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Honoring Dr. George Tiller

It's been a challenging few years for reproductive rights advocates, and yet, this community has demonstrated its resilience and commitment to protecting women's rights.
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Six years ago today, my hero and mentor -- Dr. George R. Tiller -- was assassinated in his church for providing a compassionate and safe place for women seeking abortions. Since that time, much has changed in the world of reproductive rights. In just the last four years, states have enacted more than 231 abortion restrictions -- unprecedented numbers that have created the most hostile environment for American women since the Supreme Court's decision to protect abortion rights in 1973. More clinics have closed due to these punitive laws and more physicians have retired from practice. More clinics are subjected to threats and intimidation of doctors and staff.

Americans across the county are familiar with the images of anti-choice protestors picketing abortion clinics. Alarmingly, the harassment of the doctors and staff who work at these clinics does not stop there. Anti-choice zealots routinely circulate the home addresses and personal information of abortion providers, even going so far as to post "WANTED"-style posters that include this private information.

This harassment is personal for me. Dr. Tiller's assassination came after years of threats, intimidation and physical violence against him and the clinic he operated. I've seen it first-hand since founding Trust Women -- an organization that honors Dr. Tiller's legacy by opening clinics in underserved areas. Anti-choice protestors routinely picket our first clinic, South Wind Women's Center, as well as my family's home, evidently indifferent to the history that they are repeating.

Dr. Tiller was a solutions-oriented person; in times of defeat, he often encouraged me to focus on solutions, not problems. I keep his words in mind, and I try to live each day carrying his spirit, particularly in the face of harassment -- whether it's from individuals outside my home or politicians in our state capitols.

That is why on the anniversary of Dr. Tiller's assassination, I'm focusing on solutions to the consistent threats that abortion providers face. It is long past time for the Department of Justice to aggressively pursue the extremists who harass, stalk and murder abortion providers and their staff. Local law enforcement must also take a proactive approach to protecting the clinics in their communities. Unfortunately, the clinics that rate their experience with local law enforcement as subpar are the very same clinics that are most likely to experience violence and harassment.

It's been a challenging few years for reproductive rights advocates, and yet, this community has demonstrated its resilience and commitment to protecting women's rights. South Wind Women's Center stands in the very building where Dr. Tiller practiced for many years in Wichita, and we provided nearly 2,000 women with full-spectrum reproductive health care last year. We are now in the midst of working to open our second clinic, which will serve a community in Oklahoma.

Though the road to equal reproductive rights in this country may be long, it is undeniably a road we must travel. At Trust Women, we continue to honor a great man who lost his life in the name of freedom by meeting every day with a sense of new opportunity and solutions waiting to be solved. I hope that the Department of Justice and local law enforcement officials will honor Dr. Tiller's legacy by protecting the clinics that provide women with quality, compassionate health care.

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