May 31, 2012 marks the third anniversary of the assassination of Dr. George Tiller, a Kansas physician who provided late-term abortions in his Wichita clinic. An abortion opponent fatally shot Dr. Tiller in the eye while he was handing out bulletins inside his church during worship services.
Dr. Tiller became a target of antiabortion activists because he performed abortions on women who had passed the twenty-first week of their pregnancies. These abortions terminated fetuses that either had severe or fatal birth defects or were healthy but whose birth would cause the woman “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function,” as certified by two other physicians.
Attacks on women’s reproductive rights have increased since Dr. Tiller’s assassination. During 2011 alone, 92 pieces of legislation were enacted in in 24 states that restrict access to abortion services. A number of those focus on late-term abortions. The stated goal of abortion opponents is to use an incremental approach with these limitations serving as a stepping stone to more and more restrictions.
Women’s rights advocates must not cede the issue of late-term abortions in hopes of preserving other rights. Late-term abortions are rare (approximately one percent of all abortions) but the procedure can be key to a woman’s physical or mental well-being. Which women find they have this need?
A study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute of over 9,000 abortions performed after the 16th week of gestation revealed that more than half of these were terminations of intended pregnancies. This strongly suggests that the procedures were typically done because of severe fetal abnormalities or because of risks to the woman’s health.
Birth defects are not usually detected until the second trimester. If initial tests suggest a problem exists, women often wait for further fetal development and more detailed studies. However, the result may be learning late in their pregnancies that their fetus has a profound birth defect that would result in the fetus’s death in utero or within hours of birth. One example is anencephaly, the absence of a portion of the brain and skull.
A woman’s physical health may be endangered by giving birth as a result of a number of conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, asthma, lupus, and heart valve problems. Also, mental illnesses like bipolar disease may be worsened by giving birth. These are just some of the women for whom an abortion is advisable for their physical or mental health.
The other women who have late-term abortions are typically poor and have little education. A survey identified the following as reasons women had late-term abortions:
- Woman didn’t recognize she was pregnant or misjudged gestation
- Woman found it hard to make arrangements for abortion
- Woman was afraid to tell her partner or parents
- Woman took time to decide to have an abortion
- Woman waited for her relationship to change
- Someone pressured woman not to have abortion
- Something changed after woman became pregnant
- Woman didn’t know timing is important
- Woman didn’t know she could get an abortion
But, in truth, why a woman choses to have an abortion isn’t important. A woman has a legal right to choose how to live her life and how to exercise agency over her own body. Period.
George Tiller played a vital role in helping women to exercise their rights. He was a hero to thousands – especially the women whose lives he changed. Many of these women posted tributes online after his assassination. Read the tributes, honor Dr. Tiller’s courage and remember why we must continue to fight for late-term abortions.
Photo Credit Associated Press via Google Images
This post is a contribution to the Abortion Gang and the Provider Project’s call for collective blog remembrance to honor Dr. Tiller.