HBO to Celebrate Tiller's Life?
Writer/producer Alan Ball is changing genres from vampires, but he is sticking to the ghoulish.
The producer of TV's True Blood and Six Feet Under is scheduled to serve as executive producer of a one-hour HBO drama, Wichita, about the life of the late abortionist, George Tiller.
The script will be based on a 2010 GQ article by Devin Friedman, "Savior vs. Savior." Although the article is more or less objective in tone, it is factually adrift. Here Friedman describes the two kinds of women who would typically queue up for a late-term abortion at Tiller's clinic.
The fetal-indication patients thought only about their babies. The other women, those who were in such emotional anguish that they thought they would kill themselves if their babies were born -- these women wanted nothing to do with the fetuses.
By "fetal-indication," Friedman means those women whose babies would survive childbirth only barely, if at all, and would be doomed to a short, unpleasant life thereafter. In reality, they made up a very small but highly visible part of the Tiller practice.
The great majority of Tiller's patients fell into the second category, the presumably despondent and suicidal. Indeed, to justify a late-term abortion on a viable baby in Kansas, two independent physicians had to attest that without the abortion, the woman in question would die or suffer "substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function." Since a late-term abortion solves no physical problem, virtually all of these women were judged by Tiller to be susceptible to a "substantial and irreversible" mental health condition, like suicide.
Tiller did enough judging along these lines to turn Kansas into what new Lieutenant Governor Dr. Jeff Colyer recently called "the abortion capital of the United States for late-term abortions." Before he was murdered in 2009, Tiller boasted on his website of 60,000 such abortions.
It is only recently that the Tiller legacy has begun to unravel, and I doubt if Alan Ball has gotten the memo. The point of vulnerability has proved to be Tiller's necessary second opinion provider, Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus.
According to former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, Neuhaus would go to Tiller's Wichita clinic twice a month on average. There she would sign a form letter printed out by Tiller.
The letter would verify Neuhaus's finding that without a late-term abortion, the girl in question would suffer "substantial and irreversible damage to a major bodily function." Says Kline, "No diagnosis -- every letter the same. She received $300 a signature."
In September of this year, the Kansas Board of Healing Arts (KBHA) finally inquired into complaints that Neuhaus had been negligent when providing medical second opinions. The Board focused on the cases of 11 girls, ages 10 to 18, seeking abortions in 2003.
To evaluate the patients, Neuhaus used a computer program called "PsychManager Lite." After about 15 or so minutes of slapdash diagnosis, she would discover -- mirabile dictu! -- that the girls were all facing substantial and irreversible problems. Neuhaus diagnosed these problems as acute anxiety, acute stress, or single episodes of major depression, and that would be justification enough for Tiller to take the life of a fully viable baby.
At the KBHA hearing, expert witness Dr. Liza Gold of Georgetown University discussed the symptoms that led Tiller and Neuhaus to declare a "substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function." One unhappy 15-year-old cowgirl, for instance, had stated, "Horses are my life, and having kids would mess that up for barrel racing."
Unwilling to diagnose RDS, "rodeo deprivation syndrome," Neuhaus chose "major depression, single episode." This thoroughly corrupt diagnosis allowed Tiller to take the life of a healthy baby fully capable of living outside the womb and a $6,000 fee to ease his conscience.
The transaction, however, was allowed to take place in Kansas only because Tiller had bought off the Democratic and moderate Republican establishment. When then-Attorney General Kline made serious efforts to hold Tiller to the law, Tiller invested a reputed $2 million in the 2006 election alone, and a soulless local media amplified his every charge of political persecution.
This election assured the defeat of the incumbent Kline and the re-election of Democratic Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, now Obama's secretary of Health and Human Services. While still under criminal investigation from Kline's charges, Tiller celebrated the victory with Sebelius at the governor's mansion. The pictures are worth at least a thousand words.
Something tells me that Alan Ball knows nothing of this messy backstory. He likely does not know that the case of the young rodeo star was something of a cavalier norm at Tiller's Wichita clinic. "Teen pregnancy is not a risk factor for psychiatric disorders," Dr. Gold said when challenged by Neuhaus' attorney. She added, "Late-term abortion is not a treatment or intervention for any psychiatric condition."
Who knows? Alan Ball may just surprise. Writing on the ThinkProgress blog, Alyssa Rosenberg is convinced that Tiller "is a hero and a martyr," but she is not at all sure that the openly gay Ball is the right guy to tell the story. She has "grave concerns" (no pun intended) about Ball, given "the disgraceful way [True Blood] has handled race and the show's general unsubtlety on gender."
Rosenberg fears that the production will "give credence to anti-abortion arguments in the name of appearing even-handed." Alyssa, dear, on our side, that is best we can hope for.