Personal disclosure, I'm pro-choice, even though some of the things I'm going to say here are not necessarily going to come across as flattering to this position.
As many folks are aware by now, on Sunday, May 31st, 2009, George Tiller was murdered. In a church, during services (although out in the narthex, and not in the chapel itself). This man was an abortion provider, and the murder is likely to have been motivated by this.
(This is the part that's going to piss off the pro-life folks.)
First of all, this was not just murder, it was terrorism. (Terrorism: The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.) You can't really argue against that definition.
Even worse, this had been discussed by some fairly prominent public figures. This article has some direct quotations from Bill O'Reilly which say some very nasty - and possibly even threatening - things about Tiller, and might be construed as encouraging just this sort of action. He's not the only figure who's done this sort of thing, but he is one of the most prominent.
This is one of the worst possible things that the pro-life movement can be associated with. It's murder, it's terrorism, and it happened in a church. It's going to be very difficult for opponents of abortion to distance some of their more extreme rhetoric from this sort of action. Thankfully, most of them are doing their best to condemn this.
It remains to be seen just how far the damage from this will spread. I would not be at all surprised if some sort of civil action (perhaps a wrongful death lawsuit) is filed in regards to this. I'll reserve judgement on the merits of such a suit until I see how it's framed; it could be either good or bad, depending on the scope.
On top of this, there was a lot of pish-poshing about a DHS memo that was leaked a few months back, warning of increasing extreme right-wing activities. Maybe they did know what they were talking about...
(This is the part that's going to piss off the pro-choice folks.)
The thing is, we've been here before, as a nation. It's been a while. One hundred and fifty years (and change), to be exact. There was another prominent figure who murdered folks in the name of a cause he felt passionately about, and another prominent figure who could have been accused (probably correctly) of encouraging it.
The murder's name was John Brown, and the public figure's name was Frederick Douglass.
Hear me out.
John Brown murdered pro-slavery settlers in Kansas. He attacked a Federal garrison at Harper's Ferry. He was tried and convicted of treason (levying war against the United States, which he did, in fact, do), and was executed. Frederick Douglass had abandoned non-violence, and openly encouraged murdering people in the case of resisting such measures as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850: "The only way to make the Fugitive Slave Law a dead letter is to make half a dozen or more dead kidnappers." (source)
Don't misunderstand what I'm saying. I'm not saying that the two situations are comparable. But we as a people have to think long and hard about how we deal with such actions and rhetoric. John Brown has become a folk hero, despite his violent and treasonous history. And Frederick Douglass was a very important figure at the time, and is nearly universally respected now. Despite that, they engaged in the same sorts of behaviors as Scott Roeder (the man charged with Tiller's murder) and O'Reilly have done.
In this age of instant information, words are more powerful than ever. Every phrase, every nuance can have an effect, and once out there, can never be retracted.
It remains to be seen how people on both sides of the abortion issue will handle this. All I can pray is for sanity; both sides have their arguments and resonings, and both have measures of validity and correctness, but extreme measures such as what were taken by Scott Roeder were wrong, pure and simple.
If I've made you think, good. If I've made you a bit angry or upset, also, good - thinking critically about such a charged issue is not an easy thing to do, and sometimes it requires getting out of your comfort zone in order to do so. That being said, please do keep comments to this entry as constructive as possible. I will be screening all comments by default, but will be unscreening all constructive ones, unless you tell me in the comment not to do so.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for thinking.