Tiller Memorial at Federal Courthouse in Urbana

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On Saturday, June 6 at 10 a.m., a memorial
was held at the federal courthouse in
Urbana to correspond with the funeral of
Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas and
similar memorials that were held across
the country. On Memorial Day, Tiller was
gunned down at his church by an antiabortion
activist in what many are calling a vicious act of
domestic terrorism. In Urbana, a group of approximately
25 people gathered to honor Tiller and take a stand for
women’s reproductive rights.
Growing up in Wichita, I remember the summer of
1991 when Operation Rescue kicked off its so-called
“Summer of Mercy” by protesting Dr. Tiller’s clinic. Tiller
had become a lightning rod for the movement for his providing
of late-term abortions. At the church where my now
wife (who was then and remains pro-choice) was attending,
youth were being recruited to lie down in the road
and block traffic along Kellogg Avenue.
Two of my close friends received abortions from Dr.
Tiller. After he was killed, one of them wrote, “I love Dr.
Tiller. He was an angel, a warrior, a zen-like human who
cared about people—women especially. He performed my
abortion when I was 17 and it saved my life. Dr. Tiller
saved my life and the lives of countless women by helping
them help themselves. Blessings to him and his family and
all of us who care about Reproductive Justice.” Lisa is now
the mother of two beautiful children and lives in Washington
Another friend of mine who had an abortion from Dr.
Tiller is currently a jazz critic for NPR, has written two
books, and is a free spirit who divides her time between
Brazil and Colorado.
I still have many friends and family who live in Wichita.
My mother recently told me the story of how when she
worked at a local jewelry store, Mrs. Tiller used to come in
to have her jewelry cleaned. One of my mother’s co-workers
refused to wait on Mrs. Tiller.
My mom also told me the story of Mary Logan, more
than 90 years old, who grew up with my grandfather in a
small coal mining community in southeast Kansas and was
a high school teacher in the Wichita public schools. She
had a young George Tiller as a student and said, “He was
one of those kids I wish I had a whole room full of.”
Throughout the years, he called to check in with her. He
was, she said, “just perfect in every way.”
Others at the memorial in Urbana had their own stories
to tell. Ashley Price, who was nine months pregnant, came
to show her support. She told me:
”I’m nine months pregnant. In fact I’m due on Monday
and I’ve always been pro-choice. I’m pregnant with a girl. I
want her to have the same choices I did. She was a chosen
pregnancy and the only reason why I haven’t needed an
abortion is because I have had adequate access to contraception.
I think abortion rights are tied to all reproductive
rights. There are forces in this society that want to limit
how and where a woman can birth. I’m planning a home
birth which is not exactly legal in this state. It’s legal for me
to give birth at home, but it’s not legal for a practitioner to
be at my birth. But we still do it.”
Kristin Ehrenberger just completed her first year of
medical school and complained about the lack of training
in abortion procedures. She wore a white coat to the
memorial and explained why:
”I came as a medical student because I didn’t want the
medical establishment to be unrepresented. There are in
fact students, doctors, nurses, and other people who see
abortion and similar procedures as legitimate, entirely
legal, and, unfortunately, sometimes necessary medical
procedures. I want the community to see that, which is
why I wore my white coat. I didn’t want us to be invisible.”
I also spoke with Heather Ault, an artist and graduate
student, who organized the event. I asked what compelled
her to call people together. She said:
”I was contacted by a friend who asked if there were
any vigils in town for Dr. Tiller’s death. I didn’t know of
any, others didn’t know of any. So I thought, well there’s no
reason why I couldn’t just step forward and get something
organized. I emailed some folks and that just snowballed.
Before I knew it we were having this vigil today. I’m just
learning this week about Dr. Tiller’s life. It’s amazing to me
how much of a hero he was to so many people within the
medical community, within the social justice community.
He touched so many women’s lives all around the world.
It’s an inspirational story. I think he deserves to be honored.
We want to share our prayers and our thoughts with
his family. We want to let people know that this is an injustice
we need to be aware of and talk about.”
There was an officer from Homeland Security assigned
to the memorial which took place with no incidents.
At least 45 vigils were reported to have been organized
in 24 states.
Prosecutors have still not decided whether Tiller’s murderer,
Scott Roeder of Kansas City, will be charged with a
hate crime or an act of domestic terrorism. A judgeraised
his bond to $20 million after he made threatening statements
to the Associated Press.

About Brian Dolinar

Brian Dolinar has been a community journalist since 2004.
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