I’ve had this profile of George Tiller sitting in my browser for weeks, and I haven’t gotten around to reading through it. Tiller is one of the few doctors around who will perform third trimester abortions, and he’s in a battle over medical records from some patients that Attorney General Kline is trying to drag through the mud. No one can read this article and not believe that these women are making difficult decisions. I don’t know how anyone can insist that an outsider has the perfect answer for any of these women. Most of the names were changed to middle name and maiden names because they haven’t discussed their pregnancies with family, friends, or co-workers.
One patient who had an abortion at 25 weeks in November said she could not bear to imagine surgeons cutting open her daughter’s tiny chest to rebuild her heart. The thought of her Emma spending months of her childhood in the hospital overwhelmed the woman, a 30-year-old technology educator from Virginia who asked to be identified by her middle name, Paige.
“Part of me just wanted to let her die,” Paige said. “Is that horrible?”
Marie Becker had the same impulse — and the same question — about her son.
At a four-month ultrasound, the doctor noticed that Daniel’s limbs seemed short. She told Becker not to worry, but suggested another ultrasound in a few weeks. At that appointment, Daniel again measured short. Becker was told to come back in another month.
Becker, an accounting clerk, and her husband, a teacher, tried not to dwell on their fears for their first child. They delighted in the ultrasound pictures: Blurry black-and-white images of an arm, a leg, a face. In one, Daniel appeared to be waving; the technician typed a caption: “Hi, mom!”
Becker was 27 weeks pregnant when she went in for her next appointment. By then, it was clear that something was wrong.
A few days later, her doctor confirmed that Daniel had a rare and lethal skeletal disease. His organs were growing normally, but his bones were not; his tiny rib cage was slowly crushing his expanding heart and lungs. “His prognosis was death,” Becker said. “Not at 8 years old. Not at 10 years old. Within a few months at most.”
In her Florida home, with her husband at her side, Becker wept and prayed for days. Conflicting emotions overwhelmed her. She was scared to carry Daniel to term — scared of how she would react to his deformities. She was afraid to abort, sure she would burn in hell. Her son disgusted her; she wanted him out of her body. She loved him. She wanted to protect him.
Becker, who was then 30, blamed herself for making Daniel sick: Hadn’t she taken migraine pills before she knew she was pregnant? Hadn’t she sipped a few glasses of wine? Was it that ride at SeaWorld, the one that whirled her around? Had that caused his genes to mutate?
“I was so afraid,” she said. “It was bad enough that I had inflicted this on him. I didn’t want him to suffer any more.”
The week before Christmas, at the start of her third trimester, Becker and her husband flew to Kansas.
Becker still believes that abortion is wrong in most cases. Sitting in her Florida bungalow, her two young daughters playing beside her, she recalled a movie she once saw in Catholic school, of a baby being ripped limb from limb. The image haunts her.
She finds it reprehensible that Tiller aborts healthy fetuses in the first and second trimester (and even, sometimes, in the third trimester when the mother is very young, or a victim of rape). But she cannot censure him too harshly.
For children like Daniel, “the man is a savior,” she said. “He’s there for women who have nowhere else to go.”
With most advanced pregnancies, Tiller performs abortions by injecting the fetus with digoxin to stop its heart. He then gradually dilates the woman’s cervix to induce labor. After two or three days of contractions, the women — heavily dosed with pain medication — deliver their babies intact.
Some refuse to look. But many hug their dead children. “It was very important to us to be able to hold her, to give her that kind of respect,” said Paige, who aborted her daughter at the end of the second trimester. “This was not just a fetus to me. She was my child.”
Tiller operates ProKanDo, a political action committee dedicated to protecting women’s rights.