Dr. Warren Hern speaks out on AC360 about Dr. Tiller's death being the inevitable result of the hateful rhetoric that's come out of the anti-abortion
June 2, 2009

Dr. Warren Hern speaks out on AC360 about Dr. Tiller's death being the inevitable result of the hateful rhetoric that's come out of the anti-abortion movement and on the importance of keeping abortion safe, legal and free from anti-abortion violence and harassment.

COOPER: Dr. Hern, I guess the obvious question, if you -- if you worry about being shot and expect being shot any day at work, at home or elsewhere, why do you continue to do what you do?

DR. WARREN HERN: Well, first of all, thank you for inviting me. It's a very important question. I have thought about it a lot.

HERN: I have to say that it really comes down to the fact that, at one point, I decided that performing abortions was the most important thing I could do in medicine, and that I do it because it matters.

And it matters for the health of the woman, for the health of her family, for health of our society, and now it matters for freedom, because Ronald Reagan tried to make abortion a political crime against the state.

And we have had -- while the -- Dr. Tiller was a very good friend of mine, a wonderful man, a very courageous and dedicated physician. And his -- his -- his assassination is a terrible, terrible, unspeakable loss for his family and friends.

COOPER: When -- when you heard he had been shot, did -- did -- did you...

HERN: But I think that the -- but I think the important point I would like to make is that the assassination of Dr. Tiller was not the act of a lone, deranged gunman acting alone.

This is the result of 35 years of anti-abortion harassment, and terrorism, and hate speech, and rhetoric, and harsh names, and exploitation of the -- of the abortion issue as a political issue to get power. And this is the inevitable result of this kind of hateful behavior by the anti-abortion movement.

COOPER: You're painting with a very broad brush, though, the anti-abortion movement. There are many in the movement who today say they -- they abhor what the suspect did.

HERN: Yes.

That's hypocritical nonsense. These people got exactly what they wanted. They have been trying to get the doctors killed. They have celebrated the -- the assassinations of the doctors. They make shrines of it. The assassins are natural heroes in that group. And you heard one guy say that Dr. Tiller -- he thought Dr. Tiller got what he deserved.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people that think that. Women -- Abortion is -- is an essential component of women's health care in this country. And it's essential to their health.

And the president of the United States needs to get up and say that before a national television audience, needs to tell them the anti -- that we will not...

COOPER: Well, let me...

HERN: ... tolerate anti-abortion violence and -- and harassment and terrorism. And we need to...


COOPER: Let me -- let me ask you about that, because -- because Barack Obama, then I think candidate Obama, in the past has said that he has problems with -- with late-term abortions. And -- and many people who are pro-choice, you know, even have problems with it. Some critics say that many of these operations are elective.

Why do you defend that procedure? Why do you perform that procedure?

HERN: Well, in the first place, the correct phrase is late abortion. There are term deliveries and there are late abortions.

The many women who come for late abortions, in fact, have desperate circumstances with a desired pregnancy. They want to have a baby, not an abortion, but the -- the -- the pregnancy is fatally or -- or catastrophically complicated by medical problems. And it's the best thing for the woman to end the pregnancy. It's a matter of saving her life.

COOPER: And -- and...

HERN: And nobody is able to make that decision except the woman, in consultation with her physician.

COOPER: I want to ask you something that is often cited and used by those arguing against that procedure.

They say that there was a Dr. Haskell who once gave an interview who said that 80 percent of the late abortions that he performed were elective.

Do you see a lot of women electing, not for out of, you know, genetic problems with -- with their -- their -- their fetus, but because of -- of other reasons; they just decide late in the term -- late in the pregnancy they don't want to have a baby?

HERN: Well, in the first place, I can't speak for Dr. Haskell. He can speak for himself.

But I think that what I see is an incredibly complicated situation. These are very difficult and painful decisions for the women. And they're under tremendous stress. And, many times, these pregnancies are threats to their lives.

And I think that even people that have all the information have a difficult time making a decision about this. So, the thing is that nobody is better prepared to make this decision than the woman, in consultation with her physician.

And people need to back off and understand that this is a -- first of all, having safe abortions available is a major public health issue. And we have solved it in the 20th century. We're going backwards now, and that this is a major medical problem for women.

And a -- pregnancy is not a benign condition. Women die from being pregnant.

COOPER: When -- when you heard...

HERN: And the -- and, many times, a late abortion is a life- saving procedure.

COOPER: When you heard, finally, that Dr. Tiller was killed, what -- what first went through your mind?

HERN: I was -- I was horrified.

COOPER: I mean, he had been shot in both arms before.

HERN: I was horrified.

Dr. Tiller is a very good friend of mine. I have known him for 35 years. We worked together. We spoke together. We have spoken together on platforms, in -- and medical meetings across the world. He's a very kind and generous physician and a wonderful person. And we -- we had a very close friendship.

And his wife called me to tell me about this, and she was just devastated. And I was profoundly sad.

COOPER: Are you scared, appearing on television?

HERN: Well, look, I'm -- I'm speaking to you -- and I appreciate your interest in this subject -- because I feel that, in a free society, it's what we have to do.

We need to talk about issues, and not use bombs and bullets. And we need to use language that is respectful, instead of the hateful hate language of the anti-abortion movement, which is often used by legitimate so-called journalists, like William Saletan, Ellen Goodman, and Chris Matthews.

COOPER: We're going to leave it there.

Dr. Warren Hern, I appreciate your perspective. I appropriate you being on the program. Thank you.

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