"I went to medical school to help people," says U.S. abortion provider physician

Amy Goodman with Nermeen Shaikh for Democracy Now! – WNN Features

Pro-choice rally in Texas
Women and some men at an April 2014 pro-choice rally in Texas holds up signs asking for “Justice for Women” under a new law in the State that is hoping to clamp down on abortion providers who do not meet new strict building codes for their clinic locations. This law is expected to pass in the fall as more than half of the state’s clinics providing abortion services may be forced to close down.  As rally attendees stand on the street, another protest banner conveys the message: “Keep Abortion Legal.” These struggles and other battles on both sides of the ‘heated’ abortion debate are continuing now across the United States as bids for restrictive laws continue. Image: Blue Texas

(WNN/DN) New York, UNITED STATES, AMERICAS: In an ongoing debate throughout the United States, the issue of reproductive rights for women continues to show contention among a widely divided nation that is almost exactly split down the middle. A recent May 2014 Gallup poll maps the divide on the abortion issue in the U.S. revealing that 47 percent of Americans now identify their views as ‘pro-choice’ as 46 percent of those polled today identify their views as ‘pro-life’.

As new data emerges, the long history in the division between citizens in the U.S. has also embedded an ongoing fear of personal violence for those who have gone-public in their work to provide reproductive services for women that include abortion, especially local clinic staffs and doctors.

“A campaign of violence, vandalism, and intimidation is endangering providers and patients and curtailing the availability of abortion services,” outlined a detailed 2011 report by NARAL at ProChoiceAmerica.org.

“Since 1993, eight clinic workers– including four doctors, two clinic employees, a clinic escort, and a security guard–have been murdered in the United States. Seventeen attempted murders have also occurred since 1991. In fact, opponents of choice have directed more than 6,400 reported acts of violence against abortion providers since 1977, including bombings, arsons, death threats, kidnappings, and assaults, as well as more than 175,000 reported acts of disruption, including bomb threats and harassing calls,” continued NARAL in its report.

Doctors, and their staff, who perform legal medical abortion services for women continue today to fear the probability of violent repercussions made against them. But they continue to provide full services in spite of their fear. On June 4, 2014 Democracy Now! interviewed Dr. Cheryl Chastine, who travels from Chicago, Illinois to Wichita, Kansas every week to provide legal and medically safe abortion services for women.

Dr. Chastine, who has chosen to hide her public identity during her interview with Democracy Now!, has been commuting to work for her clinic known as the South Wind Women’s Center in Wichita, which was opened to take the place of the closed clinic directed by the famous Dr. George Tiller, a physician who was brutally followed, gunned down and assassinated for his work as an abortion provider in May 2009.

Dr. Tiller’s assassin, Scott Philip Roeder who is now serving a life-sentence in prison, was known as an anti-abortion militant who had targeted Dr. Tiller years before he planed to kill him. Roeder was also a member of the American Patriot Movement, an extreme rightist anti-government movement that continues to have a growing active membership inside the U.S.

In spite of internet targeting, threats and intimidating posters, Dr. Chastine remains dedicated to providing reproductive rights for all women through comprehensive medical care that includes abortion services. After her clinic in Kansas opened to continue the work of Dr. Tiller, a flyer with a picture of the Wichita clinic was distributed outside the medical facility where she worked in Illinois.

It conveyed an eerie message, “Warning: Dr. Cheryl Chastine is an abortionist!”

“If I allow myself to be deterred from doing this work, then I am allowing a victory for terrorism,” she says in her recent June 2014 interview with Democracy Now!.


Amy Goodman with Nermeen Shaikh talk with Dr. Cheryl Chastine who is, in spite of the personal dangers she is facing, continues to provide safe and legal medical abortion services in her clinic in Wichita, Kansas. This 6:27 min June 4, 2014 YouTube video release has been produced by Democracy Now! a daily independent global news hour.


Democracy Now! Interview Transcript

NERMEEN SHAIKH: As Oklahoma enacts a law that could shutter all but one abortion clinic in the state and Louisiana is poised to follow suit, we turn to the legacy of Dr. George Tiller who was assassinated five years ago Saturday. Dr. Tiller was one of a handful of doctors in the country who provided abortions in the third trimester pregnancy.

He faced constant threats and attacks. His clinic was fire bombed 1985. Eight years later, he survived an assassination attempt with gunshot wounds to both arms.

Then on May 31, 2009, anti-choice extremist, Scott Roeder, entered Dr. Tiller’s church in Wichita, Kansas and shot him in the head. Dr. Tiller was 67 years old.

Today we remember Dr. Tiller by speaking with the doctor who is carrying on his legacy, providing abortions at his former clinic in Wichita, which reopened last year. But first, this is Dr. George Tiller in his own words speaking in 2001. It is an outtake from a documentary by Physicians for Reproductive Health called “Voices of Choice.” Dr. Tiller talks about how his father, a family doctor, provided abortions before it was legal.

DR. GEORGE TILLER: I do not know whether he did 100 abortions or 200 abortions or 300 abortions. I think it may have been something like 200 over of a period of about 20 years, but I don’t know for sure.

I am a woman-educated physician.

I don’t know how many abortions he did, but the women in my father’s practice for whom he did abortions educated me and taught me that abortion is not about babies, it is not about families, abortion is about women’s hopes and dreams and potential, the rest of their lives.

Abortion is a matter of survival for women.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. George Tiller. He was assassinated five years ago May 31, 2009. Since his death, access to abortion has been diminishing amidst an onslaught of state laws. More abortion restrictions were enacted from 2011-2013 than in the entire previous decade.

Last week Oklahoma enacted in an admitting privileges law that could close two of the states three clinics. Louisiana is poised to follow suit with similar law which could close up to four of five clinics there. A similar measure has already shuttered providers in Texas.

For more we go to Dr. Cheryl Chastine, medical director and primary abortion provider at the South Wind Women’s Center which opened last year. Each week she travels from Chicago to Wichita to provide abortions in Dr. Tiller’s former clinic. Like Tiller, Dr. Chastine has faced a barrage of anti-choice for respite. Out of concern for her safety, she’s keeping her face in shadow.

She is joining us today from Chicago. Dr. Chastine, welcome to Democracy Now! Why do you choose not to show your face today on this broadcast?

DR. CHERYL CHASTINE: The reason that Dr. Tiller was targeted or was able to be targeted so extensively is largely because he was extremely visible and people knew where he was and what he was doing. So he was in a position where all of his movements were being tracked and his murder was made possible by the fact that people knew exactly where he was and what he was doing, and they knew he would be in church at that particular time and it was the only consistent thing to do.

As of right now, the people who are opposed to what I am doing don’t have a very clear idea of what I look like and so, for my physical safety, I feel much more secure that way.

AMY GOODMAN: So talk about what you’re doing.

DR. CHERYL CHASTINE: Yeah, so I travel to Wichita every week and I perform abortions for the women of Wichita and central and western Kansas as well as some of Oklahoma. We provide procedures up to the current Kansas legal limit, which is 20 weeks post conception or 21 weeks and six days post last menstrual period.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Chastine, could you talk about why it is that you decided to do this work? I mean, you fly every week from Chicago to Wichita. Talk about the significance of what you’re doing and why you chose to do it.

CHERYL CHASTINE: You know, when I was in medical school I got the message that there is a shortage of abortion providers and that, therefore, if more of us, including myself, did not become providers, that there would be women who not be able to access abortion when they needed it.

So when I got the call to help open this clinic, I felt a very strong pull of moral obligation that these are people who need abortions who will not be able to access them if I don’t do it. And so I asked myself, “If you don’t do this, who will?” I went to medical school to help people, same as all of us do.

So I felt like these people have a need and I have the ability to fill that need, and so I could not in good conscience say no.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the restrictions on abortion access in Kansas? Who are the women that you are serving? What states do they come from?

DR. CHERYL CHASTINE: Kansas has strict laws that are nonetheless less strict than some of the surrounding states. So Kansas has a mandated 24-hour waiting period. The patient must be given a specific set of state mandated information that includes risks of abortion, some of which are not medically supported. Then she must wait at least 24 hours before she can have her procedure done.

Kansas has bans not only on Medicaid coverage of abortion, but also on private insurance coverage of abortion. And so all of our patients are paying out-of-pocket for the procedure which is a significant amount, particularly for the women who disproportionately seek abortion who tend to be from lower income brackets.

The patients are required by state law to meet privately with the physician and also to have an ultrasound and to be offered the opportunity to view the ultrasound. After meeting privately with the doctor, they’re required to wait at least 30 minutes before they can be given any medication.

Kansas also requires dual notarized parental consent for anyone under age 18.

And so the women I see are accepting of this, mostly, but they are very aware that the state is intruding into their relationship with the doctor so many will ask, “Why do I have to wait? Why do I have to do this?”

And the answer is, because the State of Kansas is hoping that you will change your mind in this time period. But we have women, nonetheless, coming from all over the state of Kansas.

Kansas has four clinics, counting ours; but three of them are in the Kansas City area which is in the northeast corner of the state so central and western Kansas is pretty much served by our clinic, by South Wind Women’s Center. We have patients come from Missouri, from Oklahoma, and we are even started see patients from Texas as the legal climate there and the availability of abortion becomes less.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Last year David Leach from the extremist anti-choice group, Army of God, posted audio from a jailhouse conversation with Dr. Tiller’s murderer, Scott Roeder, where they talked about the reopening of the clinic in Wichita. This is David Leach.

DAVID LEACH: My statement, if someone would shoot the new abortionists like Scott shot George Tiller back in the Operation Rescue days, pro-lifers called him Tiller the Killer, hardly anyone will appreciate it but the babies.

SCOTT ROEDER: HA HA. That’s a very true statement.

DAVID LEACH: It will be a blessing to the babies. Everyone else will panic.

SCOTT ROEDER: HA HA. That’s great David, that’s great.

DAVID LEACH: Of all places to open up a killing office, to reopen the one office in the United States more notorious for decades than any other is an act of defiance against God and the last remaining remnants of reverence for human life.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And now this is Scott Roeder, Tiller’s murderer responding to David Leach. He mentions Julie Burkhart, founder and director of The Trust Women Foundation which reopened Dr. Tiller’s clinic.

SCOTT ROEDER: To walk in there and reopen a clinic, a murder mill, where a man was stopped, you know, it’s almost like putting a target on your back, saying well, let’s see if you can shoot me. HA. You know? But, you know, I have to go back to what my Pastor Mike Rays said, you know, if 100 abortionists were shot, they would probably go out of business so I think eight have been shot so got 92 to go and maybe she’ll be number nine.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Scott Roeder, who murdered Dr. Tiller five years ago, speaking to anti-choice extremist, David Leach. Dr. Chastine, you are carrying on the legacy of Dr. Tiller’s work. Could you respond to what these people had to say?

DR. CHERYL CHASTINE: Yes, I want to be very, very clear that the murder and other acts of violence against abortion providers are acts of terrorism. They are acts of violence directed at a few people designed to influence the actions of many people and so they’re putting the statement out there, using this language that is clearly intended to incite someone else, as they say elsewhere in that clip, to take action and to stop other providers.

And so these are people who are, admittedly, on the fringe of the anti-choice movement, they are nonetheless encouraged by the mainstream movement. They are encouraged by rhetoric like comparing abortion to the Holocaust, comparing abortion to slavery.

So these are extremists, but they’re operating within a very fertile ground of sentiment.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Chastine, are you afraid?

DR. CHERYL CHASTINE: Yes. I can’t live my life that way. I get up in the morning and there are patients that need me and if I allow myself to be deterred during this work, then I am allowing a victory for terrorism.

Yes, I am aware that there is a risk associated with what I am doing; but I don’t allow it to paralyze me.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Chastine, We want to thank you for being with us. You were in medical school when Dr. Tiller was murdered five years ago.

I want to end with a short excerpt of Dr. Tiller in his own words in an event organized by The Feminist Majority Foundation in 2008. Dr. Tiller discussed his vision for a just and more humane society.

DR. GEORGE TILLER: I personally see a society that respects the integrity of its citizens to struggle with complex health issues and make decisions that are appropriate for them and their personal lives. I see a society that respects the religious differences of its citizens.

I see a society that rejects hate, rejects judgmental condemnation, and rejects prejudice and racism. I see a government that honors the privacy of its citizens without unwarranted surveillance. I see a society where war is not an option and that the negotiation with mutual respect is the hallmark rather than mutual self-destruction. I see a society where the welfare of all is equally important as the riches of the few. I see a world that discusses solutions without demanding its own answers. We have given war, pestilence, hate, greed, judgment, ego, self-sufficiency a good try and it failed.

We need a new paradigm that consists of kindness, courtesy, justice, love, and respect in all our relationships.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Dr. George Tiller, assassinated May 31, 2009, in his own church on Sunday. Thanks to Marc Bretzfelder for that video tape. That does it for our broadcast. Also, thanks to Cheryl Chastine, the Medical Director and primary abortion provider at South Wind Women’s Center in Wichita, Kansas, the former clinic of Dr. George Tiller.


For more information on this topic:

Who Decides? The Status of Women’s Reproductive Rights in the United States,” NARAL – Pro-Choice America, January 2014;

An Overview of Abortion in the United States,” Guttmacher Institute, January 2014;

Special Report – Working with Dr. Tiller: Staff Recollections Of Women’s Health Care Services of Wichita,” Carole Joffee, ANSIRH – Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, UCSF – University of California San Francisco, August 2011;

Committed to Availability, Convicted About Morality: What the Millennial Generation Tells Us About the Future of the Abortion Debate and the Culture Wars,” Public Religion Research Institute.


This interview and transcript has been authorized for republication by Democracy Now! The introduction text to this important interview has been put together by the award-winning editors at WNN – Women News Network.