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“Trust Women.”

June 11, 2009

On the issue of abortion, women know what’s best for them — Connie Schultz

by Connie Schultz / Plain Dealer Columnist

Wednesday June 10, 2009, 1:38 AM

Connie SchultzOnce again, the country agitates over abortion, and I recall the advice of a veteran of the cause, Gloria Steinem.

In the fall of 2006, we were gathered around a friend’s table in New York. When the conversation turned to how pro-choice men should explain their support, Steinem smiled.

“Trust women,” she said. “All anyone has to say is, ‘I trust women to make the right choices for their own lives.’ “

I’ve recalled Steinem’s wise advice many times as the country reacts to last week’s murder of Dr. George Tiller, who ran an abortion clinic in Wichita, Kan.

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote that abortion rights should be left to “the democratic process,” rather than to women facing unplanned pregnancies or planned pregnancies gone terribly wrong.

Trust women, I thought.

Editorial board writer Barbara Shelly described George Tiller in the Kansas City Star. Those who try to demonize Tiller, she wrote, engage in a “cruel deception”:

“The overwhelming majority of the 250 to 300 women a year who sought late-term abortions from Tiller had planned their pregnancies. They came to him heartbroken and afraid, carrying fetuses with malfunctioning kidneys, missing organs and syndromes certain to cause death in the womb or soon after birth.

“A much smaller number of late-term patients were rape and incest victims, sometimes very young girls. Some were directed to Tiller by prosecutors.

“. . . Tiller didn’t automatically consent to perform an abortion for any patient who requested one. He understood the constraints of Kansas law. . . .

“But even in those instances, he tried to help. Over the years, Tiller arranged dozens of adoptions . . .”

Trust women, I thought. Especially now, as the anti-choice movement teeters on disarray.

The man arrested for Tiller’s death, Scott Roeder, called the Associated Press from jail last Sunday to insist there are “many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal.”

Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, blasted Roeder in an interview with New York Times reporter Monica Davey: “This idiot did more to damage the pro-life movement than you can imagine.”

In that same story, Mark S. Gietzen, president of the Kansas Coalition for Life, said many volunteers who regularly heckled women entering Tiller’s clinic were calling to find out what would become of their shifts now that the clinic has closed.

“If you went to a meeting, sometimes you would think the enemy was other pro-life people, not abortion,” Gietzen said.

The pro-choice movement has dissension, too. Some argue that the millions of women who have had abortions go public. But we must respect the privacy of those who fear the kind of rampant misogyny of those who respond online to stories about abortion.

Dissension was evident in Cleveland, too, during a memorial service for Tiller at Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ. The service was understandably sad and angry, but no one channeled the collective grief into organized action. A curious omission when we are forced to depend on elected officials and judges for the legal control over our own bodies.

After I interviewed several memorial organizers, it was clear that this happened because of rushed planning, and disagreement over who should be allowed to speak. Some wanted an open mic; others said that would make the service too long. More troubling was the decision that this was no time for politics. Some activists who’ve been on the front lines for years were told they could not speak.

A word of caution: Resentments can thin the ranks.

Last Saturday, about 1,000 mourners attended George Tiller’s funeral in Wichita. Outside, a dozen protesters held signs that read, “God sent the shooter,” but the mood inside was one of grief and celebration over a life lived and lost.

Tiller’s wife, Jeanne, received a standing ovation after she stood next to his casket and sang the Lord’s Prayer in a strong and steady voice.

Her husband smiled from the portrait poised next to a wreath framing a simple sign:

“Trust Women.”

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