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Honoring Our Legacy: Founding IAmDrTiller.com
by Steph Herold
I learned about Dr. Tiller's murder via Twitter. I remember exactly where I was on May 31, 2009 — lounging in my mother's home in suburban Maryland, casually browsing the new Internet phenomenon, not yet convinced that it was a worthwhile pursuit for me. I saw a friend's tweet, "Dr Tiller is dead?!?" and at first it didn't register. I looked around. Outside, the wind was blowing through the trees. My beagle was sleeping, snoring next to me. Dr. Tiller was dead. What?
At the time, I worked at an abortion clinic. We referred our patients to Dr. Tiller if we couldn't see them due to a later stage in pregnancy or a severe fetal anomaly. He was a hero in my mind, a kind of Abortion God who stood for justice, peace, and compassion. I aspired to live and work by his high standards, his well-known mantras.
I scoured the Internet to read anything I could about the circumstances of his murder. I called my supervisor in a panic, afraid for my clinic, my patients, my co-workers. I was glued to my computer as the details unfolded, not taking calls from anyone who didn't work in abortionland, my heart drenched in despair and anxiety.
I returned to the clinic a few days later. We had a staff meeting to discuss our feelings, our concerns, and, of course, our safety. Out of that meeting, one of the many sentiments expressed was the need for a space for abortion providers to tell our stories. We were always doing everything we could to support our patients through their experiences – what about our own? In creating such a space, perhaps we could humanize abortion providers and clinic staff. Maybe, we thought, if they see our faces, our compassion, they won't kill us.
So I started the I Am Dr. Tiller Project. Abortion providers, including doctors, clinic escorts, counselors, abortion fund volunteers and many others, were invited to submit a personal story to post on the website. I also asked them to submit a photo of themselves with a sign saying, "I Am Dr. Tiller" as a way of showing our connectedness and solidarity.
The site collected dozens of submissions from around the world of abortion providers telling their stories, their origins in the reproductive justice movement. The site was even called out by the viciously anti-abortion Fox TV commentator Bill O'Reilly, who proclaimed that he did not understand why if we were so proud of the work we are doing, we would cover our faces. My inbox flooded with conservative hate mail that night, but with it came some of the most powerful entries from abortion providers.
Some responded directly to O'Reilly's comments, such as this one post from Philadelphia: We are covering our faces because we have realized over the last week and a half that none of us are really safe anymore. We are covering our faces because we want to continue to be able to provide women with the services they need, without putting their lives in danger.
Others bridged the often-perceived gap between pro-choice activism and faith-based work, such as a post by Rev. Rebecca Turner:
For more than 20 years I have counseled women and their families who were facing a pregnancy that was not meant to be. I have held their hands as they prayed for wisdom. I have stood beside them as they walked through protesters who cursed them. I am a better minister and person because of them.
The words of my colleagues, of my heroes, remind me every day that we are doing sacred, good work, and that our stories matter. I am fully aware that no matter how many stories are on the website, or how moving they are, it doesn't change the fact that Dr. Tiller is gone. It is our responsibility to uphold his legacy of kindness, courtesy, love, justice and respect.
We can all do this in our own ways. Encourage your friends to tell their abortion stories. Ask your local abortion provider how and why they got involved in abortion care work. Volunteer as an escort at an abortion clinic near you. Talk to your local abortion fund about how you can help it raise money to help women afford safe, legal abortions. Keep up with international news about abortion and reproductive rights. Like Dr. Tiller said, trust women.
Our work is not done.
July 22, 2010
Stephanie Herold is a reproductive justice activist who has worked both in direct service abortion care work and social media strategy. She tweets from the handle @IAmDrTiller and lives in Brooklyn.
Also see "On 'Generation Y/Millennials' and Teaching Reproductive Justice through Film" by Angie Young in the Café of this edition of On The Issues Magazine.
See "On The Frontlines: A Counselor Must Address A Gauntlet of Lies" by Mary Lou Greenberg in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.
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