To the shooter:
If you are reading this, I know you feel justified in your act of entering a church with a loaded gun, and shooting a doctor to death in front of his family and friends. I know you felt righteous in your motives as you sped from the scene in your blue Ford Taurus, your head spinning with all the Pro-Life slogans and fund raising letters, expertly designed to induce such hate. You probably even thought Bill O'Reilly might call you a hero.
I can imagine your motivation, thinking the killing of this one man would save the lives of babies who have not yet even been conceived. But you are wrong. The murder you committed will not change women's minds, or their determination do what they know in their hearts is right. When a woman makes the decision to have an abortion, she does so with great reverence, forethought and clarity. Women have done this since the beginning of time, and will continue to do so regardless of your misplaced passions or judgment. Women like Julia, who spoke before the Texas legislature on the subject of late term abortion: Julia knew she needed an abortion to save her dear and much loved baby from needless suffering. The baby in her womb suffered from a condition known as arthrogryposis. In her testimony Julia explained:
The ultrasound showed that Thomas had clubbed hands and feet. His legs were fixed in a bent position and his arms were permanently flexed straight. He had a cleft palate and swelling on his skull -- a condition that would likely kill him in and of itself. Due to his inability to move, Thomas's muscles had deteriorated to 25% or their usual size, and his bones to 25% of their usual density.
My husband and I were sent home to grapple with the news and face an unwelcome decision: whether or not to continue with the pregnancy. By the time the amnio results came back, we had two days left to make a decision before hitting the 24 week mark -- after which, no doctor in Texas would terminate a pregnancy. The results were devastating. Our son had no chromosomal disorder. There was no explanation at all for his condition, and as such, no way to predict the scope of his suffering. We would have to make our decision based strictly on what the ultrasound had revealed.
My husband and I decided that we would have to use the golden rule. We would do for Thomas what we would want done for us in the same situation.
We tried to look at the evidence as honestly as we could. Even the best case scenario was abominable... Thomas would lead a very short life of only a few years at the very most. During those years he would be in constant pain from the ceaseless, charley-horse-type cramps that would rack his body. He would undergo numerous, largely ineffective surgeries, just to stay alive. He would never be able to walk or stand; never grasp anything, never be able to hold himself upright. He wouldn't even be able to suck his own thumb for comfort. And this was only if we were lucky. The more likely scenarios tended toward fetal death and serious health complications for me.
We made our decision with one day to go and left for Houston where we would end Thomas's suffering in one quick and painless moment. Though we wanted to stay at home that was no longer an option, as all of the hospitals were religiously-backed and there was no time to convene an ethics committee hearing.
In Houston, God graced us with some of the most compassionate people we'd ever met. The first was our maternal-fetal medicine specialist, who confirmed that the prognosis was even direr than originally thought. In a procedure very similar to an amniocentesis, Thomas's heart was stopped with a simple injection. In that moment, as I held my husband's hand, I met God and handed him my precious boy to care for, for all eternity.
Over the next 17 hours I labored to deliver Thomas's body. It was a painful experience, but the only option given to a woman at 24 weeks gestation. Thomas Stephen was born into this world just after 6:00 a.m. on November 27, 2002 -- the day before Thanksgiving.
The loving nurse who'd helped us through labor cleaned his fragile body and brought him to us. We held our boy for the next hour as we said goodbye. Our own eyes confirmed what our hearts had already come to know: that Thomas was not meant for this world. The hospital's pastor joined us and we christened Thomas in the baptism bonnet I'd worn as an infant.
Thomas's life and death have changed our lives in ways we will never fully comprehend I know he made me a better mother, a better friend, and a less judgmental, more compassionate human being. I know he is the reason I have the courage to stand in front of you today.
Through him, I've grown closer to God, who understands what it is to sacrifice your only begotten son in the name of mercy.
*The full transcript of Julia's story and related comments can be viewed at her blog: Uncommon Misconception.
Dr. Tiller was an expert in the medically difficult late term abortion procedures described in Julia's story. He was a rare and gifted specialist, who knew his calling, and was determined to do his duty, no matter how harsh the threats, or how dangerous the conditions. Dr. Tiller met women like Julia each and every day, and he knew he was their only hope.
Long time Ohio Women's Rights advocate Kelli Arthur-Hykes broke into tears when she heard the news of Dr. Tiller's murder:
"So many women call me. They find my crumpled business card and call me because they have no where else to turn. In situations of late term abortion, I send them to Dr. Tiller, because there is no one else who can do what he does. We send women all the way from here in Ohio to Kansas, because he is the only doctor in this part of the country who has the experience to handle these medically difficult situations of late term abortion. I send them to Dr. Tiller, because there is no one else who can do what he does. What will these women do now? On Monday morning they will be in his clinic. Where will they go now? Many of them could barely afford the trip to Wichita, and now they will have to find somewhere else to go, but I don't know of anyone with his experience or degree of medical expertise. This is a tragedy beyond belief. It is clear the movement has not just lost a real hero, but the women in our very own community have lost yet another choice.
After talking to Kelli I spoke with former Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Gloria Feldt who summed up the feelings of all the women I have talked to today:
"I want to hear massive outrage on the part of the community. I want to start with president Obama. I want to hear it from congress. I want to hear it from clergy. This must not be tolerated period."
The women of this country need to stand up right now, loud, unified and strong, and send a message we are in fact capable and qualified to make our own medical decisions, and we demand the right to do so under the law.
To the shooter, I can only hope judgment will cometh, and cometh right soon.
Follow Kelley Bell-Wenzlaff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@kelleybell