The lesson from Dr. Tiller’s murder

If you want to see the future of one aspect of life in the United States, if federal policy were placed in the hands of murderous antiabortion extremists, you might look at life for women in Tanzania.

Abortion is illegal there, as antiabortion extremists (I am not referring herewith to mainstream pro-lifers) pledge to fight until it is made illegal here. As a result, pregnant women who do not want or cannot carry pregnancies to term turn to amateurs who botch their abortions in large percentages. As reported by the New York Times this week:

"Worldwide, there are 19 million unsafe abortions a year, and they kill 70,000 women (accounting for 13 percent of maternal deaths), mostly in poor countries like Tanzania. More than 2 million women a year suffer serious complications. According to UNICEF, unsafe abortions cause 4 percent of deaths among pregnant women in Africa, 6 percent in Asia and 12 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean."

These are the conditions the most extreme antiabortionists would impose on women here in the United States. When credible moderates and well-known commentators refer to Obstetrician-Gynecologists (to wit, Dr. George Tiller) as murderers and "baby-xxllers" (misspelling mine to avoid use of the inflammatory description) they are building roads for crazed murderers to take to inflict what they see as revenge. Such descriptions should be banned as incitement to murder or accessory to murder, if used against any medical professional involved in offering legal procedures to women in need.

Social critic Alida Brill wrote an article about Dr. Tiller for the Women’s Media Center. She described him as a deeply religious man who was beloved in his community:

"He was not a criminal, a mass murderer or a threat to our democratic way of life. He was a protector of the health of women, and a practitioner of the rights guaranteed to us under the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. He was able to distinguish between a woman’s privacy and constitutional rights as a citizen and whatever were his own personal religious beliefs. He understood that the laws of the land are not the same as the Bible as dictated by its interpreters — many who would quite obviously be pleased to see more theocracy and less constitutionality."

Dr. Tiller’s murder is not the first by anti-abortion extremists and it won’t be the last unless America’s pro-choice majority draws a defined line in concrete terms that prevents incitement to murder. Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, and stoker of much anti-abortion violence published a press release right after Dr. Tiller’s murder saying:

"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."

This type of speech ought to be against the law. Anyone who issues statements containing such language ought to be prosecuted as an accessory to murder, as well as for partaking in domestic terrorism. What, after all, is the difference between Terry’s statement and releases issued by the Taliban calling on Muslims to kill westerners? There is none.

Free speech is one thing. Speech that beckons to the unbalanced to commit the ultimate crime is something entirely different. Scott P. Roeder, the man charged with shooting Dr. Tiller to death, was described by his brother, David, as having fought mental illness at various times during his life. If the antiabortion fringe had not painted Dr. Tiller as a murderer, perhaps Scott Roeder would not have been driven to murder him, or would not have seen him as an appropriate target.

In the statement quoted above, Randall Terry makes it clear he hoped for Dr. Tiller’s death and fears reprisal as a result. Let’s make him right on both counts.

(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)