July 6, 2022

In Cold Blood

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
show.

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
anti-abortion group.

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,
Megan
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.

It
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…

More
controversially, she suggests that the murder may indicate a failure
of the political process:

If
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?

2 thoughts on “In Cold Blood

  1. Hi Rebecca,

    I don’t know if this will help, but let me share my thoughts with you. A society in which it is the individual and not the Law that defends human life quickly degenerates into the “Wild Wild West” – a place one cannot live in. Perhaps the following conversation from Robert Bolt’s “A man for all seasons” might shed some light on this. More’s son-in-law Roper wants More to arrest Rich. But Rich has committed no crime though Roper is sure he is about to do some mischief. More argues that he would give the Rich and even the devil the benefit of the law.

    More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the devil?

    Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

    More: Oh? . . . And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? . . . This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down . . . d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? . . . Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

    The problem in this case, is that the Law is not defending the unborn. This is what we have to work towards correcting.

  2. While I oppose the killing, and recognise that Roeder is not part of any recognised anti-abortion group, I am still not clear on why it’s wrong to shoot abortionists.

    For those who recognise the humanity of the unborn, can it not be justified under the principle of self-defence, which allows one to kill to defend another human life.

    I am still seeking a cogent argument to distinguish this from the case where one assists an adult to defend themselves and the only way to do it is by using lethal force on the attacker.

    The best counterargument I have heard, re the case where someone shoots an abortionist away from the clinic, is the lack of immediacy of the threat. But I think the degree of immediacy is only relevant where lesser immediacy gives you options.

    If a guy threatens that he’s going to kill your son next Thursday, as opposed to right now, you have got other options like hiding or calling the cops. I am just not clear what other options there were for the babies that Tiller was going to kill on Monday morning.

    These kind of arguments also get weak when applied to a situation inside a clinic, where the guy is just about to suck a baby’s brains out (partial birth abortion still continues in Australia). Sure you could physically restrain him, but to save all the lives he is threatening, you would have to stay there holding him for the rest of your life.

    If you were strong enough to hold a person that attacked you rather than shoot him, yes you’d be required to do it, because (at least in the right neighbourhood) you could call for someone to get the cops. But how does this apply to the abortionist?

    Of course, this assumes that the shooting was done for preventative reasons, not as punishment.

    Thoughts, anyone?

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