Action League, participated in a number of clinic attacks, some including vandalism and assault. In 1989, the National Organization for Women filed suit, arguing that PLAN’s actions amounted to extortion under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

Why RICO matters: In this particular case, private parties seeking monetary relief under RICO may receive triple the amount of damages they incurred. While this is certainly nice in itself, it may also be a more effective deterrent — compared to state prosecution alone — for parties engaging in crimes such as extortion. Continue reading

The Best of 2013: Looking Back on a Year of Blogging

Did you know that only a handful of Planned Parenthood affiliates have blogs, and we’re one of them? Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona is so lucky to have such a talented and devoted group of volunteer bloggers, and thanks to them, 2013 was a great year! Check out our favorite pieces from 2013, which we present below in reverse alphabetical order.

GarnerAndLawrence 150Tori wrote about two landmark LGBTQ-related Supreme Court cases: Bowers v. Hardwick, which affirmed states’ rights to outlaw sodomy in 1986, and Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down sodomy laws nationwide in 2003. First, we were all excited by Tori’s discussion of what happened during the 17 years between 1986 and 2003 to tip the balance in favor of sexual freedom. And then, in an exciting twist of fate, the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act on the 10th anniversary of Lawrence v. Texas, just days after Tori’s piece was published! Can you believe that only a decade ago, states were allowed to criminalize sexual activity between consenting adults? We’ve come such a long way — although we still, sadly, have a ways to go toward securing true equality.

seasonalleRebecca is a long-time Planned Parenthood volunteer and a practicing pharmacist. She combines her interest in pharmacy with her passion for reproductive justice in her ongoing series Let’s Talk Contraception, which highlights different contraceptive methods and addresses common questions about birth control. Her most popular post this year was her piece about using the Pill to skip periods. Whether you’re interested in skipping a few periods or minimizing menstruation throughout the year, continuous contraception might be for you. What are the pros and cons to birth control methods that allow you to have a period just once or a few times per year? Is it safe? Is it natural? How many periods do we need, anyway? Rebecca’s answer is informative and fascinating!

tumblr_wattletonRachel conducted an interview with Faye Wattleton, Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s first African-American — and youngest — president. Her conversation with Ms. Wattleton covered a range of topics, including religion, race and racism, anti-abortion violence, and the progress the movement for reproductive freedom has made over the decades. The entire series is worth a look — but our favorite installment is part 2, in which Ms. Wattleton discusses the connection between her religious upbringing and the work she did with family planning. The thread that ties these seemingly disparate aspects of her background together seems to be the Biblical admonishment against judging others: “Judge not that you be not judged,” as she put it. From a childhood religious tenet to a guiding principle in her interactions with family planning patients, being nonjudgmental is a grounding influence in her life’s work.

PP entranceMatt’s favorite pieces included a post about the FACE Act, which was enacted by President Clinton to curtail anti-abortion violence at clinics. Unfortunately, its uneven enforcement meant that the law hasn’t always lived up to its potential — and some point to that misstep as a factor in recent violence against abortion providers. President Bush’s lax enforcement of the law might have played a part in the 2009 assassination of Dr. Tiller, an abortion provider in Kansas. Matt brings together some great reporting to give you an informative and insightful piece — it’s no surprise that RH Reality Check blogger and Crow Before Roe author Robin Marty encouraged her fans to “Read this now!”

breast-examAnna’s favorite pieces were those that tackled pervasive myths about vaccines, sexually transmitted diseases, and abortion. One of these posts dissected the origins of the claim that abortion can lead to breast cancer, which flies in the face of the scientific consensus. This idea is perpetuated by abortion opponents, who use junk science to promote their agenda. Unfortunately, despite a lack of credibility, this claim appears in mainstream publications; in literature offered to clients of crisis pregnancy centers; and in state laws that require pre-abortion counseling to include discredited warnings about a link between abortion and breast cancer. We all deserve accurate information to make informed decisions, but when ideology trumps science, we are robbed of this right.

Bonus: Stacey, our fabulous curator of links, put together a special edition of her regular Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown series, which rounds up the top stories of 2013!

Which posts stood out for you in 2013? Tell us about them in the comments!

When Metaphor Becomes Reality: The Abortion Battle and the Necessity of the FACE Act

PP entrance

Clinic escorts at a Washington, D.C. Planned Parenthood. Photo: Bruno Sanchez-Andrade Nuño via Flickr

Serving as the medical director of a reproductive health clinic made Dr. George Tiller a lightning rod for constant vitriol — and more than once a target of violence. Picketers routinely gathered outside his clinic in Wichita, Kansas, a site of their protests because it provided abortions, including late-term abortions. In 1986, Tiller saw the clinic firebombed. Seven years later, in 1993, he suffered bullet wounds to his arms when an anti-abortion extremist fired on him outside the property. Finally, in 2009, he was fatally shot while attending worship services at a Wichita church.


Anti-abortion extremists can create life-threatening scenarios for those who seek reproductive health care.


In the wake of Dr. Tiller’s death, many reproductive rights advocates argued that his assassination could have been avoided. The shooting was not the first time his murderer, 51-year-old Scott Roeder, broke the law.

Roeder could have been stopped prior to the shooting under a federal law, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, which was enacted in 1994 — 19 years ago this Sunday — to protect the exercise of reproductive health choices. The FACE Act makes it a federal crime to intimidate or injure a person who is trying to access a reproductive health clinic. It also makes it unlawful to vandalize or otherwise intentionally damage a facility that provides reproductive health care.

Roeder’s ideology was the root of his criminality. Roeder subscribed to a magazine, Prayer and Action News, that posited that killing abortion providers was “justifiable homicide.” Roeder also had ties to a right-wing extremist movement that claimed exemption from U.S. laws and the legal system. Continue reading

The Birmingham Clinic Bombing and the Culture of Violence Against Reproductive Freedom

After earning her nursing degree from the University of Alabama in 1977, Emily Lyons developed a suite of skills in a variety of health care settings, from in-home care to emergency services. She passed on much of her knowledge to future nurses when she taught at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, and by 1998, she had taken the helm as director of nursing at the New Woman All Women Health Care clinic in Birmingham, Alabama.


The 1990s were a time of numerous murders and attempted murders of reproductive health-care providers.


Lyons remembers little from January 29 of that year, a date 15 years ago today. She woke up earlier than she wanted but pushed herself through her morning routine, knowing she could look forward to a nap after work. She also looked forward to being home again with her husband, who was back from two weeks of business travel. But when she arrived at work, a devastating act of violence would ensure that nothing that ordinary would happen to her that day.

At 7:33 a.m., just as the clinic was opening, a bomb containing dynamite and nails exploded outside, killing security guard Robert Sanderson and critically injuring Emily Lyons. Although it was one of dozens of abortion clinic bombings that had occurred since abortion was legalized in 1973, the bombing of that Birmingham clinic was the first that resulted in a fatality. The five prior murders of reproductive health-care providers had been by gunshot.

Wounded in her face and legs, Lyons’ life was changed forever. After a long recovery, she was unable to resume her nursing career, but she became a spokesperson and activist for reproductive rights, receiving, among other honors, the Margaret Sanger Woman of Valor Award from Planned Parenthood. Continue reading