As you might have guessed from my earlier post, I was angered and saddened when I learned of the death of Kansas doctor George Tiller earlier today. Dr. Tiller was gunned down while serving as an usher at his church while services were underway. As I mentioned earlier, the suspect arrested in the case - reportedly a 51 year old named Scott Roeder - was apparently an almost stereotypical far-right-wing extremist nutjob, with a long history of radical and potentially violent behavior.
I'm a member of a large Catholic family, and I spent 13 years in Catholic schools. I know many people who have very strong anti-abortion beliefs, and I love some of them very much. The vast majority (but not quite all) of them are extremely unlikely to be anything other than appalled by the murder of Dr. Tiller. Although I'll readily admit that I am often unreasonably optimistic, I think that's likely to be true for the majority of the people who classify themselves as "pro-Life".
Under the circumstances, I find the idea of dismissing today's homicide as nothing more than the actions of one deranged man to be quite appealing. Unfortunately, it would also be quite wrong.
I'm not about to go off on some sort of conspiracy rant and suggest that there were other people who were actively conspiring with the gunman. There may have been, but the odds are fairly good that there weren't. In either case, that's not the sort of thing that I'm thinking about.
Since Roe, the anti-abortion movement has focused on trying to outlaw abortion. They have had some small successes over the years, but they have had far more failures. They're frustrated and angry, and their anger and frustration are reflected in the rhetoric ("mass murderers", "baby killers", various Nazi analogies) that they use. In many cases, the leaders of anti-abortion groups have become so caught up in their anger and frustration that they're unable to even manage to mouth an appropriate statement when asked for their response to Dr. Tiller's murder.
Spero News has collected some of the responses, including several of the more egregious ones.
Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life wanted to make sure that the speculation about the motives of the killer wasn't limited to one group:
I am saddened to hear of the killing of George Tiller this morning. At this point, we do not know the motives of this act, or who is behind it, whether an angry post-abortive man or woman, or a misguided activist, or an enemy within the abortion industry, or a political enemy frustrated with the way Tiller has escaped prosecution. We should not jump to conclusions or rush to judgment.
Operation Rescue said that they had been working through peaceful and legal means to "see him brought to justice".
Randal Terry is confident that he can judge the soul of a man who was killed while distributing church bulletins:
George Tiller was a mass-murderer. We grieve for him that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God. I am more concerned that the Obama Administration will use Tiller's killing to intimidate pro-lifers into surrendering our most effective rhetoric and actions. Abortion is still murder. And we still must call abortion by its proper name; murder.
Those men and women who slaughter the unborn are murderers according to the Law of God. We must continue to expose them in our communities and peacefully protest them at their offices and homes, and yes, even their churches.
The murderer might have acted without consulting with or getting the approval of anyone else. But that does not mean that the kind of rhetoric used in those responses played no role.
And the thing that I find so frustrating about the anger, hatred, and frustration within the pro-Life movement is just how little an effect re-outlawing abortion would actually have on stopping abortions.
Abortions did not start to happen in the United States when the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down - they'd been common long before then. It's difficult (for obvious reasons) to put figures on just how common illegal abortions were, but the estimates for the 1950s-1960s range from 200,000 to 1.2 million. If correct, that would suggest that abortion then, although illegal, was at best only slightly less frequent than it is today, and, on a per-capita basis, could quite possibly have been more common. Abortions are reportedly more common today in parts of the world where they're illegal than they are in countries where it's legal.
If Roe is overturned and abortion becomes illegal, the "pro-Life" folks will probably go back to their lives, comfortable in the knowledge that they accomplished their mission. But there will still be abortions, and lots of them, in the US.
The only surefire way of reducing the number of abortions is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. Period. The only way to do that is to provide more family planning education, more family planning resources, more societal support for prospective parents facing difficult social and economic situations, and less stigmatization of women who find themselves in any of those positions. None of that is accomplished by waving picket signs in front of Planned Parenthood clinics, much less by blowing up things and shooting people.
In many ways, I think that's one of the biggest ironies about this whole thing - the pro-choicers are mostly on the left side of the political spectrum, which hopes and works to build a society where the conditions would most likely make abortion much less common than it is now. The vast majority of the people on the anti-abortion side fall to the right on the political spectrum, which typically opposes the sort of programs that would be likely to reduce the demand for abortions.