Friday, September 20, 2013


A scene from After Tiller.
When choice is not just a word

By John Esther

On May 31, 2009, while serving as an usher at his church in Wichita, Kansas, 67-year-old Dr. George Tiller was shot through the eye and killed. One of a very few doctors who performed late-term abortions in America, Tiller was killed by an anti-choice activist.

(In 1993, Tiller had been shot five times by another anti-choice activist. Tiller's murderer received a life sentence plus 50 years.)

Since his death there are only four doctors in the U.S. who provide third trimester abortions and they are the subjects of co-directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson’s informative documentary, After Tiller.

Constantly terrorized, confronted with moral dilemmas, and constrained by legal requirements, Dr. Leroy Carhart, Dr. Warren Hern, Dr. Susan Robinson and Dr. Shelly Sella perform what seems a rare, usually revered, occasionally reviled, public service.

What late-term abortion critics do not understand (among many other things) is that women and couples come to these doctors under very dire circumstances. The women or couple is at a point in the pregnancy where the fetus is unwanted, usually not because it was unplanned or the result of incest or rape, but because after its birth the child is destined to live under unbearable circumstances due to some horrific fetal anomaly. Why bring a child in this world if his or her future is predetermined to do nothing else but suffer – especially for the child, but for the mother or parents, too?

The patients come to these doctors because they are at wit's end. They do not come here lightly. It is a painful decision and not a pleasant procedure if the good doctors agree (which is hardly a given response). If the doctors agree to terminate the pregnancy the mother must deliver a stillborn. There are no happy endings here.

Addressing an issue many Americans are uncomfortable with, After Tiller sheds light and humanity on reproductive rights in this country. For these doctors, choice is not just a word or a political meme, but an action to be taken with the utmost seriousness, sincerity and solemnity.

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