Reflecting on the killing of Dr George Tiller

June 5, 2009

Josephine Quintavalle-Josephine Quintavalle worked for many years directing a pro-life crisis pregnancy centre in London and is a founder member of the ProLife Alliance, a campaign group opposed to abortion.The opinions expressed are her own-

My first reaction to the murder of Dr Tiller I have to admit was not so much sorrow for the taking of his life and compassion for his family, but a sense of despair as to how it would affect proceedings at a Court hearing I was involved in the next day on behalf of the ProLife Alliance; how it would be capitalized on by our Department of Health.

We were attending a Tribunal Hearing in London related to the provision of abortions for disability, asking for full statistical disclosure on all such abortions as performed under the UK Abortion Act 1967. Following a Freedom of Information request we had won the right to this information but the DH said ‘No’ and the case went to appeal.

We arrived with background notes on the murder of Dr Tiller, certain in the knowledge that the Department of Health, who argue that they are withholding details of late abortions as a protection for the patients and doctors involved, would be triumphantly waving reports of the unlawful killing of this unfortunate abortionist.

Which of course they did. A newspaper article was immediately circulated to the parties, implying that the Kansas murder was not an isolated incident but symptomatic of the kinds of extreme behaviour which can be attributed to the pro-life movement (invariably described as anti-abortionists) in any country in the world. For this very reason, they argue, it is their duty to withhold any statistical information which might make it easy to identify those involved in abortion provision in the United Kingdom.

Inevitably it was raised when I was cross-examined the following day. In response I expressed the sentiments of millions of pro-life colleagues around the world. We call ourselves pro-life because that is exactly what we are. We defend the right to life of all human beings from conception to natural death, including of course the unfortunate Dr Tiller.

We are deeply sorry he was killed.

How anybody could identify a specific doctor from anonymised statistics was never explained by the DH as our case continued, but in relationship to Dr Tiller this was hardly relevant. He was a well-known public figure, and clinics doing late abortions in the USA can be found very easily by internet searches, much the same as in the UK.

In lamenting the violence of his death, we nevertheless passionately oppose attempts to turn him posthumously into a civil rights’ hero, even a martyr, as many newspapers are attempting to do, trumpeting his contribution to what they euphemistically describe as reproductive choice. Reproductive choice in these terms means death for the unborn child.

Some years ago Dr Tiller acknowledged having performed over 60,000 terminations in his career as an abortionist, many at a stage in pregnancy when the baby was already viable. Anybody interested in the ghastly specifics should read the account of a patient (Kelly) who had a late abortion at his clinic when she was 13. It is not easy reading and she herself is full of regrets.
No, Dr George Tiller was absolutely not a hero, but he should not have been killed.

Vigilante justice of this kind – thankfully rare – is as much an attack on human life as is abortion.

Abortion is not so rare; there have been 7 million in the United Kingdom since 1967.


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It’s shocking to know that the UK Government is withholding information about abortion. What a complete abuse of democracy! What are they trying to hide? If abortion is a legitimate operation then let’s see all the stats, and information, and let the public decide!

The killing of Dr Tiller in the US, has absolutely nothing to do with the prolife movement. One individual was involved in this killing. There are millions of people who believe that abortion is wrong across the world. There has never been a single incident of violence against the abortion lobby in the UK.

The Government should stop messing around, stop wasting public money and release all the statistics. The abortion figures are public information, they belong to the public, not the Government. If the Dept of Health has failed to scrutinise abortion practice, then it is the public’s right to know.

Posted by Fiona | Report as abusive

When the Government attempts to block the release of information which the Infomation Commisioner has directed should be released, there is a suspicion that they have something to hide.
The current reaction to the information about MP’s expenses which the Government attempted to block is an indication of the type of situation which can develop when the truth is disclosed.
As a last resort when the truth is considered to be too damaging the Government resorts to using the Veto as demonstrated by Jack Straw when it was ruled that the Cabinet Minutes relating to the legal advice given on the Iraq War should be disclosed.
In this case the information being requested is not designed to do anything other than establish the way in which the Department of Health has been operating – this appears to be a reasonable request as this is a public service which we are all funding at great expense.

Posted by Michael Pitt-Payne | Report as abusive

7 million in the U.K. since 1967. That is a staggering statistic which should be a very serious wake-up call to all of the world.

Posted by Diane | Report as abusive

The statistics are shocking… of world war proportions. While the press is full of debate on politicians lining their pockets, the silent massacre continues.

It is so easy to compartmentalise people and use this as an excuse for discrimination and bigotry. The killer of Dr Tiller did not represent the pro-life movement I have seen in action any more than he represented all men, all Americans, all 51 year olds, or any other arbitrarily defined group. To try to use his killing as an excuse for not releasing statistics, which should already have been readily available, would be laughable if it were not covering up what will no doubt prove to be shocking truths about the level of illegal abortions in this country. What a sorry state our country is in.

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive

Josephine observes that the Department of Health have never explained how a doctor could be identified from anonymised statistics.

Surely that is key: Unless they can do so their case must fail. To withhold these figures otherwise is anti-democratic and the behaviour of the D of H in attempting to do so borders on the sinister.

Posted by Pauline Gately | Report as abusive