Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Dr. Tiller shot dead, the Abortion debate goes on

A couple of days ago, Dr. George Tiller was shot dead during a service at the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas where he served as an usher. Dr. Tiller ran a clinic in Wichita which “performed elective and therapeutic abortions during the second trimester of pregnancies and therapeutic abortions during the third-trimester of pregnancies”. A therapeutic abortion is one which is required to preserve the health of the mother whilst an elective abortion is one that is by choice. A doctor with 40 years’ experience, Dr. Tiller had been targeted before – he survived a shooting outside his clinic 16 years ago.

Abortions have always taken place, over the centuries, often using crude instruments and methods. The Soviet Union was the first country to legalise abortions in 1919. Iceland followed in 1935 and Sweden in 1938. Nazi Germany encouraged abortions among those considered ‘hereditarily ill’ while German women of good ‘Aryan stock’ were expressly prohibited from having abortions. In the UK, abortion was permitted in specific circumstances under the Abortion Act 1967. In 1973, the US Supreme court in Roe v Wade struck down state laws which prohibited abortions. In India, abortions have been legal since 1971.

The women’s lib movement made the right to abort a foetus an integral part of women’s rights claiming that not being able to abort takes away control over ones’ own body. It is in the US that the tussle between pro-lifers and pro-choicers is most vociferous. I guess this is mainly because a large segment of the US population is deeply religious and abortion is unacceptable to all organised religions.

In my opinion, abortions ought to be legal but…. and that’s a big ‘But’. I am against elective abortions in the second trimester, especially after 20 weeks when the foetus is capable of surviving outside the womb, unless of course the pregnancy arose out of rape or an incestuous relationship involving a minor. I don’t think a therapeutic abortion is wrong even in the third trimester.

Most, if not all pro-lifers in the US, have deplored Dr. Tiller’s killing. I can’t say I admire Dr. Tiller or his work, though I too strongly condemn his murder.

After Dr. Tiller was shot dead, Peter Brownlie, president of the Kansas City-based regional Planned Parenthood office claimed that “Dr. Tiller’s patients were almost always in circumstances where something had gone horribly wrong with a pregnancy, and where a woman's health would be endangered if the pregnancy continued”. The words ‘almost always’ imply that Dr. Tiller did carry out elective abortions in the second trimester, as his clinic’s website says. In all probability, Dr. Tiller was a man of strong convictions, who believed in what he did, not unlike a man who volunteers for a war which he thinks is just, even if he knows that it will cause death and destruction. Not many doctors in the US perform late-term abortions. According to this article, Dr. Tiller was the director of one of just three clinics in the United States that provide abortion services to women past the 21st week of gestation.

I’m sure that some other equally ‘committed’ doctor will step forward to fill the void left by Dr. Tiller. As long as the human race endures, abortions will continue and there will always be a demand for people like Dr. Tiller.

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