Abortion Debate is Not Clear Cut

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Ben Cohen
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For Dr. George Tiller by dollbabytina.

By Ben Cohen

Abortion is a topic I rarely discuss on these pages, mostly because I have no idea where I really stand on the issue. I personally find the notion of destroying unborn fetuses very troubling, particularly in the later stages of development. I'm also pro choice, because the issues surrounding pregnancy are so complex that removing that choice would create severe consequences for too many people.

There is a great deal of truth to the notion that people view abortion as a form of birth control. I've met many girls who casually talk about getting an abortion if they were to get pregnant, and know some girls who have actually had multiple abortions in a very short period of time. I feel it is a horrific way to deal with human life, and abortions should literally be the last choice under most circumstances.

But there are many, many cases when abortion is not only justified, but necessary. Rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, danger to the mother, the list goes on. And the doctors who perform those operations should not, and must not be persecuted for it.

The recent assassination of Dr. George Tiller is the result of a warped view of the topic - a good versus evil moral crusade where complexities and nuance are thrown by the wayside in favor of brute fundamentalism. One can disagree with Dr. Tiller's practice, but he was not doing anything illegal and certainly did not deserve to be slaughtered in front of his family.

To many, Tiller was a killer. I do not agree with this view, but do have sympathies for those who believe in protecting the unborn. I also know that for others, he was a savior, performing a horrible procedure that no sane person would derive pleasure from. He eased the suffering of many terribly conflicted patients with an awful choice to make, and did so despite immense opposition. Fox News spent years hounding Tiller, calling him 'Tiller the baby Killer', with Bill O'Reilly leading a one man crusade against the doctor. O'Reilly essentially accused him of genocide, helping build a climate of hostility towards Tillman that ultimately led to his death.

Andrew Sullivan posted a comment from Metafilter of the husband of former patient of Tiller's. It's a heart breaking rendition of what an abortion doctor really does, and who Dr. Tiller really was. Not of course what the Fox News Network wants you to believe. I've posted the comment in full:

My wife and I spent a week in Dr. Tiller's care after we learned our 21 week fetus had a
severe defect incompatible with life. The laws in our state prevented
us from ending the pregnancy there, and Dr. Tiller was one of maybe
three choices in the whole nation at that gestational age.
My wife just called with the news of his murder, weeping.
I can't really come up with some profound political statement just now,
so let me just list some memories of Dr. Tiller.

I
remember him firmly stating that he regarded the abortion debate in the
US to be about the control of women's sexuality and reproduction.

I
remember he spent over six hours in one-on-one care with my wife when
there was concern she had an infection. We're talking about a physician
here. Six hours.

He told the story of his previous shooting,
where a woman shot him twice in both arms as he drove out of his
clinic. At first he wanted to run her down with his Jeep, but then he
thought "she shot you already George, she'll do it again!"

I remember being puzzled about a T-shirt he was
wearing, which said "Happy Birthday Jennifer from team Tiller!" or
something similar. Turns out it comemmorated the birthday of a fifteen
year old girl who was raped, became pregnant, and came to Tiller for an
abortion. As luck would have it, she was in the clinic the same week as
her birthday. So the clinic threw her a party.

The walls of the clinic reception and waiting room are
literally covered with letters from patients thanking him. Some were
heartbreaking - obviously young and/or poorly educated people thanking
Dr. Tiller for being there when they had no other options, explaining
their family, church etc. had abandoned them.

I remember my wife, foggy with sedation after the final
procedure, being helped from the exam table. He had her sit up and put
her arms around his neck, and then he lifted her into a wheelchair.
"You give good hugs" she whispered.
He paused just for a moment.
"You're just fine," he told her.

I still have difficulties accepting late term abortions. It is something no human being could ever take lightly, and I would imagine that the vast majority of people making the decision find themselves in similar situations to the reader above. To reduce it to an infantile, Bill O'Reilly type argument dismisses the extraordinary difficulty women face when confronted with this issue. There is a legitimate debate on the topic, and both sides make passionate, and in some ways equally valid arguments. Common ground is particulalry hard to find on the subject, but at the very least both sides should agree that murdering doctors is not the way to go about it. After all, if you are pro life, then surely the living deserve just as much compassion as the unborn.

(photo by dollbabytina)