Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Death of George Tiller and My Thoughts on Abortion

Sunday, June 07, 2009 1
Around lunchtime last Sunday I began to feel the pangs of a looming internal crisis. My wife Regina got a text message from her sister saying that George Tiller, notorious late term abortion provider, had been shot and killed at his church in Wichita, Ks. As I processed that information over the next hours and days I experienced a range of emotions that I hadn't fully prepared myself for.

Being raised in a fundamentalist Baptist church in the suburbs of Wichita , George Tiller played a prominent role in the formative years of my spiritual and political development. He was equal parts bogey man, Adolf Hitler and the devil himself. He was the face of evil incarnate and he carried out his grim work just a few miles away from the mall that I frequented as a teenager. Long before I could ever grasp the complexities of an issue like abortion (I'm not sure that I do now), I was standing outside his clinic holding poster board protest signs. I have a vague recollection of one late night vigil where I was actually interviewed by a local TV news crew. I don't recall the exact reason for the protest but I remember that it was cold that night so the January anniversary of Roe V. Wade would fit I suppose. In any case, the news crews shows up and somehow I end up in front of a reporter with a bright light in my face and they're asking me why I was there. My brilliantly succinct 13 year old answer was something like "Um well, because um, I don't um, think it's right um for them to um be able to kill um babies, you know?" That was literally all I knew about involved killing a baby, and of course that was wrong right? I couldn't even understand why we were there. How in the world could we even be having the conversation? This was the most black and white issue I could possibly imagine. In my mind, the typical abortion case file involved a teenage girl or twenty-something young woman who got pregnant as a result of her sinful lifestyle and was too selfish to make room in her life for a new baby so she decided to take the easy way out and get an abortion. People got abortions because they wanted to fit into a prom dress and not have their freshman year of college interrupted.

Of course this was before I had ever heard of words like anencephaly, a condition where the baby is born essentially without a skull or the major part of their brain, usually blind, deaf and unable to feel pain. This particular birth defect is fatal 100% of the time. This was before I read the accounts of families who discovered that the precious baby that they were hoping for and planning for and praying for and waiting anxiously to hold and love and raise was essentially on life support inside the womb and had no chance of survival. Let that sink in for a moment. Fatal 100% of the chance of survival. What do you do with that? As a young prospective mother how do you even allow your mind to process that information? Do you get a 2nd opinion? A 3rd...4th...5th opinion? Do you experience denial and anger and bargaining and all the other stages of grief that humans go through when a loved one dies? Do you carry the baby to term and allow it be born and die naturally? Do you have an abortion and end the pregnancy on your own terms? Do you name the baby and bury it and have a funeral like any other baby who dies tragically? I read of families who did all these things. Which of these choices is more right than the other? And who decides?

So these were the things that were running through my mind last week when I heard that Tiller had been murdered. As a lifelong opponent of abortion the coldly pragmatic part of my mind reasoned for a moment that the death of George Tiller would result, at least in the short term, in less abortions. On the other hand, the murder of this man would likely set the pro-life movement back by decades and turn Tiller into a martyr for the pro-choice movement. Worse still would be the damage to the peaceful, prayerful, non-radical arm of the pro-life movement who would likely be painted with the same broad brush as the murderer who pulled the trigger. Further still, what about the women who used Tiller's services as a legal if not horrible option for dealing with a fatal neural birth defect like anencephaly? Could it be that on some level this man who was the face of evil to me as a youngster was in some way, to some women, the hero that so many people are saying he was? Was it possible that by providing a less terrible option than carrying and giving birth to a baby with a death sentence that he was in some way bravely doing what needed to be done but few others in the medical community had the constitution for? Is it possible that for some people, in some circumstances, the services he offered were the more humane choice? The bile rises in my throat as I type that. It breaks my heart and makes my head spin to say it but I just don't know anymore. Does Pro-Choice mean pro-abortion? If you allow for abortions in extreme cases (like anencephaly) are you ethically and logically obliged to allow and approve of abortion on demand for all reasons? If you concede a little ground on this issue have you, in effect, conceded everything?

Here is what I do know - too often Christians who hang their hats on the sanctity of life seem to mysteriously disappear when the logical end of their stance on abortion comes knocking on the door of their church. Without the intervention of the church or other community minded organizations, poverty stricken, poorly educated people whose lives spiral into a vicious cycle of crime and poor decisions result in more tragically unwanted children destined to repeat the mistakes of their parents. We say we are against freely available condoms and sex education, the morning after pill and Plan B contraception for spiritual, ethical and philosophical reasons. But we fail to remember that ideas have consequences in real life. The effects of these philosophies we espouse are very often the victims of the abortions we fight to prevent. Pro-life has to mean more than just caring for 9 months and then moving on to the next girl in line at the pregnancy crisis center. As Christians we must value life in all of it's forms and stages.

I'm a lazy writer...

So it's been a while since I've posted anything substantive on this blog (some would say years...but that wouldn't be very nice of them). Basically, I just came down with a nasty case of blog-slack. I went on vacation for a week and some other stuff and just haven't made the time to sit down and write. I need to do better about that. I love to write but it's very easy to get out of the habit. Writing isn't always easy and frankly, watching TV is much easier. Consequently, TV has been winning the battle for the hour or so of free time I have at night that isn't consumed with family or work. Anyway, my summer resolution is to write something, anything, at least once a day. It might not always be a blog post, but even if it's just some free verse that I dump out of my brain into Google docs I think it would worth the excercise. Any other aspiring bloggers/writers feel the same way?
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