Special Guest Commentary
by Luhra Tivis
Dr. George R. Tiller was a complex human being, as are we all. Like most people, his life consisted of chance events, good choices and bad choices. He was a caring human being who could, at times, be cruel or arrogant. He was not a saint; most of us are not.
On occasion Dr. Tiller lied to himself and to others, perhaps to arrange the world in an order that he preferred. He enjoyed being flamboyant and adored talking to the media. He loved being the center of attention.
I often heard him say that he was a spokesman for women but his manner toward women was often brusque and dismissive. He was most comfortable when he felt he was in total control of a situation.
I worked for Dr. Tiller for about a year in 1988. I entered all of the medical records into the computer, so I saw the medical information for every mother who came into the clinic. During my job interview Dr. Tiller explained to me that he performed third trimester abortions but only for cases where the baby was severely deformed. I thought that I was pro-choice and I believed him.
However, after working there for some months, and handling the medical records, I found that most of the mothers who came into the clinic were 7, 8 or even 9 months pregnant with healthy babies. I was shocked when I realized this, especially since my first baby was 6 weeks premature and had been born at that same age of development.
People have told me that they find it hard to believe. I point out to them that women can get first trimester and even second trimester abortions much closer to home than Kansas. Women came from all over the USA, Canada, and even overseas, to Dr. Tiller’s clinic in Wichita because Dr. Tiller would not turn them away, no matter how far along they were.
I saw many unforgettable things in that clinic. One of them, however, is etched into my mind. I sat at my computer in a small room just off the main reception office. Dr. Tiller came up from the basement (the surgery room where the babies were delivered was in the basement) with a large cardboard box in his arms.
He evidently didn’t want to walk through the crowded waiting room, so he ducked into the front office, walked past behind me, and into a short hallway. He called out to me to come and help him open a door. He handed me the key and I unlocked it for him as he shifted the heavy box in his arms. As he opened the door, I saw within a full sized crematorium oven, exactly the same as used in funeral homes. As he shut the door and I walked back to my desk, I realized that the heavy box he was carrying was full of dead babies. As I sat down at my desk, I could hear him firing up the oven. In only moments, the smell of burning flesh permeated my office.
Why would anyone do such horrible things? Dr. Tiller did approximately 15 to 24 third trimester abortions per week for almost thirty years. He started doing the earlier procedures, and kept that up for many years, but he specialized in performing the third trimester abortions and that became his stock in trade. The price for such an abortion is about the same as it costs to deliver a live baby. At one time I did a calculation on the number of abortions in a year compared to the cost of operating the clinic and figured that, at a low figure mind you, Dr. Tiller cleared a profit of approximately one million dollars per year. In any situation, that much money is very seductive—and very difficult to give up.
I am deeply sorry that Dr. Tiller was shot and killed. The man who killed him was not a member of any pro-life group and had never done any kind of pro-life work. Therefore, especially as he shot and killed someone, I think we can safely say that the man who shot Dr. Tiller was not a pro-lifer. He was a stalker. Every year there are doctors, actors, and other high profile people who are attacked or killed by stalkers.
Those of us who work to save the lives of mothers and babies, who give them a home to live in, baby clothes, medical care, and volunteer to help them in any way we can, we as individuals and as a community that stretches worldwide—we did not kill Dr. Tiller. A deranged stalker with delusions of grandeur picked out a high profile target who was often in the public eye.
At his first appearance before a judge after arrest, Scott Roeder appeared calm and held his head up proudly. He had achieved his fondest wish: he was famous.
Luhra Tivis gave her testimony at the Pro-Life Action League’s Meet the Abortion Providers conference in 1994 and is featured on the League’s DVD of the same name. This article originally appeared in the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom.