Presentation of the IPPF/WHR Medal of Honor

By Alexander Sanger
To the Family of George Tiller, M.D.
September 25, 2009

The IPPF has a statement entitled “What We Believe”. It reads:

“We believe that sexual and reproductive rights should be internationally recognized as human rights and therefore guaranteed for everyone. We encourage individuals, women in particular, to take control of their reproductive lives. We promote equality between men and women, aiming to eliminate gender biases, especially those that threaten the wellbeing of women and girls. Above all, we promote choices.”

IPPF/WHR created its Medal of Honor to recognize distinguished men and women who make this statement of beliefs a reality. We honor those without whom women would be bereft of choices. Choices don’t appear out of thin air. Choice in the form of surgical abortion exists only when brave doctors offer it.

Tonight we honor the late Dr. George Tiller, of Wichita, Kansas, a man who offered choices to women under the most difficult circumstances.

When my grandmother, Margaret Sanger, founded Planned Parenthood in this country almost 100 years ago, she met with virulent opposition from politicians of every party, from doctors of every specialty, from priests of every religion, and from virtually all men and not a few women as well.

She was vilified, ostracized, harassed, arrested and jailed, but she was never physically assaulted or shot at. In those days, going to jail was the ultimate martyrdom for our beliefs. No longer.

As the status of women has increased, thanks to our work, so have the desperation, intensity and violence of our opposition. Where initially there were constitutionally-protected, peaceful protests against our clinics, for decades now there have been illegal blockades, vandalism, bombings, assaults and murder.

It takes dedication, character and integrity to be an abortion provider in the United States, and George Tiller had these in abundance. It takes even more character to dedicate one’s practice to the most needy and desperate of women and to provide abortion services in the heartland of the United States where our opposition is strongest.

Early in his medical practice, George Tiller saw a woman die from an illegal abortion. He said, “no more”, and began offering abortion in his practice, eventually providing late term abortions for women who came to him from all over the country – one of a handful of doctors to offer this service. He did so with the utmost caring and compassion, being an example of what all those providing medical services should aspire to be.

For 30 years, George Tiller stood up to protests, harassment and assaults, even being wounded some years ago in a shooting. He kept his clinic doors open to give a choice to women who never imagined they would ever need it – women with a wanted pregnancy that had gone terribly awry as it progressed.

A few years ago I did a fundraiser with George in Kansas City for his political action committee. The protests outside were extensive, grotesque and downright scary, at least for me, even though we were both wearing bullet proof vests and had security guards. George was undaunted – upbeat even, at the reaction he caused by daring to be public in his insistence that women be treated with respect and have all medical options available to them in a crisis. A former naval flight surgeon, George Tiller was not one to be intimidated.

On May 31 of this year, George Tiller was assassinated by an anti-choice fanatic as he ushered at Sunday morning services in his church in Wichita, Kansas.

George Tiller has been silenced and his clinic closed, but his memory and example never will be.

The Tiller Family has lost a husband, father and grandfather, women have lost a savior and we have lost a hero. It is fitting and right that we at IPPF honor him this evening. He represented the best of us.

To accept the IPPF/WHR Medal of Honor, please join me in welcoming George’s widow, Jeanne and his daughters, Jennifer, Rebecca and Krista.

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