My Body, My Story: In Memory of Dr. Tiller

My Body, My Story: In Memory of Dr. Tiller

By Judy Gumbo Alpert

I am one of the 45 million American women who’s had an abortion. But I wouldn’t criticize any woman for dealing with her unintended pregnancy differently than I did. It is, after all, your choice.

In the spring of 1972 I was young, single, and a leader of the Yippies, a theatrical anti-war protest group. I’d come to San Diego to organize protests at an upcoming Republican National Convention. There I met Reverend M., a former Benedictine monk and ordained priest who had recently left his vows behind. After all those celibate years, he was also pretty horny. I found him attractive; it was easy to begin a casual affair.

One morning, I woke up feeling nauseated. It passed. Next morning it came back. As it did every morning for a week. It dawned on me that I must be pregnant. Had I failed to take the right precautions With a former priest who’d left the Church This was not a joke or Yippie put-on.

By 1972, even in Republican San Diego, abortion wasn’t yet legal, but it was reasonably safe and available. I made my appointment, paid the clinic receptionist thirty dollars a substantial sum for me in those daysand was led into a small room. This really won’t hurt too much,” the receptionist said. “Yeah, right,” I thought to myself. With a quick not-especially gentle motion, the doctor stuck a long cold suction probe deep into my uterus. The pain was sharp and immediate. But after a few more agonizing spasms “it” was gone. The entire procedure took no more than ten minutes.

I always thought of “it” as protoplasm, never as a fetus, much less a potential human being. Back then, the concept of “fetus as baby” was not yet part of the public dialogue. Abortion wasn’t talked about as murder. In that year before Roe v. Wade, for me and for a very large number of American women, having an abortion wasn’t a sin, it wasn’t a crime — and it wasn’t a baby.

As soon as I left the clinic, my nausea evaporated. It was that quick. In bed that night, I told Reverend M. I’d had an abortion and that he must have been the father. I will never forget his look of horror. “Why didn’t you ask me beforehand” he asked. “This was my decision, not yours.” I replied. M. didn’t protest, he just got up, silently, turned his back on me, put on his clothes and left.

Although I regret my cavalier insensitivity to M.’s religious faith, for me, the abortion was a liberating experience. I was no longer among those women who’d been held back and held down for so long. When Roe was made law the following year, my generation gained a new sense of selfhood: no more would women be controlled by our reproductive systems.

And now Dr. George Tiller is dead; his clinic permanently closed. Dr. Tiller was one of a very few physicians who provided legal, medically indicated, late-term abortion care to women in distress. Last year I wrote a piece about how, just over a decade ago, America witnessed a horrific killing spree, carried out by our own home-grown anti-choice terrorist movement, against physicians like the late Dr. Barnett Slepian. I received this e-mail in response:

Dear Judy,
Regarding your comments about Barnett Slepian I need to inform you Barnett Slepian reaped what he sowed. Slepian was a babykilling abortionist and killed babies for money. James Kopp stopped him from murdering any more children and I’m glad he did. Your support for baby murderer Slepian is disgraceful.
Rev. Donald Spitz, Army of God, (12/25/08)

Reverend Spitz, you’re the one who’s disgraceful.You and your kind have no qualms about celebrating the deaths of physicians who provide abortion care, while you shed crocodile tears about an alleged Holocaust of the “unborn.” Forty-five million women in America have had abortions since they became legal; how many others suffered illegal abortions before Roe will never be known. We can’t bring back all the murdered physicians and clinic staff, but raising our collective voices in protest by telling our abortion stories is, in my opinion, a powerful way to honor their memories.

July 8, 2009