More Thoughts on the Murder of Dr. Tiller

I’ve been thinking more about the murder of the Kansas abortion provider, Dr. Tiller…

Scott Roeder, the alleged killer, and other anti-abortion fundamentalists have been told over and over again by groups like Operation Rescue and others that abortion is murder, and that people who have or provide abortions are murderers. That abortion clinics are “death camps,” and that people like Dr. Tiller are guilty of murdering 100s or 1000s of children a year, year after year, for decades. That all the efforts to end this mass murder – the pleas and prayers, protests, legal actions and attempts to pass or change legislation – have been unsuccessful. And they are told that Biblical scripture supports killing doctors who provide abortions to stop them.

Hearing all of this over and over, having it pounded into their heads by speeches and sermons for years – is it any wonder that one of them finally picked up a gun to stop these heinous crimes? Which is why I think groups like Operation Rescue that have propagated these views bear a large burden of responsibility for the death of Dr. Tiller. They’ve been telling people for years that he was a mass murderer that the law was powerless to stop, and someone finally listened, and acted.

If I had heard all of that, heard the charges of murder over and over for years, and believed it, I might have picked up a gun as well. I mean, wouldn’t you? If you “knew” that someone in your town was murdering children by the hundreds, and the authorities were powerless to stop him, wouldn’t you at least consider taking matters into your own hands? Stopping mass murder, even if killing someone were the only way?

It’s a terrible question, terrible to contemplate.

It goes beyond just this extreme case. The tactics of the anti-abortion fundamentalists are, for the most part, just like the tactics I (we?) and people I support have employed in struggles for equality and justice – and peace – over the years. In the civil rights and anti-apartheid movements. In the protests against the Vietnam War, the (two and counting) wars in Iraq, the violence in Israel and Palestine, in Nicaragua and El Salvador, Northern Ireland. Against rapacious logging, animal experimentation and uranium mining. For women’s rights and aboriginal land rights. Against nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Against repressive regimes and corporate criminals.

Aggressive mass protests designed to sway public opinion and/or intimidate people entering or leaving some facility. Rallies, marches and demonstrations to call attention to crimes and injustices and put pressure on companies or governments. Speeches and publications denouncing opponents as criminals or murderers, as evil, fascist, etc. Protests at the family homes of figures identified as wrong-doers. Vandalism and property damage – from graffiti to bombings – designed to shut down operations or cause economic damage. Killings or assassinations of important figures, to highlight their (alleged) crimes and opposition to them, or simply to stop them from committing more crimes.

All of these tactics have been used on the left and the right – by radicals struggling for social justice and reactionaries trying to stem the tide of change. The last, assassination, has fallen strongly into disfavor on the left, but it has a long history on both sides of the political spectrum. However, the history of its use by the left is mostly, well, historical and distant – from the 19th century and the early years of the 20th (such as the 1892 attempted assassination of Henry Clay Frick, one of the “Worst American CEOs of All Time”), and mostly outside the United States (eg, Durruti‘s assassination of a Spanish cardinal in 1923). Recent assassinations, closer to home, have tended to come from the other side – as with JFK, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Archbishop Oscar Romero – or have been harder to classify, the work of apparently unbalanced persons with no clear agenda or affiliations.

Of course, there are many principled believers in non-violence as an absolute, for whom I have nothing but respect. But many of us have to acknowledge that, while we abhor violence and are dedicated to the idea of a just and peaceful world for all, there are circumstances in which we might fight, might feel compelled to resort to violence, to kill or die, in pursuit of our goals.

The thing that differentiates us from anti-abortion fundamentalists, then, is not so much the tactics we use to pursue our goals, but rather those goals themselves. In the beliefs that justified Dr. Tiller’s murderer in his actions. Beliefs which I see as wrong, based on bad science, bad religion and bad social values. But I imagine they feel much the same about my beliefs.

You can see why there is a tendency to just focus on the act – to characterize it as unacceptable, beyond the pale. To say, “well, you have the right to your views, and to protest in support of them, but you can’t kill people you disagree with.” Otherwise, we are faced with a much messier conflict over beliefs and values. And we are told to have respect for the beliefs of others, making that an even trickier business. And clearly the murder of Dr. Tiller was an illegal act. But both sides – anti-abortionists and human rights activists, for instance – have defended illegal acts as justified to prevent a greater harm, and indeed – as is so often pointed out – this country was founded on the principle of standing up to unjust laws (or at least that is the way it is often depicted).

For me, the answers are pretty straightforward. The murder of Dr. Tiller was wrong because killing someone is wrong unless there are really, really good and compelling reasons for it, and the reasons and beliefs of anti-abortion fundamentalists are not good or compelling. Are in fact wrong.

Obviously, this is all pretty contentious, and I want to point out that this is a morning’s work, that it might not be as well-argued or carefully phrased as I might wish. The whole thing has left me feeling sick at heart, particularly this realization that given their views and the rhetoric they employ, there is no reason to believe anti-abortion fundamentalists will heed President Obama’s calls for restraint and a “civil tone” in the abortion debate – and that attacks such as the murder of Dr. Tiller are a logical, “reasonable” outcome of their views.


Over on Infoshop News, there is an article going into much greater detail on this question of comparisons between anti-abortionists and radicals on the other side of the spectrum – particularly the anti-slavery abolitionists. It’s an excellent article:

Kansas Bleeding Again
by Phoenix Insurgent

When former director of victim’s services for the Shawnee County District Attorney’s office, Suzanne James, was asked by the LA Times how she would characterize anti-abortion militants like Dr. George Tiller’s alleged killer Scott Roeder, she said, “Some of these guys had that John Brown look in their eyes.”

The killing of Dr. Tiller by an anti-abortion militant has again raised the issue of fanaticism in the public consciousness. The fanatic has always occupied a unique space within American politics. Generally despised by the political mainstream as beyond reason, even mentally ill, the political zealot combines extremism and often violence in ways that brings moderates of the right and left together in harmonious — if disingenuous — choruses consisting of the righteous denunciation of violence on one hand and the moralistic defense of democratic debate on the other….

Read the rest of the article here.


4 responses to “More Thoughts on the Murder of Dr. Tiller

  1. free2beinamerica

    Let’s put it this way. If I were to end up on the jury that tried the man who killed this “doctor,” then he would not be convicted by that jury. Might be a hung jury, but he would not be found guilty.

    A real doctor is supposed help save lives, not take them.


  2. You’re certainly entitled to your beliefs, and the broken laws of this land even support you in this instance.

    But, irrespective of what the law says, abortion is the murder of children and stopping such a heinous act is ALWAYS right even when its illegal to do so.

    That being said, there is also the law and the health of society to consider, AND the effectiveness of ones actions to stop the murder of our children.

    Killing Tiller may have been satisfying and it may slightly reduce the rate of infanticide, especially late-term infanticide, but it won’t help solve the problem. Most people understand that and that’s why you don’t see more of such things.

    You kill to defend, not to judge or punish. If the killing will not provide defense for the innocent, then it is a killing that should be avoided as the selfish evil that it is.

    At least that’s my opinion – which almost everyone on either side of this argument disagrees with. 😉


  3. free2beinamerica

    You wrote:

    “Well, the way jury selection is supposed to work, you would of course be excluded from serving.”

    Don’t know where you get that. In fact I have served on juries, once in a case of assault and attempted murder and I was instrumental in convincing other jurors to find him guilty.

    I don’t know that I think that this man who murdered the murdering doctor was totally justified in his actions, but if I was on his jury I would not be able to find him guilty. That is what I said.

    John F. Kennedy once said that:

    “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”



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