Another abortion-war casualty

The murder of a physician who performs abortions has become a bewildering ritual of individual desperation, occurring four times since 1993. It also has become a ritual test of journalists’ abilities to report the news calmly and fairly.

The murder of George Tiller, who performed late-term abortions in Wichita for most of his career, is the first such killing to occur during a worship service at a church. The location of Tiller’s death is the most haunting detail of this grim story, and in time that detail will be explored in fuller detail.

Meanwhile, there is no shortage of columns such as this one by Mike Hendricks of The Kansas City Star. The headline on Hendricks’ column — “With Tiller slaying, abortion opponents lose their moral standing” — is the least hyperbolic moment.

The Wichita Eagle provides a useful roundup of statements on both sides of the abortion debate.

Both The New York Times and The Washington Post follow a pattern of setting up a pro-lifer’s statement with scare quotes. From the Times:

Troy Newman, the president of Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group based in Wichita, said he had always sought out “nonviolent” measures to challenge Dr. Tiller, including efforts in recent years to have him prosecuted for crimes or investigated by state health authorities.

“Operation Rescue has worked tirelessly on peaceful, nonviolent measures to bring him to justice through the legal system, the legislative system,” Mr. Newman said, adding, “We are pro-life, and this act was antithetical to what we believe.”

By late Sunday, Mr. Newman said, some were already suggesting that there were links between the suspect and Operation Rescue. Someone named Scott Roeder had made posts to the group’s blog in the past, Mr. Newman said, but “he is not a friend, not a contributor, not a volunteer.”

From the Post:

Operation Rescue President Troy Newman, whose group is based in Wichita and whose Web site carries a “Tiller Watch” feature, said he was “shocked” by the killing.

“Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice,” Newman said in a statement. “We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning.”

Some of the most interesting journalistic digging so far has come from Judy L. Thomas of The Kansas City Star, who provides illuminating background on the accused killer, Scott P. Roeder of Miriam, Kansas:

Roeder also was a subscriber to Prayer and Action News, a magazine that advocated the justifiable homicide position, said publisher Dave Leach, an anti-abortion activist from Des Moines, Iowa.

“I met him once, and he wrote to me a few times,” Leach said. “I remember that he was sympathetic to our cause, but I don’t remember any details.”

Leach said he met Roeder in Topeka when he went there to visit Shelley Shannon, who was in prison for the 1993 shooting of Tiller.

“He told me about a lot of conspiracy stuff and showed me how to take the magnetic strip out of a five-dollar bill,” Leach said. “He said it was to keep the government from tracking your money.”

Roeder, who in the 1990s was a manufacturing assemblyman, also was involved in the “Freemen” movement.

“Freemen” was a term adopted by those who claimed sovereignty from government jurisdiction and operated under their own legal system, which they called common-law courts. Adherents declared themselves exempt from laws, regulations and taxes and often filed liens against judges, prosecutors and others, claiming that money was owed to them as compensation.

To gain a sense of the mainstream pro-life movement, compare such thinking with that of law professor Robert George of Princeton University, writing for National Review Online:

Whoever murdered George Tiller has done a gravely wicked thing. The evil of this action is in no way diminished by the blood George Tiller had on his own hands. No private individual had the right to execute judgment against him. We are a nation of laws. Lawless violence breeds only more lawless violence.

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  • Dan LaHood

    and the discussion around Tiller and his murder will never address the fact that women flew to Kansas for his services because they learned late in their pregnancy that they were diagnosed with a fetal anomaly. I submit it will never enter the discussion. Too threatening. I’m afraid we would find that many Pro-Lifers are not as Pro-Life as they would have you believe.

  • Jesi

    As a friend of Mike Hendricks (we’ve gone to the same church for as long as I can remember), I feel the need to defend his column. It was not in the least hyperbolic – Mike’s position is that “Hate. Not heated opposition. Not strong disagreement” from certain pro-lifers fueled this crime. I don’t think anyone can deny that when people demonize someone and call them a mass murderer that they cannot possibly be shocked when that person is then murdered. As Christians, hate is not acceptable. Mike is right.

  • Dale

    Jesi wrote:

    I don’t think anyone can deny that when people demonize someone and call them a mass murderer that they cannot possibly be shocked when that person is then murdered.

    So, then, any Democrat who called President Bush a “mass murderer” (and it was and is done constantly) is therefore an “accomplice” to any nut that tries to assassinate him? That if such a thing happened, it would mean that the Democratic Party has “lost its moral standing”? I think not. It was hyperbole, and demonstrates exactly the kind of verbal abuse to which it pretends to object.

  • Jesi

    Yes. And I say that as a Democrat and one that severely disapproves of what George Bush did while in office. But I would never call him a mass murderer, and I would say that if someone attempted to assassinate him (based upon those reasons, rather than, say, his butchering of the English language) then people who did use such phrases were party to creating the type of atmosphere and perception of the man that would incite that type of violence.

    I didn’t say “accomplice” – that comes with a legal definition that would of course be absurd because it would limit free speech. To be clear, I’m not saying that people should be prohibited from making those sorts of comments, just that they should realize what they are possibly inciting with those comments and therefore not pretend to be “shocked”. Rod Dreher had a good post about this incident in which he said, “Our words are not spoken in a vacuum…It seems to me that this puts a special obligation on all of us, whatever our cause or political stance, to choose carefully what we say, and how we say it.”

    I will agree that the headline about “moral standing” is hyperbolic. However, I am not defending the headline, which is obviously phrased in such a way as to attract readers, bur rather the column itself. As Douglas LeBlanc says in this post, the headline “is the least hyperbolic moment,” which would therefore imply that the rest of the column is even more hyperbolic than the headline. I consider that claim ridiculously false.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    Jesi, I’m glad you would refrain from using the word accomplices. Mr. Hendricks used it twice:

    However, the motive for the crime we can all surmise, given the vitriolic rhetoric aimed at Tiller these past couple of decades by anti-abortion activists.

    And if we’re right about that, then we know the identities of his accomplices.

    They include everyone who has ever called Tiller’s late-term abortion clinic a murder mill.

    Whoever called Tiller “Tiller the Killer.”

    . . . His accomplices know they have blood on their hands, which might explain why they were quick to issue statements expressing disapproval of Tiller’s murder.

    Among them, the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, whose words drip with hypocrisy . . .

  • Dale

    Mr. LeBlanc beat me to it.

  • Jesi

    I apologize for not noticing that. Perils of reading at insane hours of the morning when you still haven’t been to bed yet.

    After realizing the Mike uses the word “accomplices,” I, of course, have to admit that the column is in fact more hyperbolic than I at first thought. However, I still maintain that Mike makes some good points about how the extreme hate expressed by some of Tiller’s opponents helped to create an atmosphere in which the perpetrator of this crime thought his behavior was justified.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    Thanks for this friendly follow-up, Jesi, and let me respond in kind. Of course I do not think it’s acceptable to show hatred toward anyone, especially in the name of being pro-life or being a godly person.

    I don’t think that pro-lifers calling an abortionist a killer is itself an expression of hate. It is an expression of what pro-lifers truly believe abortion involves: The killing of a human being who has not yet been born.

    I think the differences here amount to how one defines hatred. From what I know of Operation Rescue, I am not inclined to assume hatred among its primary, or even tertiary, motivations.

  • str1977

    The logic in Dan’s comment above eludes me.

    Jesi,
    I agree that hate is morally wrong and that murder is morally wrong but I can’t see where calling Tiller a mass murderer is factually wrong.

  • Jesi

    Mr. LeBlanc – I’m not trying to say that calling Tiller a murderer itself is hateful, even though I disagree with that perception. However, I do believe the ferocity and viciousness that some pro-lifers have used when condemning Tiller do constitute hate. I can’t comment on Operation Rescue, I’m not very familiar with them, but if they are anything like most pro-lifers and pro-life organizations I know, most of them are reasonable people with beliefs I disagree with while there is a small minority that take things to the extreme and act hatefully towards anyone who doesn’t agree with them.

    Str – Well, I don’t think calling Tiller a mass murderer is factually correct, but that’s because I’m pro-choice. But getting into whether or not abortion is murder would be rather pointless – we all have our beliefs and we’re not going to change them. Besides, that would detract from what the original post was actually about.

  • http://fallibilismandfaith.blogspot.com JD

    Douglas LeBlanc – By calling an abortionist a killer you aren’t you implicitly claiming a licence to treat them as one would treat known murderers of walking, talking people ? The step from a claimed right to treat someone as a murderer to vigilante justice (especially when that someone escapes standard justice) isn’t that big.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    JD,

    No. See Robert George’s remarks that close my post.

  • http://fallibilismandfaith.blogspot.com JD

    Douglas LeBlanc – Without the implied moral right, and the disclaimer about adherence to the rule of law, the appellation “killer” reduces to “technically, a killer”. That’s not the ordinary meaning of “killer”, and not how most pro-lifer use the term.

  • Dale

    That’s not the ordinary meaning of “killer”, and not how most pro-lifer use the term.

    And you know this how? Most pro-life groups have explicitly condemned this crime, not argued that it was an act of justifiable homicide, which, if your analysis was correct, would be the predictable reaction.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    JD,

    I guess you know more than I do about how most pro-lifers use the term. It seems clear to me that most pro-lifers do not assume a right to kill the people they consider killers.

    To clarify: Nowhere have I referred to George Tiller as a killer. I don’t think it’s a helpful or wise means of communication. I certainly don’t believe journalists should adopt this language.

    My argument is strictly with the idea — expressed in Mike Hendricks’ column — that when certain pro-lifers use that language, their critics can know that they are driven by hatred. I think that is a hyperbolic and unfounded assumption.

  • http://fallibilismandfaith.blogspot.com JD

    To wrap this up: By constructing a moral equivalence for an act, you are also constructing a moral equivalence for your reactions to that act. If you don’t want people to infer that you claim a right to treat someone as a murderer, well, then don’t call them “murderers”, “killers”, etc.

    Pro-lifers can’t have it both ways – either they should admit that their use of terminology is just hyperbole, that there isn’t really a moral equivalence, or they should be prepared to stand by the moral implications of the terms they use.

  • Dale

    To wrap this up: By constructing a moral equivalence for an act, you are also constructing a moral equivalence for your reactions to that act.

    To wrap this up: To force an interpretation on another person’s language, when it is clear that the interpretation is inconsistent with the context and that person’s acts, is intellectually dishonest. If I say that tobacco company executives are “killers” because they hid evidence of the addictive and carcinogenic properties of tobacco, I certainly am not giving anyone else license to murder them. Anyone who insists my words have that meaning are not engaged in an honest attempt to understand my words, but a “gotcha” game of discrediting me, and misleading others.

  • Dave

    Douglas, I have yet to see the MSM dig out a pro-life quote to the effect of “Well, he was killing babies, you know…” which it has offered up in past incidents. Scare quotes and misuse of the word “accomplice” are lesser included offenses.

    str1977, it’s factually incorrect to call an abortionist a murderer because murder is defined by the state, and the state does not define abortion as murder. Like “accomplice,” “murder” has a legal definition.

  • Jerry

    I believe there’s a crime called “incitement”. I don’t know if that applies to anyone but I’ll be looking to see if that comes up as more facts become known.

  • John

    What is being ignored in all this fuss is the fact that Tiller was taking innocent human lives, and this individual who killed him was trying to put a stop to him. While I do not hold with his assailant’s actions, I will not condemn his assailant until “pro-choice” people are willing to condemn Tiller for killing unborn children.

    If any of you want to rail on me and call me an “accomplice” or “hate-monger” or whatever, go right ahead. It just shows the hardness of your hearts, and your refusal to acknowledge what abortion is.

  • Dale

    Jerry wrote:

    I believe there’s a crime called “incitement”. I don’t know if that applies to anyone but I’ll be looking to see if that comes up as more facts become known.

    There’s probably no incitement involved here. Usually “incitement” means “incitement to riot”, the crime of standing by and encouraging other persons who are attacking people or property. I picked up this portion of Kansas law on a web search, and added emphasis to those clauses that would not apply to this case:

    # 21-4104: Riot. (a) Riot is any use of force or violence which produces a breach of the public peace, or any threat to use such force or violence against any person or property if accompanied by power or apparent power of immediate execution, by five or more persons acting together and without authority of law.

    # 21-4105: Incitement to riot. (a) Incitement to riot is by words or conduct urging others to engage in riot as defined by K.S.A. 21-4104 and amendments thereto under circumstances which produce a clear and present danger of injury to persons or property or a breach of the public peace.

    There needs to be immediacy of action following words for the crime of incitement to riot. Their also needs to be a riot, which is more than the criminal act of one individual.

    If someone recruited the gunman to kill Dr. Tiller, that person could be charged with conspiracy to commit murder, not “incitement”; but conspiracy needs more than a generalized statement of intent–the defendant has to take some positive step toward carrying out a specific plan–like instructing the gunman on how to conceal a firearm to get it into Tiller’s church, or otherwise planning a specific act.

    “Incitement to riot” would be applicable if a group of protestors at the clinic violently attacked the clinic, and other protestors stood at the scene cheering them on.

  • Nick

    When this happens, pro-lifers get very squeamish for a couple reasons:

    1. Someone on their side murdered someoneon the other side so they look guilty by association.
    2. From the point of view of being prolife, the murder was exactly that. A person who killed a lot more than one human, was killed. It’s a very sensible action from a utilitarian point of view.

    And this highlights the biggest flaw in the pro-life movement. Why aren’t they killing a lot more abortion doctors? I hate to use the analogy but would it be so bad to kill Hitler in 1933? If you listen to the pro-life rhetoric in the wake of this recent killing, it would be.

  • Gerry

    Pray tell, just how many killings was Hitler responsible for by 1933?

  • Nick

    Gerry,
    Ok, I was assuming that we had a crystal ball…make it 1939, 1940 or whatever…you get the point. From a principle of saving the most lives possible, a murder or killing is a very practical way to do so.

    There’s the famous Bonhoeffer quote: ” first they took the Jews, and I did nothing because I was not a Jew…” or something to that effect. We are always criticizing the Germans for not doing enough to stop Hitler – well did they rationalize their inaction the same way pro-lifers rationalize their inaction (in radical measures that is) now in the abortion issue?

  • Becca

    When this happens, pro-lifers get very squeamish for a couple reasons:

    1. Someone on their side murdered someoneon the other side so they look guilty by association.
    2. From the point of view of being prolife, the murder was exactly that. A person who killed a lot more than one human, was killed. It’s a very sensible action from a utilitarian point of view.

    And this highlights the biggest flaw in the pro-life movement. Why aren’t they killing a lot more abortion doctors? I hate to use the analogy but would it be so bad to kill Hitler in 1933? If you listen to the pro-life rhetoric in the wake of this recent killing, it would be.

    As a pro-lifer, I disagree with this characterization of why I get “squeamish” at the murder of Tiller.

    First, the man who murdered Tiller is not on my “side”. He’s not pro-life. He may be anti-abortion, but being pro-life means that you consider all human life to be precious. This is why it’s wrong for the media to consider pro-life and anti-abortion two terms for the same position on life issues, and why in this case so many pro-life groups and prominent pro-life activists are coming out and decrying the actions of anyone who commits violence against abortionists.

    Second, most pro-lifers are also religious, and in the United States are predominantly christian. The “utilitarian point of view” is not one we consider valid. Utilitarian ideas have led to the expansion of abortions in this country over the past decades, seeing human lives as “disabled” or “non-viable” and “unworthy of life”. In a utilitarian society, pain/suffering and unhappiness are evils to be avoided at all costs, which leads to greater rates of abortion (especially of the disabled and female), euthanasia, assisted suicide, etc, all of which the pro-life movement is against.

    The pro-life movement is against killing abortionists because we believe that killing, unless in immediate self-defense or the justified defense of society (as in military or police), is wrong. It is the place of government to protect citizens, and in the case where government is failing in its duty (as in the United States with abortion legality) it is the citizens’ duty to work peaceably for change in government and/or the law. It is the duty of individuals to behave morally, whether immoral behavior is legal or not. It is not moral to murder another, therefore individuals should not do it (whether legal as in the case of murder of the unborn or illegal as in the case of Tiller’s murder).

  • Jerry

    Dale,

    Thanks for the legal clarification.

  • Matt

    As a pro-lifer, I oppose and condemn the use of violence against abortionists for two main reasons:

    1) It is just wrong. Killing an abortion doctor is just as wrong as terminating a pregnancy. Robert George’s assessment is right on.

    2) It is deeply counterproductive the pro-life movement. Violence against abortionists galvanizes the pro-abortion movement and turns public opinion in their favor.

    Violence in the name of life is deeply wrong and deeply stupid and I would wager that the vast majority of pro-life Americans agree on this.

  • kyle

    … from a utilitarian point of view ….

    Becca highlighted the flaw here marvelously. Most pro-lifers – and certainly most consistent pro-lifers – reject utilitarianism. Indeed, many of us believe utilitarianism or consequentialism to be at the root of the abortion mentality. But utilitarianism is so thoroughly ingrained in our culture (both on the political Left and Right) that many people simply take it for granted. That goes for both proponents of legal abortion who think it’s a “gotcha” that the vast majority of pro-lifers are horrified at the murder of an abortionist and, unfortunately, also for some abortion opponents who cannot see the horrific contradiction of murdering an abortionist in the name of life.

    I don’t have data, but I would bet one of the least utilitarian demographics in America is people who are pro-life and Christian.

  • Nick

    Becca,

    I really would like to agree with you. I am pro-life and I wrestle with this paradox but I don’t think it’s been resolved. While ‘utilitarian’ gets a bad rap these days, it does not necessarily mean a view point in which abortion is to be increased. It really depends on whether or not killing an unborn child creates more or less happiness in the world – that can be debated but I would argue that it creates less. But enough about utilitarinaism.

    Here’s the way I see it:
    If I know that Dr. X is going to kill n number of unborn children tomorrow, how can I just sit here and pray, or protest outside the clinic and let it happen. You say that immediate self-defense and justified defense of society warrant killing but I’m sure I could come up with more instances that would also. What about the defense of one of your children?

    We had a civil war to abolish slavery (though in a very indirect manner but that’s what were being fed). How much more heinous of a crime is abortion?

  • Deb

    I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading this discussion. Very respectful and insightful. You all have given me much to think about. I hope this tragic event will encourage more dialogue between the two groups.

    John: A little bit of humility never hurt anyone

  • Julia

    This is happening in Kansas!

    When is an intrepid reporter going to make the logical connection with John Brown and his vigilante justice in “Bleeding Kansas” just before the Civil War?

    I’m sure these Kansan radical pro-lifers, and other Kansans, are thinking about it.

    As you may know, Lawrence KS was burned and many people massacred by pro-slavery Quantrill and his raiders, including Jesse James about the time John Brown was active in the general area.

    The traditional chant at KU athletic games in Lawrence is tied to real historical events. Learning the appropriate chanting of “Rock chalk, Jayhawk, KU” is one of the first duties of incoming freshmen.

    You can hear it here.
    http://www.ku.edu/about/traditions/songs/rockchalk.mp3

    Rock Chalk = the mineral most seen on Mt Oread, the site of Kansas University in Lawrence.

    Jayhawkers = guerilla anti-slavery forces and regular military from KS in the Civil War era.

    The fictional Jayhawk bird was originally a banner insignia carried by early military units when Kansas was a territory, I think. Now it means anybody who is native born, but its history is much more complicated.

    I don’t think John Brown was considered a Jayhawker, but many abolitionist folks in Kansas at the time thought him heroic although pushing the envelope too far.

    Reporters: when you do your story, give me a hat-tip ;)

  • Larry “the grump” Rasczak

    Becca has written a wonderful and well thought out post! I particularly admire the second paragraph where she points out that the “Pro-Life” movement is, by definition, antithetical to the utilitarian philosophy. Only someone who has actually read some books and understands what utilitarianism is could have written it. (This probably explains why so many “professional journalists” didn’t.)

    Her post is logical, well written, and shows that she is an educated person who understands moral issues and is not only able to think seriously about them, but also express those thoughts in a clear and understandable manner.

    As a result, I fully expect that this post will go right over the heads of the vast majority of the “journalists” who happen to read it.

    If “journalists” want to know why so many people are cancelling their subscriptions to the Local Daily Fishwrap, they would do well to compare and contrast what Becca wrote here with the “news stories” quoted above.

    If someone wants to read intelligent well written commentary from educated people; the sort of commentary that adds value to the story, commentary like what Becca wrote, one finds it on the Internet, not Cleavage Network News, or the East Coast Daily Fishwrap.

    At the New York Times and the Washington Post, or CNN, one finds only poorly thought out mush churned out by second (or third) rate intellects with third (or fourth) rate educations.

    At one’s local paper, or NPR, one finds only a regurgitation of the New York Times, the Washington Post, or CNN, one (This morning when NPR cut live to their Paris correspondent for coverage of the Air France plane crash, she was telling us what she was seeing on French TV! Not only is this regurgitation, (or at best translation) and not “reporting”; this newfangled “internet” thingy allows me to access French news myself. (Thanks to Google I don’t even need to know the number of the website!) The NPR reporter added nothing of value. She is an unnecessary “middle-man”, a redundancy. Furthermore, this is far from an isolated case. If I can get the CDC to directly e-mail me the latest updates on H5N1 Flu, why do I need a “journalist” who (given that hard science classes are not a requirement for a “degree” in journalism) most likely has less understanding of what is going on that I do? To “explain” it to me? )

    The internet has given everyone equal access to the sources of news. The only way a media outlet can survive is if they add value to the news, with informed, intelligent, well thought out, well written commentary.

    The kind of commentary one finds only on the net.

  • Becca

    The immediate defense of my children against someone who is clearly intending to kill them would qualify under “self-defense”, I would think. Not sure what the legal definition is, but I’m pretty sure it’s legally justifiable (and I know it’s morally justifiable) to defend to the death someone who is defenseless and under your protection.

    The civil war was not started by abolitionists, who for the most part sought political change by political means (John Brown would be a notable exception). If we’re going to make a historical comparison, I would personally put John Brown in the same camp with the violent anti-abortion folks, not the pro-life movement.

    Abortion is the murder of unborn babies. It is a terrible injustice, does great violence to women, and tears our society apart. However, God does not promise us a life free of tragedy and suffering, but an eternity with Him if we seek Him. Murder (as opposed to killing) is never justified, whether to prevent other murders or not. It comforts me to know that the unborn victims of abortion are resting peacefully with God and the saints, and it would be nice to think that George Tiller was able to come to enough grace before his death that he is able to be comforted by the souls of his past victims in heaven. It is for God to know, and to judge.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    Julia,

    Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler makes the connection, although he does not go into great detail about Kansas.

  • PS

    One interesting angle for me is that Dr. Tiller was an usher at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita. I wonder how the congregation felt about having such a prominent and unrepentant abortion provider at their congregation.

  • Becca

    I’m blushing over here, Larry “the grump” Rasczak. To the rest: I promise I’m not “Larry”, giving compliments to myself. ;-)

  • Becca

    One interesting angle for me is that Dr. Tiller was an usher at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita. I wonder how the congregation felt about having such a prominent and unrepentant abortion provider at their congregation.

    Yes, this was a major question for me in the media stories I’ve read this morning. Seems like a big deal for a reporter to not even ask anything about Tiller’s relationship with his church community. Maybe it’s too soon… the optimistic side of me thinks we might see these questions being asked over the next few days, though the part that is used to standard coverage of Christianity and abortion stories thinks they’ll never bother to make the connection. But still, I’d like to know more about the branch of Lutheranism his particular church belonged to, what the institutional church says about abortion and other life issues, and if his pastor is on the record about Tiller’s business. Since Tiller has been in the news (especially in Kansas) for years, it seems like this kind of documentation of views would be easy for an experienced reporter to dig up.

  • Julia

    Becca:

    If we’re going to make a historical comparison, I would personally put John Brown in the same camp with the violent anti-abortion folks, not the pro-life movement.

    Yup, that was my point.

    The violent anti-abortion people probably see themselves the same way that John Brown viewed himself. And since this guy is from Kansas, that probably goes double for him.

  • Jerry

    There is one thing that is really under-reported and that is real information on late-term abortions or even reporting on the controversy about what constitutes “late term”. I think Wikipedia does a decent job in this area by giving information about the grey area in the definition as well as reporting on why women are requesting late term abortions. The statistics quoted are for women who are seeking abortions after 16 weeks so don’t really translate well to “late-term”, but I think both “pro-life” and “pro-choice” sides would find that 71% of women who did not realize she was pregnant or misjudged how many weeks to be a sad number. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Late-term_abortion

    Also, there is a striking similarity between abortion and many other morality supply/demand issues like drug use. What I don’t think gets reflected very often is that the “pro-life” side wants to reduce the supply of abortion providers while the “pro-choice” side wants to reduce the demand for abortion. Both sides say that the other side’s approach is immoral and/or won’t work, the utilitarian argument. If anyone can find a discussion using this frame-of-reference in the media, I’ll grab a baseball cap, put some salt on it and chow down.

  • Dave

    Dr Tiller was assasinated on the sixth anniversary of Michael Rudolph’s arrest.

    This changes things from a simple murder with political implications to a possible re-emergence of the domestic terrorism that threw a moral shadow over the pro-life movement in the ’80s. The government should be alert to this and the MSM should be at least conscious of it.

  • kyle

    Also, there is a striking similarity between abortion and many other morality supply/demand issues like drug use. What I don’t think gets reflected very often is that the “pro-life” side wants to reduce the supply of abortion providers while the “pro-choice” side wants to reduce the demand for abortion. Both sides say that the other side’s approach is immoral and/or won’t work, the utilitarian argument. If anyone can find a discussion using this frame-of-reference in the media, I’ll grab a baseball cap, put some salt on it and chow down.

    I’m sorry, but that is oversimplified to the point of caricature. Reducing the “demand” for abortion is a vague statement that can mean anything from supplying basic needs of women in a crisis pregnancy and supporting strong families – which pro-lifers support, often very generously – to more generalized government social programs, about which pro-lifers are divided, to flooding the world with contraceptives and schools with Planned Parenthood’s version sex education, about which pro-lifers are also divided but more skeptical. What’s more, there are real and legitimate questions about which of those things, particularly the last two, are moral and effective. (Journalism note: What kind of miracle do you suppose it would take to get a reporter uncritically repeating the PP line about contraception reducing abortion to actually give the readily available statistics about the incidence of abortion among 1) those using contraception; 2) those with experience using contraception and 3) those who have never used contraception. I guarantee the vast majority of readers would learn something.)

    And on the pro-legal-abortion side, there is also ambiguity. Many favor banning some abortions, and many favor ultrasound bills and other items you would put in the “supply” column.

    And your analysis doesn’t take into account efforts to actually increase abortions, like funding them and promoting them with taxpayer money.

    Another quibble: None of that is necessarily utilitarian. Let’s take flooding the world with contraceptives as an example. A Catholic convinced, on the basis of natural law, that this strategy is immoral would, if he is faithful, reject its use even were he convinced it would be effective. That’s the very opposite of utilitarianism. It’s not utilitarianism per se to consider the effectiveness of something. It becomes utilitarian when that is the sole criterion, even when it means accepting something intrinsically evil.

    I don’t mean to deny your larger point, which is that these differences should be discussed – they should. But it should be done without caricature.

  • SouthCoast

    “it’s factually incorrect to call an abortionist a murderer because murder is defined by the state, and the state does not define abortion as murder. Like “accomplice,” “murder” has a legal definition.”

    Inasmuch as it is also “factually correct” to point out that a language is very much the intellectual property of those who speak it, one has a perfect right to refer to Dr. Tiller as a murderer. As is the loon who killed him.

  • Dave

    Were you talking about trivia like splitting an infinitive or the common use of “hopefully,” SouthCoast, I would would readily agree with you. However, you are claiming that a word defined one way can be redeployed to mean something completely different because its emotional impact suits your politics. If you can “murder” language in that manner, there’s no point in a blog about journalism.

  • Paul

    Disgust is all that comes to mind as people continue to persecute the victim – it just highlights the phony faith of these cheerleaders of wacko assassins.

    The answer is ‘no, you ain’t got religion’ if you go along with this modern day lynching by those intolerant of others’ faith.

  • Ann

    Steve Waldman has several interesting articles about Dr. Tiller, late term abortion, the Obama administration being attacked for issuing a warning about far far right associations.

    blog.beliefnet.com/stevenwaldman/2009/06/why-justifiable-late-term-abor.html

  • SouthCoast

    “However, you are claiming that a word defined one way can be redeployed to mean something completely different because its emotional impact suits your politics.”

    Did not. Merely said that how the “average” speaker uses the language is just as valid, on its own terms, as how the law, or any other structured system, uses it. The copy machine down the hall is not “legally” a Xerox. And the tissue we clean the glass with is not legally a Kleenex. But that’s what we call them, and we know to what we refer when we do. The vernacular is not a lesser mode of speech, and does not deserve to be cavalierly dismissed in favor of a more “refined” mode, merely because its emotional impact upsets your politics.

  • Dave

    Humpty-Dumpty said it more succinctly to Alice.

  • str1977

    Nick,

    the utilitarian view point necessarily leads to the abortion industry.

    as it looks towards the greatest happiness of the greatest number and thus can dispense with sacrificing people and their lives for the greater happiness of the rest.

  • str1977

    Also, Nick, the paradox is not a paradox at all.

    Pro-lifers, as you well know, believe that killing human beings is wrong except in the two very limited instances of war and justice.

    Who has made Tiller’s murderer an authorised agent of justice?

    From a Christian viewpoint, there is also another issue: Tiller’s murderer has bereft his victim from any future opportunity to repent of his crimes. Sure, Tiller has himself to blame for committing them but a Christian would also have his immortal sould’s salvation in mind.

  • str1977

    I should have written not “war and justice” but “self-defense (including war) and justice”.

    Dalea, could you stay on the issue for once. This article is about abortion, not about imagined rights.

    Becca,

    if I am not mistaken the Civil War was started by a (moderate) abolitionist going by the name of Abraham Lincoln. But it wasn’t fought with the objective of freeing slaves and hence you are still correct in the end.

  • str1977

    JD,
    “By calling an abortionist a killer you aren’t you implicitly claiming a licence to treat them as one would treat known murderers of walking, talking people ? The step from a claimed right to treat someone as a murderer to vigilante justice (especially when that someone escapes standard justice) isn’t that big.”

    Actually, this is still a few steps away (and no matter how big steps are, they do exist).

    The first step is to argue that a killer or murderer necessarily should get the death penalty.

    Then you would have to make the stept that anybody who feels called to execute that penalty is authorised to do it.

  • Dave

    str @50:

    Utilitarianism is neither pro- nor anti-abortion. Its basic principle is maximization of the greatest “happiness” (good) of the greatest number of people. If the fetus is a person, its happiness is a factor; if not, not. That is a determination that falls outside the calculus of utilitarianism.

  • Jerry

    kyle,

    This is not the venue for a discussion of the issues I raised and you commented on since the facts themselves are in dispute as well as the meaning to be derived and the actions to be taken.

  • Chris

    Two things immediately came to mind when I first heard this news, and I have yet to see them addressed in the msm. (Of course, commentors here were readily attuned to them.)

    1.) With what Lutheran body is Reformed Lutheran of Wichita affiliated? (Answer is obvious to anyone familiar with Lutheranism, which does not include 90% of Americans.)

    2.) A frank discussion of the implications of seeing abortion as murder. Why do the vast majority of anti-abortion activists advocate political processes over violence? Are they therefore advocating true non-violence, or only state-sanctioned violence?

  • dalea

    Reformation Lutheran Church is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. ELCA has a long statement on abortion here:

    http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Social-Statements/Abortion.aspx

    From the statement;

    This church recognizes that there can be sound reasons for ending a pregnancy through induced abortion. The following provides guidance for those considering such a decision. We recognize that conscientious decisions need to be made in relation to difficult circumstances that vary greatly. What is determined to be a morally responsible decision in one situation may not be in another.

    In reflecting ethically on what should be done in the case of an unintended pregnancy, consideration should be given to the status and condition of the life in the womb. We also need to consider the conditions under which the pregnancy occurred and the implications of the pregnancy for the woman’s life.

    An abortion is morally responsible in those cases in which continuation of a pregnancy presents a clear threat to the physical life of the woman.

    A woman should not be morally obligated to carry the resulting pregnancy to term if the pregnancy occurs when both parties do not participate willingly in sexual intercourse.[E] This is especially true in cases of rape and incest. This can also be the case in some situations in which women are so dominated and oppressed that they have no choice regarding sexual intercourse and little access to contraceptives. Some conceptions occur under dehumanizing conditions that are contrary to God’s purposes.

    There are circumstances of extreme fetal abnormality, which will result in severe suffering and very early death of an infant. In such cases, after competent medical consultations, the parent(s) may responsibly choose to terminate the pregnancy. Whether they choose to continue or to end such pregnancies, this church supports the parent(s) with compassion, recognizing the struggle involved in the decision.

    Although abortion raises significant moral issues at any stage of fetal development, the closer the life in the womb comes to full term the more serious such issues become.[F] When a child can survive outside a womb, it becomes possible for other people, and not only the mother, to nourish and care for the child. This church opposes ending intrauterine life when a fetus is developed enough to live outside a uterus with the aid of reasonable and necessary technology. If a pregnancy needs to be interrupted after this point, every reasonable and necessary effort should be made to support this life, unless there are lethal fetal abnormalities indicating that the prospective newborn will die very soon.

    Our biblical and confessional commitments provide the basis for us to continue deliberating together on the moral issues related to these decisions. We have the responsibility to make the best possible decisions in light of the information available to us and our sense of accountability to God, neighbor, and self. In these decisions, we must ultimately rely on the grace of God.

    Reformation Lutheran Church has a statement here:

    http://www.reformation-lutheran.org/

  • str1977

    Dave,

    that might be so but utilitarianism is stimm way more prone to sacrificing some for the benefit of others.

    You say “if the fetus were a person” but utilitarianism would care about that at all. Utilitarianism would also allow for sacrificing adult human beings.

  • Dale

    Chris wrote:

    2.) A frank discussion of the implications of seeing abortion as murder. Why do the vast majority of anti-abortion activists advocate political processes over violence? Are they therefore advocating true non-violence, or only state-sanctioned violence?

    Think you might be stacking the deck a bit? Should we then have a frank discussion of the implications of dehumanizing human fetuses because we find them inconvenient? Question the motives of abortion-rights activists who wish to enforce the laws against Tiller’s murderer (who, by the way, will be eligible for the death penalty)–are they really against killing human beings?

    Hopefully the MSM can manage better balance than that.

  • Dave

    str@56: Reading through your spelling and presumed omission of a negative modifier, I agree in general. I’m no utilitarian. But the simplistic mapping of utiliarianism on pro-choice is a gross distortion.

  • Franklin Jennings

    It is telling that JD supports vigilante justice. That or he just wants to play gotcha with anyone possessing the temerity to disagree with him.

    Most pro-lifers (as distinct from anti-abortioners), being catholics, tend to frown on vigilante justice in a stable society capable of enforcing law for the common good. Unlike JD, we don’t support taking the law into our own hands.

  • John Mark

    This was a sad day for Dr. Tiller, and for his family. And it accomplished nothing for the pro-life movement, which has sought through peaceable and legal means to end abortion in America. Pro-lifers know that violence will only hurt our cause, which is why you have not seen this kind of behavior except in the rare case. I know nothing about the person who did this, but they do not represent the main stream pro-life movement I have known.

  • str1977

    Dave,

    You read me correctly. I did forget the “not” in “would not care”. And the “stimm” is supposed to be “still”.

    Argh at me!

  • http://fallibilismandfaith.blogspot.com JD

    Wanted to let this rest, but after the comment above I guess I have to try again.

    By elementary logic, if you say that abortion is X, then you are saying that any action legitimate in relation to X is legitimate in relation to abortion.

    If lethal violence is ever justified, then to prevent the murder of defenceless innocents. So if abortion is “the murder of defenceless innocents”, then …

    If overthrowing a regime is ever justified, then to stop a genocide. So if the practice of legal abortion represents a “holocaust”, then …

    Most people are not radical pacifist. Most people accept that violence may be justified in response to or to prevent killings. A full-throated use of the word “killer” legitimises violence. One can still argue about what kind of violence, how conditioned, exercised by whom. Whether that is hatred, I don’t know. But that violence of some kind is being morally legitimated is just a fact about the ordinary meaning of words.

    Most people are not absolutists about legality. Slaves were legally bought and sold, but I think that most people would still recognise the natural right of an enslaved population to rise up against it oppressors. Calling the foetus the new slave, calling it an matter of natural law, is to make a case for liberation by all means necessary.

    Almost without exception, pro-lifers are committed to peaceful action within the constitutional framework. Which means, however, that they are caught on the other horn of the dilemma – not following through on the seriousness of the language many of them use. If the evil is as grave and obvious as they say it is, how could one leave the issue to be arbitrated by the constitutional process ? If a “holocaust” were going on, doesn’t praying and voting fall far, far short of what might be morally required ?

    Words have meanings, and moral implications.

  • kyle

    JD, do you understand the term “utilitarianism”? Do you understand how it is distinct from moral reasoning based on natural law? Do you understand how Catholics, in particular, distinguish between the object of the act, its intention and the circumstances surrounding it? I ask because you seem not to understand these things. You seem, instead, intent on manufacturing a dilemma by assuming your assumption that good ends justify evil means is shared by all.

    It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that one may never do evil that good may result. That applies even if the evil seems completely proportionate to the good one intends. So, for instance, even if one is convinced that nuking Nagasaki in WW2 will actually save lives because the invasion will be so bloody, it is still not morally licit because the object of the act, targeting civilians in a city, is intrinsically evil. Even if one is convinced that only torturing a terrorist will stop a city from being nuked, you still can’t torture, because it’s intrinsically evil. Even if an unborn baby has such terrible health problems that she is expected only to live a few painful minutes, you still may not abort her as a “mercy killing” because abortion is intrinsically evil. And so on.

    Here is a link that goes into much greater detail about the depth of moral reasoning that seems to be eluding you:

    http://guweb2.gonzaga.edu/~dewolf/rice.htm

  • http://fallibilismandfaith.blogspot.com JD

    Kyle – Of course I understand the difference between deontological and consequentialist ethics.

    But do you fully understand the implication of your position ? Adhering strictly to your position you are condemned to wait until the constitutional process gives you the kind of laws you desire. Which may never happen. The evil that you see may go on forever and ever. The evil may triumph and laugh in your face. Cool with that ?

  • kyle

    I take this to mean, JD, that you are abandoning your project of insisting on manufacturing a dilemma where none exists. Excellent.

    The answer to your first question is yes, I understand the implication of my position at least as well as you do, although what your question has to do with the matter at hand I have no idea. Even were my answer to be: “Gosh, no, Random Internet Person, I didn’t know that! That’s terrible! Where do I sign up for consequentialism?” it would not affect this question one bit. You would still be positing a dilemma where there is none, as are any journalists thoughtlessly echoing this meme.

    Regarding your second question, you must surely be aware that as a Catholic I believe God has revealed something about whether good or evil ultimately triumphs at the end. As regards this particular battle and my particular lifetime? God has given no guarantee that unjust laws permitting abortion will be overturned in my country, in my lifetime, or in the lifetime of my children’s children. And no, that doesn’t change my position. As Mother Teresa put it, God has not called me to be successful, He has called me to be faithful.

  • JRC

    JD,

    Evil only triumphs over us when we perpetrate it, as it did when Mr. Tiller was murdered.

    The picture you’ve painted above is overly grim and it ignores the fact that there is plenty of work that can be done; we are not powerless “victims” in this matter. The more important point to be made, however, is that contrary to your prior claim, the pro-lifer in the above situation does not find himself puzzling out a paradox, but carrying a cross. There’s no inconsistency on the pro-lifer’s part, here.

  • http://fallibilismandfaith.blogspot.com JD

    Kyle – It may not be a dilemma for you, but it is a dilemma for most people. Because most people do not reject utilitarian arguments as totally as you do, their moral intuitions are at least partially guided by an admixture of utilitarian thinking. (And if you only look closely enough, even Catholic doctrine isn’t entirely free of it.)

  • kyle

    Strangely enough, JD, you are the only person here claiming it’s a dilemma, and none of the people advancing a pro-life view are. Since we’re putatively discussing journalism coverage, they would be the people entitled to speak for themselves, rather than having critics of the pro-life position speak on their behalf. Given that you appeared not to get the distinctions being made until the 64th message of this thread, you would not be the person I would nominate to make the call here.

    As for Catholic moral reasoning, I think it will suffice to say your command of Catholic belief, and your willingness or ability to accurately represent it on this matter, has not impressed me much. People who want to know what the Catholic Church actually teaches (this would include any lurking journalists inclined to JD’s view) would be rewarded to spend time with John Paul II’s great Veritatis Splendor, the authoritative statement on it in more ways than one.

  • http://fallibilismandfaith.blogspot.com JD

    Kyle – Whatever. To state it for one last time, the dilemma, or if you like the discrepancy, is between the moral seriousness of the terms pro-lifers routinely throw about and the puny actions they are actually willing to take.

    One can define away the problem by radically simplifying one’s moral worldview, like you prefer to do; most people won’t follow. That was my point, and there I rest it.

    I’m really tired of this, logging off. Too much patronising.

  • kyle

    To state it for one last time, the dilemma, or if you like the discrepancy, is between the moral seriousness of the terms pro-lifers routinely throw about and the puny actions they are actually willing to take.

    I and others have already demonstrated beyond the shadow of any doubt that there is no dilemma or discrepancy there whatsoever. You can only generate one by pretending that your own utilitarianism is lurking somewhere in everyone’s belief systems. But you don’t get to decide that. I would argue that the default position has been just the contrary, and that the widespread utilitarianism of our culture is, historically, a novelty.

    One can define away the problem by radically simplifying one’s moral worldview, like you prefer to do; most people won’t follow. That was my point, and there I rest it.

    That has to be the first time I have ever seen Catholic moral theology called “radically simplifying one’s moral worldview.” I congratulate you on a novel, if laughably untenable, new strategy to keep this failed slanderous argument of yours afloat.

    As for what “most people” would do, again, there are two flaws. 1) You don’t get to tell other people that they are utilitarians when they say they’re not, and there is every reason to believe Christian pro-lifers are among the least utilitarian people in this culture. 2) Even if it were possible that we’re all closet utilitarians, it wouldn’t make your argument true. In order for there to be a discrepancy, there would have to be a contradiction not in practice but in principle, and you have already lost that debate. Thanks for playing.

  • str1977

    JD,

    if you want to justify the murder of Tiller you are surely making the best case you can.

    But don’t try to insinuate that other people are somehow bad, inconsequential or evil because of YOUR logic.

    The end doesn’t justify the means. Sure, you can put Tiller’s murder en par with vigilante justice but that’s about it. You cannot proceed from there that pro-lifers are not serious about their cause.

    And calling Tiller a killer was nothing but the truth. This very tool to shut down freedom of expression: transfer my own twisted ideads to the other and then say: but then you’ll have to kill him and therefore shut up.

  • str1977

    JD,

    that you sign off by accusing others of patronising is really strange.

    Wasn’t it you who assumed to solve the supposed dilemma of pro-lifers, even though the latter didn’t seem to have a dilemma.

    That most people do not reject utilitarian arguments is true and it is the basis for the whole mess and the abortion industry.

    And no, Catholic doctrine does not contain utalitarianism, which the thought that the greatest happiness of the greatest number (no matter how the means are) always should win out.

  • Chris

    Wow. Perhaps that is why the question is not debated in the press.

    For the record, I am anti-abortion, non-utilitarian and Catholic.

    I read JD as trying to elucidate a real dilemma for non-Catholic, anti-state abortion foes. I don’t see that he was condemning pro-lifers. Just asking them to consider the dilemma it presents for others. (It is no coincidence, to me, that the latest killer and Eric Rudolph were anti-government and anti-abortion. What else could their response be with such combined beliefs?)

    Anyhow, I find the discussion here sadly defensive and uncharitable.


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