What makes a hero? Maria Pawlowska looks to the late Dr. George Tiller for some answers.
I love movies based on comic books—there’s nothing quite like staring at a big screen on which attractive people in tight costumes use their super powers to fight bad guys. More importantly, they always win and the audience gets to witness the good guys kick the bad guys’ asses. Unfortunately, in real life, things often end up differently. Outside of the movies, it’s sometimes the good guy that gets killed by the bad guy. Regrettably, the story of one of my personal heroes is just such a story.
The man I want to tell you about doesn’t look like the person you’d probably imagine when you hear the word “hero”—there is no cape, no cool costume, not much muscle and there are no weapons (except for the one that killed him). He was a middle aged man with a round face, a kind smile and an unwavering commitment to helping his patients: women. His name was Dr. George Tiller.
Before he was shot and killed by an anti-abortion activist on May 31, 2009, Dr. Tiller was the medical director of a clinic in Wichita, Women’s Health Care Services. It was one of only three nationwide centres which provided abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy (known as late-term abortions).
Personally, I get upset when I get hateful comments on my posts (I’m sort of assuming the usual “man-hater” and “baby-killer” will follow below this post). I have no idea what I’d do if people started sending me actual hate mail, camping outside my work and home to hurl abuse at me and threaten my life (yup—all happened to Dr. Tiller). What’s more, the fatal attack wasn’t the first one. Aside from the verbal and written abuse he was constantly exposed to, Dr. Tiller also had previously been shot in both arms. And he just kept going and doing his thing nevertheless.
There were only two other centres in the country that helped women and their families through the (usually) awful experience that a second-term abortion is. How could Dr. Tiller reduce their chances of getting help by a third and give up his work just because people tried to scare him?
I know abortion is a controversial issue (obviously, that’s why Dr. Tiller got shot—when have you last heard of a dentist or family doctor getting death threats for doing their job?) and firmly believe every woman should be able to make the choices that are right for her and her family. A second-trimester abortion is one of those very rare and very needed procedures, which are most commonly conducted if the woman’s life is in danger or the fetus is unviable. If not for Dr. Tiller and the staff of the two other centres, these women would be forced to give birth to a dead or unviable baby, or possibly even die as a result of pregnancy!
More than anything, Dr. Tiller saved lives and ultimately paid for it with his own. He didn’t have a spectacular car, a great nickname or a cute sidekick, but he had more courage than most other people and was willing to stand up for what he believed in until he was literally shot down. Isn’t that exactly what makes a hero?
Check out the rest of our “Men and Heroism” section.
The “Men and Heroism” section was run and edited by Dave Kaiser.