The murder of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller has renewed the vociferous national debate between pro-lifers and pro-choicers with a new twist. Defenders of abortion rights now say that opponents — notably Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly — contributed to Tiller’s death with the decades-long use of incendiary language labeling the doctor "Tiller the Baby Killer."
"By demonizing people like me who believe that terminating viable fetuses must only be done when there are catastrophic health ramifications, the pro-abortion zealots are trying to inhibit dissent on the abortion issue in general," O’Reilly responded.
Are pro-choicers using Tiller’s death to silence pro-lifers? Or have abortion opponents crossed the lines of proper debate? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, consider the topic.
Many Americans, I suspect, hate abortion politics. We understand why pro-lifers are appalled by abortion. We also understand why pro-choicers believe women should be free to make private reproductive health choices. Liberals like me usually end up on the pro-choice side, but the fit is often awkward.
The question of whether pro-life rhetoric led to George Tiller’s murder, however, is easy: Yes. Without a doubt. How could it not? How could a political movement spend decades portraying one man as the Hitler-like embodiment of evil and not expect that somebody someday wouldn’t try to violently end that perceived evil? Tiller’s death was, in retrospect, inevitable.
Nobody, it should be noted, is ever killed for refusing to perform an abortion or dispense birth control pills.
Some abortion defenders have suggested that it’s time for the abortion debate to end. That won’t happen. But pro-lifers must now vigorously root the merest suggestions of violence from their midst or be banished to the political fringes. And they can start by reining in the talk show blowhards on their side.
"If I could get my hands on Tiller — well, you know. Can’t be vigilantes," Bill O’Reilly said on his radio show in 2006. "Can’t do that. It’s just a figure of speech.”
Abortion-opponents must be rigorously ensure their rhetoric doesn’t incite murder. Did O’Reilly’s comments cross that line? He certainly didn’t avoid it, so he deserves the criticism he receives. Those who encourage violence must feel the full weight of the law.
But abortion-rights defenders shouldn’t think they can or should try to silence the moral qualms of a great many Americans — including those who wrestle mightily with such qualms yet still support the pro-choice position.
The debate will be with us always. It must not become an actual war.
George Tiller’s murder was a grave evil committed by an obviously wicked and disturbed man. The more we learn about the Kansas man police say gunned down Tiller in his Wichita church, the more we see a perversion of the pro-life movement, an outlier.
Yet partisans of abortion have tried to depict Tiller’s murder as the pro-life movement’s true face exposed. Liberal bloggers wasted no time labeling Tiller’s killing an act of "right-wing domestic terrorism." Kansas City Star columnist Mike Hendricks described Tiller’s pro-life critics as accomplices to murder. Others laid the blame at the feet of the Republican Party.
Do these critics hear themselves? The desire to discredit and de-legitimize one’s ideological opponents is predictable and, alas, all too common. Tens of millions of Americans think abortion is wrong and late-term abortion is especially abhorrent, except in the rarest of cases. To say they are somehow complicit in Tiller’s crime is a vicious slander.
Tiller’s murder threatens to set back not only the pro-life cause but the cause of freedom, too. One reason why abortion remains such a contentious issue is because the Supreme Court believed it could settle the question by removing it from the realm of politics. But Roe v. Wade only fueled the abortion wars. Tiller’s death adds more fuel to an already volatile mix.
Every movement has extremists. Obviously, murdering abortionists is not pro-life. It’s vigilantism, pure and simple. It’s un-American and offensive to the rule of law. But using an appalling crime to stifle free and open debate isn’t particularly American, either.
(Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis blog daily at www.infinitemonkeysblog.com and joelmathis.blogspot.com.)