By Richard M. Doerflinger
June 12, 2009
The senseless murder of Kansas abortion practitioner George Tiller, allegedly by a mentally ill man with ties to an extremist militia group, has sparked much commentary.
Catholic and other pro-life groups immediately condemned the killing. Speaking for the U.S. bishops’ conference, Cardinal Justin Rigali said that “such killing is the opposite of everything we stand for, and everything we want our culture to stand for: respect for the life of each and every human being from its beginning to its natural end.” He offered prayers for Dr. Tiller and his family. So did Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, who said: “Killing those who perform abortions builds up the culture of death, because it embraces its premise that we solve problems by destroying human life rather than honoring the truth that every human being is made in the image of God.”
This doesn’t matter to some abortion advocates. They’ve suffered a setback from recent opinion polls, in which most Americans say they are “pro-life” and favor substantial restrictions on abortion. These advocates see an opportunity to exploit the tragic death of Dr. Tiller to discredit pro-life Americans and regain lost ground.
One tactic is to accuse the pro-life movement of inciting people to violence by its “rhetoric” about abortion. When pro-lifers say abortion is a form of violence or even murder, it is said, this invites others to attack those who perform abortions.
But to get upset about something being called murder, one first has to be revolted by murder. To any misguided soul who decides murder is sometimes okay, the repugnant force of that word has pretty much been lost.
Abortion advocates themselves, when not using “rhetoric” but simply being candid, have used the same words to describe abortion as pro-life people do. Before Planned Parenthood became a huge network of abortion providers, its educational materials said: “Abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun.” Dr. Warren Hern, now among those condemning pro-lifers’ “violent rhetoric,” has said of a late-term abortion method used by himself and Dr. Tiller that his associates “are having strong personal reservations about participating in an operation which they view as destructive and violent... We have reached a point in this particular technology where there is no possibility of denial of an act of destruction by the operator.” Facts are facts.
A few pro-abortion critics have actually dared pro-lifers to take up arms. “If abortion is what you say it is,” they argue, “you should be killing abortionists. The fact that you aren’t shows you don’t really believe the fetus is a person.” Well, no, it shows we reject your assumption that the end justifies any violent means. One abortion advocate making this taunt, bioethicist Jacob Appel, recently wrote that Dutch doctors should not need parental consent before giving lethal injections to handicapped newborns. His own logic has led him to justify medicalized killing of the born as well as the unborn, an object lesson for those tempted to accept a little bit of killing. Abortion advocates want to portray the pro-life movement as violent, and some may even want it to be so. This is of course a trap, an attack on the movement’s reason for existing. Dodging the trap requires nothing more than continuing to be who we are, the people who hold all human life sacred.
Mr. Doerflinger is Associate Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. To learn more about the bishops’ pro-life activities see www.usccb.org/prolife.