On Shooting Abortionists

On Shooting Abortionists November 30, 2015

Up front, just so you know what I think, let me add an amen to Cardinal O’Connor’s statement: If you want to shoot an abortionist, shoot me first.

Beyond that, let’s try to think with the Tradition and not merely with culture warrior reflexes.

When a cold-blooded murder like the shooting Colorado Springs happens, what invariably takes place is that somebody starts asking: “If you think that abortion is murder, why *shouldn’t* people opposed to abortion shoot abortionists?

People ask this for a range of reasons. For some, it’s a puzzling abstract logic problem: granting the premise, why not this conclusion (of which more in a moment)? For others, it’s a question asked in a spirit of increasingly frustrated culture war anger that increasingly looks for excuses to lash out with violence. For still others of the pro-abort polemics persuasion, it’s asked in the hope of showing that all opponents of abortion burn with murder in their hearts for abortionists, and are a menace to society who need to be stopped.  Unfortunately, the angry culture warriors often play right into the hands of the pro-abortionists trying to show that the prolife movement is composed of nothing but wannabe murderers.

For, of course, there *are* anti-abortion-but-not-prolife people out there who really do urge and excuse the killing of abortionists (and who are not on the fringe but, like it or not, have the enthusiastic friendship of people like Ted Cruz and other major leaders in the putative Party of Life), and there really is no shortage or so-called prolifers who are happy to applaud the cold-blooded murder of PP workers out of a misguided notion of what it means to be “prolife”.

We know in our bones–if we are not crazy–that murdering abortionists is not the way to demonstrate an authentically prolife position.  And so we recognize the sanity of saying, as our very first response to such killings, All truly prolife people denounce this wanton act of cold-blooded murder, re-affirm the right to life for *all* human beings, pray for the victims, demand swift judgement for the shooter, and offer ourselves in service to all those suffering from this crime.”
But then the questions crowd in. A reader had such questions and, as he makes clear, he comes by them honestly and reluctantly, not in the bloodthirsty spirit of some of the Tweeters above:
I’d love to see you address the question of attacks on abortion clinics. I’ve always found it to be a dilemma which for decades I solved by being an all out pacifist. But even then I admitted that if violence were ever justified it would be justified to intervene in abortion clinics which commit dozens of murders a day. Now that I have come to the Church’s understanding of justified violence in defense of self and innocents I cannot say why shooting or bombing an abortion clinic is wrong. How is it different from coming upon a kid being knifed in the street and shooting the assailant? True, abortion is not against the law. But that is a grievous flaw in the law. If you were travelling in a place where slavery and wanton abuse of slaves was legal and you came upon a master severely beating his slave, would you not be justified or even obligated to intervene using even lethal violence if necessary to save the enslaved person? Or to look at it from another angle, why under Catholicism is it morally ok for an 18 year old to join the military and go shoot the hell out of dubious targets in an unjust war in Iraq but it’s not ok for a man to shoot people whose professional daily routine is mass killing of innocents? Many pro-choice people (such as Doug Henwood, the excellent socialist radio host) think pro-life people are full of shit because if they really believed what they say they would do exactly what this guy seems to have done, and so all our politics seems to be mere bourgeois self congratulations at the expense of women’s freedom. I don’t know what to say to that.
The Church teaches that the use of violence is, as a general rule, reserved to the state unless absolutely necessary. So it opposes vigilantism because the danger to society is vastly greater than any possible benefit (as this shooting again shows). The Church, rather like God, tolerates evil she would rather not have and works peacefully rather urge a murderous free for all from self appointed executioners.
Makes sense, by why is this difference that turning a corner on the street and seeing an attack right in front of you? There you SHOULD intervene, violently if necessary and effective, no?
Sure. But in that case, you are acting as first responder in a situation where the state cannot yet intervene. You are not usurping the role of the state, but supplementing it. And when the cops arrive, you back off. You don’t shout, “This bastard is guilty of knifing this guy! Butt out! I’ll handle this!” and then blow his head off. Violence is the one place where the Church dispenses with subsidiarity and kicks it as far up the ladder of authority as possible rather than leaving it to the individual. That’s also why war can only be declared by the highest competent authority.
And if the state is derelict, if the cop shows up and says “actually he owns her, he’s allows to do that,” then you just let the attack go on?
You’re mixing metaphors now. An abortionist and his client are not in that situation. And if you open fire on them, you are only making matters worse. So moral suasion is the preferred route. Violence quick leads to the fog of war and tends to result in things worse than the original evil.
Thanks for the responses. I agree about the consequential concerns, but that’s more to do with the social injustice of abortion overall, not with this or that abortion that is about to happen. I’m still unclear on the principals of the matter. I think we’d all agree that a fetus would have the right to defend itself against the doctors if it could (even thought the state won’t), so why can’t someone else defend it against the doctor? I’d love to see a more fleshed out treatment of if (or a link to one if you know of any). Something like “Civilian intervention against state sanctioned violence: Slavery, the Holocaust, and abortion and why they’re not analogous”, and not dwelling on John Brown and Deitrioch Bonhoffer vs. the clinic shooters, but individual cases of a slave braining the overseer who is torturing another slave or a German sniping a Nazi just before he shoots a Jew in the street. Those do seem pretty analogous to me to the relationship between the doctor and the fetus in the clinic. Thanks for your responses and I will gladly read and share anything your write publicly about this question.
The Church’s just war teaching is ordered to make the use of violence as difficult as possible. So one of the criteria is competent authority. Competent authority must normatively sign off on the use of violence. Appealing to what violence you would do in an emergency situation as a norm for regularly using deadly violence all the time everywhere through civil society whenever you find the law morally displeasing is a formula for total anarchy. So the Church calls us to work for the common good peacefully rather than start shooting and killing people–even if they are abortionists or other grave sinners.
Just War demands a reasonable chance of success and not creating worse evils than the one the war is fighting. I don’t think anybody in their right mind imagines that killing abortonists (in addition to being murder since they are not enemy troops) would not also result in exactly the backlash against the prolife movement we are about to see. Vigilantes will (rightly) be jailed and the prolife movement will (wrongly) be vilified and, quite possibly punished as a terrorist organization if people started killing abortionists. The result will be an American doubled down on abortion and with a prolife movement now outlawed and deeply hated, even by people inclined to agree with it. Nothing could possibly be stupider than a turn to “prolife” violence, as this dangerous clown demands we do.
In sum, the following criteria must all be met in order to rationalize the use of violence:
1. Lasting, grave and certain threat
2. Competent authority
3. Last resort
4. Proportionality
5. Reasonable chance of success
6. Likelihood that evils created by violence will be less than evils destroyed by violence
7. Use of licit means to fight evil
Shooting abortionist clinic workers fulfils essentially none of these criteria.
1. You don’t know if the person you are killing poses a lasting grave and certain threat to somebody (they might be Abby Johnson, thinking of repenting and getting out of this business).  You are not dealing with somebody in the act of murder like a mugger, but with somebody who maybe in all manner of relationship to a potential act, or a potential actor.
2. You are not the competent authority to act as judge, jury, and executioner.
3. There are lots of other ways to fight abortion (think 40 Days for Life) that are effective and entail no violence at all.
4. See #3.  Why kill people when you can stop them with non-violent means?
5. There is absolutely no hope of success, but the dead certainty that the use of violence will save nobody.  If you shoot the abortionist, you will be in jail by sundown, and his patient will have another appointment tomorrow morning.
6.  There is absolutely no hope of creating fewer evils than you heal, but the dead certainty that the use of violence will help abortionists and hurt the prolife movement.  If you shoot the abortionist, you will be in jail by sundown, and Planned Parenthood will mount a massively successful fundraising campaign in response to what you have done.
7. What you have done will rightly and properly be called “first degree murder” and “domestic terrorism”.  You shall not do evil that good may come of it.  Murder is evil.  And unjust war is always murder.
We continue to fight the abominable crime of abortion with the weapons of the Spirit, not the flesh.  Do not hand the enemies of life a sword to attack us by committing, approving of, or excusing violence.
Be consistent.  Be more prolife, not less.
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