Abortion doctor murdered in Kansas
The murder of abortion doctor George
Tiller in Wichita, Kansas set off kilotonnes of controversy in the
media this week. President Obama was outraged: "However profound
our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion,
they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence."
Dr Tiller was one of three American
doctors who were willing to do late-term (after 21 weeks) abortions.
For years he had been reviled by anti-abortion groups. Over the years
his clinic had often been vandalised and in 1993 a woman shot him in
both arms. He survived this violence as well as court challenges to
his work. In March he was found not guilty of 19 misdemeanour charges
after a widely publicised trial. Political commentator Bill O’Reilly
used to call him "Tiller the baby killer" on his radio
On May 31, during a service at the
Reformation Lutheran Church Tiller was shot in the head, allegedly by
51-year-old Scott Philip Roeder, a divorced odd-jobs man with a
history of psychiatric illness and association with anti-government
militias. Apparently he was not a member of any established
Although there are extremists who
believe that killing abortion providers is justifiable homicide, they
are a tiny fraction of the US anti-abortion movement. The best-known
groups all issued statements deploring the murder. A comment from the
National Right to Life Committee is representative: "The
pro-life movement works to protect the right to life and increase
respect for human life. The unlawful use of violence is directly
contrary to that goal."
However, supporters of abortion were
quick to claim that "the
bloody, homicidally drenched terminology" of the
anti-abortion movement triggered the assassination; terms like
"holocaust" and "genocide" were bound to push
unbalanced supporters over the edge. Some
taunted pro-lifers by contending that if they really
believed that abortion was murder, they are morally obliged to kill
abortionists. But since they don’t, they are cowardly or insincere.
What happens now? Tiller’s murder has
been a serious public relations setback for the pro-life movement,
but it could be just temporary. After all, the killer has been
disowned by everyone in the pro-life moment. A voluntary decline in
incendiary language would be one welcome outcome — imposing limits
on abortion rhetoric in the US seems unlikely.
Another advance could be clarification
of the terms of the debate between the two "irreconcilable"
sides, in the words of President Obama a few weeks ago in a speech at
Notre Dame. In one of the few measured reflections on the murder,
McArdle, of Atlantic magazine, argued that it is
becoming clear that the abortion debate is about what it means to be
a person, not about women’s rights.
seems to me that really broad swathes of the pro-choice movement seem
to genuinely not understand that this is a debate about personhood,
which is why you get moronic statements like "If you think
abortions are wrong, don’t have one!" If you think a fetus is a
person, it is not useful to be told that you, personally, are not
required to commit murder, as long as you leave the neighbors alone
while they do it…
controversially, she suggests that the murder may indicate a failure
of the political process:
you interpret this murder as a political act, rather than that of a
lone whacko, than this should be a troubling sign that the political
system has failed. So why do so many people think that the obvious
answer is simply to more firmly entrench laws that are rightly
intolerable to someone who thinks that a late term fetus is a person?
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