For the past few days, I’ve been meaning to write down some thoughts on the murder of Dr. George Tiller, a late-term abortion doctor who was shot in his church last Sunday. The murder was, of course, reprehensible; but I’d like to take a brief look at how pro-life/anti-choice/anti-abortion groups have responded to the news.
Abortion is not arbitrarily controversial; it’s one of those issues that lends itself to controversy by attempting to draw a line in the middle of a nine-month gray zone. Very few outside the Catholic church would claim that the potential for human life equals human life, that birth control is murder, that a frozen embryo is a child, or that one cell (the likes of which you could destroy right now by scratching your head) equals a person. Likewise, very few would claim that a newborn baby is not a human being. Drawing the line is hard (“viability” might be the most common way), but most serious ethical decisions are hard; we have to do the best we can.
I present this brief explanation of the controversy to indicate that no one I’ve heard interviewed in the past week, on either side of the issue, has claimed that killing a child is acceptable. The anti-abortion folks like to claim that the pro-choice folks thinking killing babies is okay, and this is where the communication breaks down; their definitions of what constitutes a baby are different (though they’d probably both agree it’s not a zygote). Nobody I’ve heard on TV thinks killing babies is acceptable.
In that sense, I largely view the pro-choice response to Tiller’s murder as consistent. What would strike me as laughably inconsistent if it weren’t so tragic is the anti-abortion response. Remember, these are people who openly and sincerely equate abortion with homicide (have you seen the t-shirts?). Here’s a quote from the CNN article:
Operation Rescue, which has led numerous demonstrations at Tiller’s clinic, called the shooting as a “cowardly act.” And the National Right to Life Committee, the largest U.S. anti-abortion group, said it “unequivocally condemns any such acts of violence regardless of motivation.”
Can you feel the irony here? I mean, the whole we-oppose-murder-in-all-its-forms line grants their position some superficial credibility, but let’s be serious. If you truly believe that conducting abortions is the same as running around and killing little children playing in the streets, surely this response is too passive!
National Right to Life reports 49,551,703 abortions in the United States since 1973, and I’m using their language when I say that this many murders would be far worse than the genocide inflicted on the world by Hitler (thank you, Godwin’s Law). If this is the language you use to discuss the issue of abortion, should you really be so surprised (or even disappointed?) when some guy listens to you and takes matters into his own hands?
Operation Rescue released a statement directly after Tiller’s murder, which said, “We are shocked at this morning’s disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down.” Why on earth would you be “shocked”? In fact, wouldn’t it be more shocking if, after years of “abortion is homicide” rhetoric, nobody stepped up to the plate and took action? If you really believe that abortion in America is the greatest infanticide in history, why are you condemning Tiller’s murder at all?
I am consistently frustrated by organizations that repackage harsh beliefs to make them more socially acceptable. Operation Rescue and National Right to Life are certainly such organizations; any religious denomination that believes every human inherently deserves to be tortured forever simply for being human — that’s another. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from framing their beliefs in a positive way (everyone does this), but covering up harsh beliefs and pretending that they don’t have consequences is dishonest, despicable, and dangerous.