by Angie Trudell Vasquez for the Progressive Media Project.

It’s been five years since Dr. George Tiller was gunned down by an anti-abortion fanatic, and if it taught us anything, it taught us that we need reasonable dialogue on the subject of abortion.

We don’t need gunshots, firebombs, threats or continued bullying of doctors and their female patients who are seeking services guaranteed to them under the law.

On Sunday, May 31, 2009, Scott Roeder shot Tiller through the eye while the doctor was serving as an usher at his church in Wichita, Kan. Roeder was convicted of murder, and is now serving a life sentence.

Tiller was one of the few abortion providers who offered late-term abortions.

His murder was a wake-up call for some well-meaning people who were personally opposed to abortion but who were appalled at this heinous vigilante act. The anti-abortion fringe showed its true colors, and some people re-examined their beliefs.

Abortion is not an easy thing to talk about. Most women do not discuss their abortions, though one in three women has had one, and almost all of us know someone who has had one. No woman wants to have an abortion, and there remains a culture of shame around them.

Fewer than 2 percent of women who have abortions have them at, or after, 21 weeks. Most of these women report that they did not know they were pregnant or did not realize how far along they were. Half of these women report that they had trouble making arrangements for an abortion — a situation made worse by shrinking access to reproductive care.

There many other reasons a woman makes the difficult choice to have a late-term abortion.

Maybe she is in an abusive relationship, and she has only just escaped from the clutches of her abuser.

Maybe she is the victim of rape or incest, and has only now summoned the strength to go to a doctor.

Maybe it is a wanted pregnancy, but there are fetal abnormalities so severe that her child has no chance of decent survival outside of the womb.

No woman wants to give birth to a baby who will die a slow, painful death. Every woman’s situation is unique, and no one should interfere with what is a personal, private and painful decision.

Ever since Roe v. Wade in 1973, there has been a war on to dismantle a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion. There are onerous restrictions now in many states, and pending legislation in many others, to further curtail this right.

Politicians and vigilantes have no business deciding what a woman should or should not do with her own body. Women should be free to make the best decision for themselves without outside interference from anyone except their loved ones and their doctors.

The brave doctors who carry on George Tiller’s work take chances with their life every day. On this anniversary of his murder, let us reaffirm their right to do their job, and a woman’s right to control her body.

Angie Trudell Vasquez is a poet and activist. She can be reached at

Copyright Angie Trudell Vasquez