Tiller's Murder Violates the Values Abortion Opponents Claim to Preserve

Tiller's death is a huge setback to the pro-life movement.


By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

There is no defense, no excuse that justifies the murder Sunday of George Tiller, the Wichita, Kan., doctor who was one of the few physicians left in American who specialized in late-term abortions. His killing is one more tragedy layered on top of the tragic deaths of untold numbers of unborn Americans in the years since the United States Supreme Court—in Roe v. Wade and its companion cases—made abortion legal everywhere in America and at any time.

But Tiller's murder is not, as my Thomas Jefferson Street colleague Bonnie Erbe writes on the blog today, an excuse for the government to take measures to suppress the anti-abortion rights movement, "including banning inflammatory rhetoric that incites the unbalanced to violence and holding the inciters responsible for the murders they cause."

Like it or not, the rhetoric of the anti-abortion rights movement, even when it reaches extremes, is part of the vigorous debate in which the country has been engaged since the Roe decision was handed down. It is all too easy to claim that words incite people to violent acts but, as no less than former Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina proclaimed in Iowa while running for president a second time, in his America, "dissent is not unpatriotic, dissent is patriotic."

America is a nation founded on the right to say "No." Without doubt, Tiller's murder rises above mere dissent. And it is understandable that leaders of the pro-abortion rights movement are angry over what has occurred. But that is not a justification for the imposition of extreme measures against the people with whom they do not agree. What defines extremism? What words rise to that level? What would the limits be? Would they be placed on time of day, venue, audience, calls to action, proximity to an election? Who would enforce the limits and who chooses what does and what does not constitute extremism. Even in a perfect world it would be impossible to establish where the line between extreme and mainstream should be drawn because, to each of us, such things are subjective.

As a movement, the leaders of anti-abortion rights groups gathered on the steps of the United States Supreme Court Monday to denounce the murder. Calling it "immoral" and "unchristian," the National Clergy Council's Rev. Rob Schenck said the reaction to it could lead to "a greater setback to the pro-life movement than anything the so-called pro-choice movement could do."

Schenck is, one suspects, correct. There may be those who cheer, publicly or in grim silence, the end of Tiller's life. But in doing so they cheapen the very cause they claim to value so highly. Their right to give voice to their opinions must be respected, but just as the members of their movement must also respect the rights of others.

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