This commentary which I wrote for Salon reflects my sadness and anger after Dr. Tiller was murdered this morning. My sympathy goes, as I am sure yours does, to his family and co-workers. The man fought for his principles on behalf of all women, and we owe it to him to prevent future acts of violence.
I am done with candlelight vigils.
It is good and necessary that people gather together at a candlelight vigil to honor the memory of Dr. George Tiller, murdered in cold blood today at his Lutheran church by an assailant believed to be Montana “Freeman” Scott Roeder. Tiller was a compassionate and courageous doctor who provided abortion services to women in some of the most distressing circumstances imaginable, when their pregnancies had gone horribly, tragically wrong. He provided services when no one else would, and he was stubborn enough to fight against everyone who tried to stop him. So it is right that people express their grief in public ceremonies.
But I myself am done with candlelight vigils. I have participated in too many of them, from 1993 with the murder of Dr. David Gunn in Pensacola through the seven doctors, patient escorts and staff murdered over the horrifying five-year period thereafter. I can never forget the day before New Year’s Eve in 1994. I was, at the time, CEO of Planned Parenthood in Arizona, talking on the phone to Pensacola patient escort June Barrett — who had been wounded when her husband and the clinic’s Dr. John Britton were murdered by anti-abortion zealot Rev. Paul Hill — when I received another urgent call from a friend whose granddaughter worked in Planned Parenthood’s Brookline clinic. The young woman had just witnessed the murder of two co-workers by John Salvi.
Each time, we held vigils all over the country. We wept and we pledged to continue our work. Which we did, increasingly, in isolation. We were the ones who had been wronged, and yet we were labeled controversial, to be shunned rather than supported. The murders were only the tip of the iceberg, among over 6000 cases of violence, vandalism, stalking, bombings, arson, invasions and other serious harassment.