Every few years a wingnut murders a doctor who performs abortions or bombs an abortion clinic. The most recent victim is Dr. George Tiller, a late-term abortion specialist who had already endured another attempted murder several years ago and whose clinic had been bombed in the past. The suspect taken into custody is named Scott Roeder.
To those of us who don’t hate women for having sex, Roeder is a clear villain, someone we wouldn’t mind seeing drowned in a slurry of discarded fetuses. To the 1% or so of pro-lifers who genuinely believe abortion is murder, he is considered a hero, and deservedly so. What I find curious (not really) is the deluge of condemnations flowing forth from the mainstream pro-life establishment. It seems obvious to those of us on the side of reason and sanity that Roeder is the walking reductio ad absurdum of the argument made by the 99% of pro-lifers who pretend to believe that abortion is murder but know perfectly well that it is not. Perhaps it is obvious to those pro-lifers as well, and perhaps that’s what makes them so angry. At least Roeder possesses honesty and integrity, qualities which place him above the pit of sex-scared, mendacious snakes who make up the bulk of the pro-life movement.
Now, it’s no revelation that pro-lifers routinely claim that abortion is murder. Bill O’Reilly has regularly referred to Tiller as “Tiller The Baby Killer,” convincing me once and for all that Bill is the reincarnation of Voltaire. Operation Rescue and others analogize legalized abortion to the Holocaust. I don’t think there’s any need to extensively document the abortion=murder claim. My claim, proven by Roeder and the response to his actions is that this is not what pro-lifers actually believe. If they did actually believe that abortion is murder, not only would they unambiguously embrace Roeder, Scott Roeders would be a dime a dozen. Rather than abhorring “murder,” pro-lifers loathe unpunished sex, which is why they also tend to oppose everything from HPV vaccinations to condom use. Any measure that might ameliorate unwanted consequences of sex (including abortion itself) is met with an ad hoc objection. But let’s focus on their purported belief that abortion is murder.
Obviously, the claim that aborting a fetus is tantamount to murdering a human is just silly. Rick Santorum holding a funeral for a fetus was practically a Monty Python bit. We don’t mourn miscarriages as we mourn the deaths of actual people and we never really have. Because we know that fetuses aren’t people. Only a few pro-lifers are really consumed by the issue of abortion. The majority go days at a time without even thinking about the fact that there are allegedly more than a million fully sanctioned “murders” of their countrymen each year. People in Rwanda aren’t like, “yeah, I’m not a fan of the genocide–hey, anybody else having a Big Mac Attack?” So intuitively, the pro-life claim is just dumb. I won’t go into detail, but you might be interested to know that the pro-life arguments in ethical and bio-ethical literature have long ago given up trying to prove that abortion is murder and almost never argue that it should be illegal. The rag-tag remnants of the routed academic pro-life forces usually try squeak by with half baked fail-cakes like “abortion is a serious moral wrong.” But not only is the abortion=murder claim ridiculous, the people who make it don’t even believe it to be true.
We might start by putting the ball in the pro-life court. If abortion is actually murder, then legalized abortion is indeed in the same ballpark as the Holocaust. Maybe it’s The Holocaust with less torture and suffering, but the deliberate murder and body count are right there. What analogous situation has there ever been, or might one imagine in which 1) A holocaust is underway and 2) it is not morally permissible to use violence against the executioners to stop or slow the holocaust?
This is the closest parallel situation I can imagine. Remember, the fetuses are full human beings–children in fact–with the same moral standing as any other child and deserving of the same rights or moral consideration. Note that these are almost all unwanted children, so let’s take bereft family members out of the equation by imagining that your town has a very large orphanage. Now let’s suppose that a small group of people have the right to kill orphans with impunity, behind closed doors. It doesn’t really matter why, but if it helps, you can pretend they have some bizarre diplomatic immunity. Or perhaps they belong to The Sacred Order of The Stonecutters. Each day, these men head down to the orphanage, pick up a couple of kids, take them home and shoot them in the backs of their heads. Everybody knows about the practice, but it is clear the law will not be changed for many years, if ever. There is no legal way to slow the killings. The killers are all intelligent, well educated men who have heard all of the arguments and remained stridently pro-orphan murder for decades. In short, there is no reason whatsoever to expect the orphan killing to stop or even be significantly reduced in the foreseeable future without drastic intervention.
If you’re like me, your initial response to this scenario is, “How can I become a Stonecutter? I work with kids all day and would love to blast a couple of them!” But upon reflection, you realize that this state of affairs would not only be wrong, but intolerable. It could probably be argued that you have a moral obligation to see to it that the Stonecutters are stopped immediately. Quite possibly, the best way to do that would be to kill them or participate in a conspiracy to kill them.
But even without asserting a moral duty, it is obvious that someone who does take it upon themselves to kill Stonecutters has done a good thing. Since most pro-lifers claim that abortion is murder, they are asserting that a situation very similar to licensed orphan killing actually exists. So, when they not only fail to act in the most immediate way possible against the killers, but then condemn someone like Roeder, we know that one of two things are possible: they are being dishonest in condemning Roeder or they are being dishonest when they claim to believe that abortion is murder.
The former seems very unlikely. If the prevailing view among tens of millions of hard line pro-lifers is that Roeder is a hero, then that raises a number of questions. First and foremost, why is Roeder so unusual? Even if Roeder’s attack was not strategically optimal, it seems like, out of tens of millions of like-minded people, more than one would follow his path. And with even a decent level of planning and organization, one would have a pretty good chance of getting away with such a non-personal killing, assuming they did not want to play the martyr and accept punishment for the crime. Even by the standards of the internet, very little pro-Roeder rhetoric has escaped if we suppose that he really has tens of millions of secret supporters. And if Roeder is in fact a great hero, it seems rather cowardly and dishonest to pretend to condemn him and let him twist in the wind. The right has no problem openly supporting Jerome Ersland, the pharmacist who recently shot a wounded, unconscious robber five times. Never mind Oliver North, G. Gordon Liddy, Augusto Pinochet… there’s a small rush to be had by supporting the ostensible bad guy, yet nobody wants to enjoy it in this particular case. No, it seems much more probable that pro-lifers are telling the second lie, that despite their declarations, they don’t actually believe that abortion is murder.
The first point a pro-lifer will make here is that we live in a society of laws and “give unto Caesar” and blah blah blah, which is what O’Reilly said in response to the shooting. This is obvious bullshit. One could certainly call into question the basic legitimacy of a government that sanctioned the murder of millions of its own people. Roeder himself did just that as a Montana Freeman. But you don’t have to go that far. Even if you like the basic structure of your government, you clearly don’t need to adhere to the specific laws that allow for mass murder of the people. If you have a fanatical reverence for the letter of the law, you can even break the law to stop the murders, acknowledge your guilt and accept your punishment. No matter how you slice it, it’s stupid to argue that, “yes, millions of civilians are being systematically murdered, but the law’s the law, so I guess my hands are tied.” By this logic, Rosa Parks and Gandhi were both in the wrong. And not only were the people who hid Anne Frank wrong, the Franks were wrong for hiding. So it cannot be the case that attacking abortionists is wrong simply because it is illegal.
This brings us to the eternal nexus of liberal and conservative punditry in this country: shameless stupidity. With commercials on all of my other radio presets this morning, I punched into Stephanie Miller long enough to hear her crew complain that the killer proves pro-lifers are not really pro-life because they sanction such killings. (They also made the embarrassing claim that Bill O’Reilly has “blood on his hands.”) Pro-lifers will deal with these situations by similarly claiming that killing a doctor is antithetical to their “pro-life” mission, like Gary Bauer who said that true pro-lifers “reject the killing of every defenseless, innocent human being” and Tiller’s killer “has nothing to do with the pro-life movement, which overwhelmingly condemns the murder of the innocent.” Charmaine Yoest, the President of Americans United for Life, said, “we condemn this lawless act of violence. The foundational right to life that our work is dedicated to extends to everyone. Whoever is responsible for this reprehensible violence must be brought to justice under the law.” This is, of course, total nonsense. For starters, how is someone who conducts thousands of murders innocent?
While vegan, pro-life, total pacifists do exist, they are foolish and rare because, obviously, killing murderers to save innocent people is generally acceptable in principle. For example, if someone had plugged the Columbine shooters early in their rampage, that person would be hailed as a hero. Nobody would be like, “well, if you’re so opposed to Dylan and Eric killing students, isn’t it hypocritical to kill Dylan and Eric, who are themselves students? Check and mate!” You can argue that the invasion of a country committing genocide is wrong or impractical for a number of reasons. You could even argue that The Holocaust alone would not have justified killing innocent German civilians in order to intervene. But the break in the analogy to The Holocaust here favors violent intervention because “civilian” casualties can be pretty much avoided. If abortion actually were murder, the position of the pro-lifer would be similar to someone who, during WWII, could easily target and kill only those Germans orchestrating and executing the holocaust. In both situations you are specifically targeting killers to save innocent lives. There’s nothing hypocritical or inconsistent about that, unless you want to take up the cause of strict pacifism, in which case I hope you enjoy your junior year of high school.
If you do not subscribe to some equally dubious ideology, there is no way you can claim that Tiller is both a calculating mass murderer of children, and an innocent who deserves protection. He is no different than the principles in The Holocaust, the Columbine twins, Ted Bundy, or any other willful mass murderer. And, of course, we would gladly turn out the lights of any of those people once they started killing if it became clear there was no other way to stop them. The only difference one can identify in Tiller is that he terminated fetuses. We all know damn well that fetuses are not people and killing them is not murder and that is the only explanation for why Roeder was wrong to kill Tiller.
I don’t think pro-lifers are necessarily upset about Tiller’s death because of any compassion for him and they are not angry at Roeder for killing him, per se. I think they want to string Roeder up for calling their bluff. The only reason Roeder seems like a totally irrational maniac is that his actions are consistent with the actual tenets of the pro-life movement.