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Anyone who wishes to understand what it has been like to offer and provide abortion services in America during the past 38 years must read Stephen Singular’s new book on the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita on May 31, 2009. It is a methodical and chilling account of the life of Scott Roeder, who stalked Dr. Tiller for a decade and who was involved with various right-wing groups and religious fanatics who advocated the use of lethal force to stop abortion. Singular documents Roeder’s visits to Shelly Shannon, who shot Dr. Tiller in a 1993 assassination attempt, and the confluence of Roeder’s psychopathology with the virulent anti-abortion ideology. Singular also describes Dr. Tiller’s dedication to helping women and his emergence as one of the few physicians specializing in late abortion services. Both were consequences of his conscientious work as a physician continuing his late father’s family practice. Through it all he had deep and strong links with a conservative, Christian, Republican community. In spite of the vicious attacks by Christian anti-abortion fanatics over decades, Dr. Tiller saw his devotion to the needs of his patients as part of his own service as a physician.
As a close friend and medical colleague of Dr. Tiller, I was in frequent contact with him for over 30 years at professional medical meetings, through frequent telephone calls, and visits with his family at his generous invitation. In Singular’s book, I learned just how much more pain and harassment Dr. Tiller and his family suffered at the hands of his adversaries than even I had heard about from him, and I shuddered at the events leading up to my friend’s cold-blooded assassination in his church foyer by Scott Roeder. Hideous as these events were, Singular has performed a critical service in showing the context of these events in his well-written book, which is one of the most important documents about this part of contemporary American life. This book must be read by every American citizen to understand how the abortion issue has come to dominate American public life and government policies as few other issues have and what it means to do this work. The anti-abortion movement is a violent, terrorist movement that will stop at nothing, including assassination, to impose its views on the rest of us, and it is opposed to basic premises of American society. Scott Roeder was not a lone “whacko” whose appalling inhumanity and cruelty can be discounted as an aberration. He is, and remains, part of a fascist movement in America.
Safe abortion is a fundamental component of women’s health care in the 21st century, and its availability in the latter decades of the 20th century is one of the great public health success stories of recorded history. It is also a critical component of not only women’s health but the ability of women to participate as full citizens in modern society. Singular’s book reveals that this is one of the reasons why the defenders of a rigid patriarchal society hate abortion so much and why they are willing to kill doctors like Dr. Tiller to keep women from being able to live their own lives and compete with men for jobs, money and power.
Warren M. Hern, M.D.