Every once in awhile something happens in the United States that reminds me I’m not from here. Yesterday, it was Dr. George Tiller’s death. It’s funny, I am a feminist, and now a pseudonymous feminist blogger, but abortion rights has always seemed somewhat at a remove to me, likely because I grew up in a society where they were more or less taken for granted. Oh sure, there are people in Canada who don’t like the free access to abortions that we have come to simply accept. They protest outside of clinics too. We’ve had our share of physical attacks on doctors, though nothing so distressingly recent.
But it’s the reaction here that confuses me. It is downright shocking that President Obama has to backwash his condemnation with, “[h]owever profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion…” as though it could possibly mitigate walking into a Sunday church service and firing a gun, on anyone, for any reason. It is mindblowing that someone who describes themselves as an acquaintance of the killer would give their name and this statement to the New York goddamn Times and not be the subject of immediate arrest:
Commenting on Dr. Tiller’s death, Mr. Leach said, “To call this a crime is too simplistic.” He added, “There is Christian scripture that would support this.”
But what is most appalling to me that most pro-life reaction followed a single priority: deny responsibility.
From Troy Newman, head of Operation RESCUE:
“Operation Rescue has worked tirelessly on peaceful, nonviolent measures to bring him to justice through the legal system, the legislative system,” Mr. Newman said, adding, “We are pro-life, and this act was antithetical to what we believe.”
From Randall Terry, the famed anti-abortion activist:
“The pro-life movement must not be browbeaten by Obama or the child-killers into surrendering our best rhetoric, actions and images. We hold absolutely no responsibility for his death,” Terry said in a written statement.
Today, MUL offers a prayer for George Tiller even as it condemns his action in life as an abortionist. MUL also condemns the murder of Tiller as an inappropriate and deplorable response to the terrible injustice of abortion. His acts are deplorable and should have been stopped but not by murder.
And so on, and so on. Horrifying.
What I saw on the message boards and comment sections that I was looking through while mulling over what I wanted to say was mostly people who would call themselves “moderate pro-lifers” wringing their hands about how they’ll be blamed for this. Apparently the nuts over at FreeRepublic believe that this murder is some kind of Machivellian plan to discredit them – and why shouldn’t they? Even the head of the Christian Defense Coalition admits the Tiller murder will set pro-life advocacy back in a far more lasting fashion than any pro-choice protest could.
Funnily enough, in other circumstances the pro-life movement seems to be all about taking responsibility, by which is meant women taking responsibility for their murderous whorishness. (I prefer to blame the cat for my licentiousness, myself. I tell people she needs a daddy.) You wanna have sex? You deal with the consequences, missy, up to and including compulsory pregnancy. (Note that dudes never seem to have to pay compulsory child support.)
They just don’t like the idea when it applies to, you know, them.
And before someone gets all up in arms and says I’m accusing pro-lifers of having sex with Randall Terry and birthing Scott Roeder, let me be clear on the one thing that is obvious: responsibility isn’t a zero-sum game. You can, indeed, be a little bit or a lot or anything at all short of being wholly responsible and still be responsible. Maybe not criminally responsible, maybe not even civilly liable. But responsible nonetheless.
This point seems to have been lost on the pro-lifers generally. Because the truth is, moderate pro-lifers, whether you like it or not, you are responsible for an atmosphere in which God’s law is believed to be unequivocally superior to the law of the land in all circumstances. You are responsible for the hysteria with which you frequently frame your argument. You are responsible for the fact that your condemnations are always weak, and more concerned with extricating yourselves from the mess than making sure it never happens again. You are responsible for the fact that for going on twenty years now, it has been clear, in comments left on your blogs, in letters you receive, in conversations you have with the people who attend your meetings, that people are out there who want to take your message to the next level. (And don’t tell me madmen pick arbitrary causes to pursue until you can find me a string of podiatrist killings.) You are responsible for the fact that you don’t report them to the police immediately upon suspicion of such activity. You are responsible for the fact that you regularly publish the home addresses and clinic addresses on the internet for the world to see under the faulty guise of “facilitating peaceful protest.” You are responsible for the fact that you let children be indoctrinated on this incredibly difficult issue at an early age.
Now, I could lecture pro-lifers on speech-act theory and cite Hammurabi’s code. But we are not going to end this business of being shot in church on Sunday morning over political disagreements – remember that whole civil rights business you natter on about when defending your right to protest? – by citing ancient texts at each other, because we have done that since Roe v. Wade and I’d be willing to bet not a living soul has been convinced by it. What we need to do to get the pro-lifers to stop is to point out specific actions they need to stop doing. We need to be pointing out to Operation Rescue, again and again, that they need to be on the lookout for these guys. We need to be taking down the names of the people who give quotes on how this was a deserved murder and forwarding them to the FBI. We need to be connecting those dots for them.
Don’t get me wrong. We need to spoonfeed these groups not because we are morally obligated to do so, but because in an imperfect world, they’re the best chance we’ve got at nipping these assholes in the bud. Personally, and maybe I’m the only one, I’d be happy to swallow my ego for a day or a month or a year and potentially waste some time convincing these pro-lifers that they are the ones who can make this stop, entirely. In a world of scarce resources and scarcer in the bravery required to do abortion work, we can’t afford to lose another Dr. Tiller.