www.usmemorialday.org -- a web site devoted entirely to Memorial Day -- defines it as, "Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service."
If we differ on the definition of "our nation's service," so be it. But Memorial Day should be a time to remember not only dead members of the armed forces, but also dead members of other forces that also died in "our nation's service."
Dr. George Tiller died exactly one year ago this Memorial Day week-end. On May 31, 2009, Dr. Tiller was shot by Scott Roeder, a self-styled "pro-life" person who sees nothing wrong with gunning down the abortion-provider during a religious service at Tiller's Lutheran church.
Shannon Elizabeth Lowney, then 25 and Lee Ann Nichols, then 38, both staff members at Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts were senselessly and fatally gunned down at their desks by John Salvi on December 31, 1994. In 1998 Dr. Barnett Slepian was shot to death at his home in Amherst, New York and Robert Sanderson, an off-duty police officer who worked as a security guard at an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, was killed when his workplace was bombed.
Tiller, Lowney, Nichols, Slepian and Sanderson are heroes of the war America sees but is reluctant to recognize. It is a war that has been raging since January 22, 1973 when Roe v. Wade became the law of the land.
Few Americans realize that when Roe was finally passed it did not "legalize" abortion, which was already available in more than half the states. What Roe did was give all women in the US the same access to safe and legal abortions whatever state they called home.
National Abortion Federation statistics show that between 1989 and 2004, 179 incidents if bombings, attempted bombings and arson occurred at abortion facilities across America.
Between 1991 and 2004, when NAF started tracking these statistics, 24 people were murdered - Dr. Tiller's assassination brings that number to 25.
Then there were the nearly 3500 incidents of invasion, assault and battery, stalking, death threats, burglary and vandalism. There were also nearly 500 blockades at clinics and the tens of thousands of picketing demonstrations to be counted, complete with full-color blown-up photographs of fetuses, and hateful epithets hurled at clinic staff and-- worse-- at patients.
All this allegedly occurs in the name of "life."
Most women and men born after 1960 have no recollection of a time when abortion was legally unavailable. They do not recall a time when a woman facing an unintended and unwanted pregnancy had only the options to have the child and keep it, give it up for adoption, or risk an illegal abortion with all the medical risks that illegal procedure entailed. They did not attend the funerals of sisters, mothers, friends, wives and other women we loved for whom no one could stop the hemorrhaging or cure the sepsis an illegal or self-induced abortion created.
We take legal abortion, now available but ever shrinking in scope, for granted, much as we see other freedoms as written in stone. We assume a perpetual right to free expression, an endless right to travel freely, an untouchable right to a jury of our peers, as well as a secure right to privately make our own reproductive choices. I know the last right listed here is in serious jeopardy today: the others are at least at high risk.
This Memorial Day, speeches will be made about the men and women who died in Europe, in Korea, in Vietnam and in the Middle East. Wreaths and flags will be placed on their graves. Speakers will say that these soldiers died to protect our freedoms: they will especially recall the recently killed in the two wars still raging, in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We need to recall a third war still raging and a right that was also fought for as women's most basic freedom to control their own fertility is sacrificed at the altar of political maneuvering for health care legislation and will likely be sacrificed further by desperate incumbents come mid-term elections.
We should remember the heroes of that ongoing war for reproductive choices, as well as the millions of women who died before them, from the bleeding, self-mutilation and/or infections, before America declared that such slaughter of grown human beings-- often mothers to other children-- had to stop.
These heroes and their cause may never be wrapped in the flag, but neither should they be suffocated by it.