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

Women Fighting for Everyone’s Health

Happy Women’s History Month! Throughout the history of medicine, the health of women and children hasn’t always been prioritized. Safeguards might not have been in place to ensure drugs were safe during pregnancy, the right to abortion care has been under attack by both terrorists and lawmakers, and people haven’t had the tools they needed to prevent pregnancy. But throughout that same history, women have confronted these issues head on, creating a better world for everyone and keeping important conversations alive.

Let’s meet some of these incredible historical figures now!

Frances Oldham Kelsey

President Kennedy honors Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey with the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service in 1962.

In 1960, Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey was evaluating drug applications for the FDA. When she received an application for a sleeping pill called Kevadon, she was unsettled by scant information on the drug’s safety and demanded additional data, triggering a game of tug-of-war between the pharmaceutical company and the FDA that persisted for more than a year.

In November 1961, Dr. Kelsey was vindicated. Kevadon — aka thalidomide — was discovered to cause severe birth defects. According to the New York Times, children “were born without arms or legs, some with no limbs or with withered appendages protruding directly from the trunk. Some had no external ears or deformities of the eyes, the esophagus or intestinal tracts.” One estimate holds that 20,000 babies were born with deformities, while 80,000 died during pregnancy or shortly after birth. But, thanks to Dr. Kelsey, thalidomide was never approved in the United States.

Frances Kelsey’s career might have been made possible by a misunderstanding. Her graduate advisor at the University of Chicago wasn’t a big booster of women in science, but he hired her after reading her name as Francis and assuming she was a man. Dr. Kelsey always wondered, “if my name had been Elizabeth or Mary Jane, whether I would have gotten that first big step up.” At the time, though, she wondered if she should even accept the offer to join the University of Chicago as a grad student.

“When a woman took a job in those days, she was made to feel as if she was depriving a man of the ability to support his wife and child,” Dr. Kelsey told the New York Times in 2010. Fortunately for an untold number of wives and children — and everyone else — she decided to claim her rightful place at the university, leaving behind an incredible legacy.

Sherri Finkbine

The Finkbines traveling back to Phoenix, en route from London.

Sherri Finkbine was known to thousands of children as Miss Sherri on the local edition of the children’s show Romper Room. But Finkbine entered the spotlight for another reason in 1962, when she learned during her fifth pregnancy that she was at risk of having a child with severe birth defects. Finkbine was using sleeping pills that her husband had brought back from Europe, and the pills, she found out, contained thalidomide. Wishing to warn others about the drug, Finkbine shared her story with a reporter from the Arizona Republic.

Though she had been promised anonymity, her identity was exposed and her story created a media firestorm. Continue reading

Best of 2018: Bloggers Pick Their Favorite Posts

When 2018 began, we weren’t even a full year into the Trump administration, and we were staring down the barrel at another three years of it. Luckily, as 2018 got going, so did we. The Resistance injected new blood into politics, from the local to the federal levels, and by the end of the year we were celebrating the victories of candidates passionate about the rights of women, LGBTQ folks, immigrants, and voters. Whether you want to call it a “blue wave” or a “blue ripple,” the country enjoyed record voter turnout in last month’s midterms, and Arizona is now officially a purple state. We’re looking forward to what 2019 will hold, and are ready to keep fighting!

Our bloggers were with us throughout the year, reminding us of what’s most important: advocating for health, justice, and dignity for all. They shared their favorite posts of 2018.

Anne has spent years on the front lines fighting abortion stigma, the sinister force that fosters silence and shame. She introduced us to one of her sisters in arms, Karen, who for 40 years kept her abortion a secret. When Karen finally unburdened herself of the stigma, her sons rallied to her side, realizing they can’t be complacent. This powerful story about a beautiful family will bring tears to your eyes, and remind you of the harm abortion stigma can cause. Reproductive rights aren’t just a “women’s issue,” and male voices are needed in this fight.

Matt wrote an incredible four-part series examining the link between white supremacy and opposition to abortion. His favorite piece was the final installment in this series, covering the 1990s. During this decade, the white supremacist, anti-abortion, and Patriot movements converged to give us terrorists like Eric Robert Rudolph, who bombed the Olympics, a gay bar, and abortion clinics. Fast forward a couple of decades, and by 2016, the stage was set for Trump’s misogyny, racism, transphobia, xenophobia, and Islamophobia.

Mother and babyAnna examined the shocking, disturbing racial disparities in U.S. maternal mortality. The United States’ high maternal mortality rate is heartbreaking no matter how you look at it, but is especially pronounced for black women, who are 3.5 times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy than white women. In fact, in New York City, their maternal mortality rate is on par with that of North Korea, and Amnesty International considers high U.S. maternal mortality rates to be evidence of “significant systemic human rights failures” — not a distinction you’d expect for a wealthy nation like our own.

Rachel was alarmed by Supreme Court nominee — and now justice — Brett Kavanaugh from the start, and put together a withering indictment of him — and that was before the sexual assault allegations came to light. Kavanaugh’s judicial record reveals priorities aligned with religious doctrine rather than with the Constitution: He fought to save religious employers from the “burden” of a two-page form, but refused to recognize an undocumented minor’s unwanted pregnancy as representing any kind of burden. That seat needed to be filled by a justice who views women as equals, with full say over what happens to their bodies — instead, we got Kavanaugh, who will be an axe hanging over our heads for years.

Serena’s favorite piece was published back in March for Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on amazing women who changed history for all humankind. She introduced us to luminaries such as Wendy Davis, Shirley Chisholm, and Dolores Huerta to show us how much power one person can wield! She also used the opportunity to celebrate the right to vote, which millennials and Gen X’ers can wield to honor the suffragists who came before them. These generations cast the most ballots, and if a greater proportion of them voted, their voices would be impossible to ignore!

2016 in Review: Our Bloggers Boost Their Favorite Posts

How can we put it? 2016 was a doozy. When we rang in the New Year on January 1, the Supreme Court was gearing up for one of the most important abortion-rights cases in years. When Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, President Obama named a replacement — and Congressional Republicans refused to hold hearings for the nominee, disregarding their job description. Both the Democratic and Republican parties were running exciting primaries — but, as we swept away the New Year’s confetti, Donald Trump was still considered by many to be an unfathomable joke.

While we did bask in a summertime victory, when the Supreme Court struck down Texas’ draconian anti-abortion laws, we were blindsided by Donald Trump’s Electoral College win — especially given that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a margin of nearly 3 million. As we say goodbye to 2016, we are unsure of what the future holds for reproductive rights, with a president-elect and Congress that are hostile to our cause, and the next Supreme Court nomination in unfriendly hands.

Throughout it all, our amazing volunteers stood by our side, never afraid to speak against current injustices or share important lessons from the past. As we enter 2017, we’ll need our volunteers more than ever! Our blogging team is made up of Planned Parenthood volunteers, who will be standing at the ready to document the events that unfold over the coming year — and to demand justice. But for now, our bloggers are looking back on their favorite posts from 2016. Please check them out!

rosa-parks-arrestMatt had no problem picking his favorite post of 2016: his piece on the long history of African-American women bringing sexual harassment to light. As Matt says, “the background reading for that one was really fascinating. Hopefully my synthesis did all of the source material justice!” It was only 30 short years ago that the Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision in sexual harassment law. Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson was just one chapter in a long history of black women spearheading the fight against sexual harassment — from Rosa Parks to Anita Hill. Read Matt’s post to learn more about these brave women.

Tex-Supremes thumbnailAnne spent much of 2016 following the Supreme Court — including the deliberations and final ruling in this year’s Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. When laws that purport to protect women’s health don’t actually do so, something has gone terribly wrong. Luckily, in June, the Supreme Court stood up for facts, logic, and the scientific method when they overturned Texas’ HB2, which wrote obstacles to abortion into law — under the guise of “protecting women’s health.” Anne’s pieces on the Supreme Court underscore how very important it is to have a president who will appoint justices who will uphold our constitutional right to control our own bodies.

shout-your-abortion-thumbnailGene had a clear candidate in mind when asked to share his favorite post of 2016: “That’s easy,” he told us, “Shouting My Abortion.” Gene, who has never had a uterus, ponders what it would be like if he could get pregnant — and have an abortion. Would abortion stigma start to fade away if cisgender men could get pregnant? Or would their bodies become heavily politicized battlefields as well? Regardless of your ability to become pregnant, statistics show that someone you love has had an abortion. Yet stigma keeps us silent. Read Gene’s thoughts on destigmatizing this common, legal, and important medical procedure.

Crosshairs thumbnailRachel kicked off 2016 by helping us fulfill our New Year’s resolution to read more when she reviewed “Living in the Crosshairs,” an enlightening, shocking, and enraging book that documents anti-abortion terrorism in the United States. The violence and threats routinely leveled at abortion providers not only heavily influences their lives, it also impacts all of us by making the full spectrum of reproductive health care more difficult to access. Now that November’s presidential election has put the United States on the brink of further dwindling access to safe abortion, this book will be — unfortunately — more relevant than ever. Understanding the obstacles abortion providers face, and the sacrifices they make, is important, making “Living in the Crosshairs” required reading.

Anna usually writes about the single-celled organisms that torment our nether regions in the form of sexually transmitted infections, but this year, her favorite post was about the history of contraception. When it comes to contraception, we’ve come a long way — from fish bladders to latex condoms, from womb veils to diaphragms, and from stem pessaries to IUDs. We can also use the morning-after pill rather than resorting to dangerous methods like douching with harsh chemicals to attempt to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. Even better, we don’t have to buy our condoms and other contraceptives on the black market! Read Anna’s post to learn some fun facts about the history of birth control.

pride flagsKelley is a PPAA employee who moonlights as a blogger. This summer, they wrote about the 47th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which set the modern LGBTQ rights movement into motion. When the cops busted Stonewall Inn in June of 1969, it wasn’t a typical police raid — this time, the LGBTQ folks they were harassing fought back. While the riots themselves only lasted three days, the fight for equality continues into the present. Whether patronizing Stonewall in 1969 or Pulse in 2016, the LGBTQ community deserves safe spaces free of violence. Read Kelley’s favorite piece of 2016 to learn about this important chapter in the enduring struggle for human dignity.

Book Club: Living in the Crosshairs

CrosshairsLiving in the Crosshairs is an important and terrifying book that was published last year by Oxford University Press. Its authors are David S. Cohen, a law professor at Drexel University who also sits on the boards of the Women’s Law Project and the Abortion Care Network, and Krysten Connon, who graduated from Drexel Law School in 2012, and is now an attorney in Philadelphia. In it, they look at targeted harassment of abortion providers. This is different from the protests we may think of outside abortion clinics, which are aimed at the clinic, or the women seeking abortions, or the issue in general. Targeted threats and attacks are aimed at individuals who work in the clinics. They are personal.

The title comes from a story of one provider’s dealings with the legal authorities. He describes one protest at the clinic where he works, where:

… a new sign displayed Paul’s picture in crosshairs. “I was just shocked that that was legal. I just can’t see how that’s fair.” Paul contacted the FBI about the targeted protest, particularly in light of the sign with the crosshairs. “They said it’s perfectly legal. The protesters could do that, and they could do worse.”

This incident shows the way abortion providers are targeted, literally and figuratively, by anti-abortion activists, and is a representative example of the stories told by the people interviewed for this report. In all, 87 providers were contacted, and 82 of them agreed to be interviewed at length. The authors included doctors, administrators, and other medical and non-medical staff who work where abortions are performed. Non-medical staff are also targets; as the authors point out, of eight providers murdered by anti-abortion killers, four were doctors; the others included two receptionists, a security guard, and a volunteer escort. And more recently, we’ve seen in Colorado Springs that people unrelated to a clinic can also be killed in anti-abortion violence. The danger is great; almost all of those interviewed chose to use false names, and to have details that could identify them changed as well. Continue reading

Five Years Later: Reflections on the 2011 Tucson Shooting

The following guest post comes to us via Edna Meza Aguirre, regional associate development director for Planned Parenthood Arizona. Edna is a native Tucsonan, bilingual and bicultural. She received her JD from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and worked in the area of criminal defense for 12 years before changing careers.

Gabby Giffords with Planned Parenthood Arizona's president and CEO, Bryan Howard, at a 2010 event in Tucson

Gabby Giffords with Planned Parenthood Arizona’s president and CEO, Bryan Howard, at a 2010 event in Tucson

On Saturday, January 8, 2011, at 7:04 a.m., Jared Lee Loughner began his day at a Tucson Walmart. He purchased ammunition for his semi-automatic handgun, a 9 mm Glock pistol. Sometime around 7:34 a.m., he was pulled over for running a red light. When his check revealed no outstanding warrants, he was given a warning and allowed to go.

Two and half hours later, he arrived at a Tucson Safeway grocery store, stood about four feet from U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, aimed his gun, and shot her in the head. He didn’t stop there. By the end of his shooting rampage, 14 people were injured and six families were left to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives as they planned funerals for the six victims murdered that morning. Among the dead, a 9-year-old girl, Christina-Taylor Green, and the Honorable Judge John Roll, chief judge of the U.S. District of Arizona.


“The agony of that day drove home for me that ‘safety’ can be an illusory term.”


Loughner’s Glock also ended the lives of Dorothy “Dot” Morris, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwan Stoddard, and Gabriel “Gabe” Zimmerman. An aide to Gabby, Gabe was the first congressional worker to die in the line of duty.

Christina-Taylor had a burgeoning interest in our political system. Rep. Giffords was hosting a “Congress on Your Corner” event, created precisely for members of the public like Christina-Taylor, who wanted to learn more about their government. Christina-Taylor had come into the world on a painful day — September 11, 2001. She had been featured in the book Faces of Hope: Babies Born on 9/11. Her spunk and joy provided invaluable happiness to all around her. A child born on a tragic day was to meet with Gabby so she could learn how to contribute to her world. Christina-Taylor had just been elected to her student council.  Continue reading

Brookline Clinic Shootings: December 30, 1994

BROOKLINE, MASS., DEC. 30 — A gunman dressed in black opened fire with a rifle at two abortion clinics here this morning, killing two female staff workers and wounding at least five other people.

This matter-of-fact sentence was the opening of a Washington Post story on December 31, 1994. Today marks the 20th anniversary of these shootings at the Planned Parenthood and Preterm Health Services clinics in Brookline, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston.

Planned Parenthood buffer zone in Vermont. Photo: Adam Fagen

The Brookline shootings are generally considered the third in a series of assassinations by anti-abortion activists and followers, beginning with the murder of Dr. David Gunn in Pensacola, Florida, in March 1993. A history of acts of violence compiled by NARAL frames Dr. Gunn’s killing as a turning point, while recognizing that violent acts were happening all through the 20 years since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

I was living in Massachusetts in 1994; my life, however, was such that I did not have much time or energy for the news. I have a friend who lived in Brookline at the time; I asked for her memories of the shooting. She sent me this:

 My 7-year-old daughter and I were coming home to our apartment in Brookline on the trolley to Cleveland Circle when we saw the police swarmed around the brownstone that the [Planned Parenthood] clinic was in. I had a friend who worked there part time, so I was very worried. I wanted to join the crowd of people behind the police line to find out what happened, but my daughter’s safety was first on my mind. Continue reading