Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Pro-Life / Pro-Death?

You may well know by now that a few days ago, May 31--to be exact--, a militant anti-abortionist shot and killed a doctor infamous for providing controversial "late-term" abortions of fetuses matured beyond 21 weeks (meaning that the fetuses were viable--that is they could live outside of the mother's womb).

I should like to take a moment to examine this case, and I waited these few days in order to measure the more frequent reactions to it before submitting my analysis.

First, it comes as no surprise that the assassin has been widely condemned--and not just from far-left/pro-abortion circles. As awful as any abortion is (and especially "late-term" abortions) it is also awful to imagine justifying the shooting an unarmed man at--ironically--church (or anywhere else, for that matter).

What I'd like to deal with now is the approach taken by a great many critics: that it is inconsistent to call oneself "pro-life" and either kill another person or even support the killing of another person.

Without advocating the killing of Dr. Tiller, I will nonetheless disagree with the above assertion.

Being "pro-life" doesn't necessarily require one to be a pacifist.

Resorting to violence in defense of oneself is perfectly justifiable, for it aims at the protection of innocent life from the unwarranted assaults of another. If a man broke into my home with intent or even just opportunity to do me or my family harm, then I would take whatever measures possible to stop him. If I have to tackle him and wrestle him to the ground while my wife calls 911, then that's what I'll do. If, during the struggle, I have the chance to get my hands around his throat, then I will squeeze. If that squeezing results in the man's asphyxiation, then so be it. He won't be a danger to me or my family any longer. If the situation calls for me to use a weapon, say a knife or a gun, then I will employ either with no hesitation. Dispatching with such a threat is not inconsistent with my opposition to murder. Nor would it be inconsistent with my opposition to abortion. Killing such a man and harboring no regrets would not make me one iota less "pro-life."

Furthermore, the applying term "pro-life" as an adjective to describe a person asserts neither the denotation nor the connotation of someone who supports life over death in all cases. A "pro-life" person is someone who is against abortion. Being "pro-life" doesn't mean that a person has to want everyone to live. A person who is identified as "pro-life" can celebrate when a dangerous man dies (as in the previous example). A "pro-life" person can be glad that Stalin is dead, and a "pro-life" person can hope for Osama bin Laden's death, be it natural or, shall we say, expedited.

The kind of killing that renders a "pro-life" person inconsistent with his or her beliefs is the intentional and unjustified killing of another person.* This kind of killing is called murder.

The issue is not a general question of whether a "pro-life" person can intentionally kill another person and still be considered "pro-life" (which, remember, is just a semantic phrasing of "anti-abortion").

The issue is specific to the killing of Dr. Tiller: By killing Dr. Tiller, did the suspect contradict his "pro-life" creed?

To solve this dilemma, we must first answer the following questions.
  1. Was the killing intentional?
  2. Was the killing justified? (As in "Did the victim pose a threat to lives of an innocent person?")
There is no doubt as to the first question.

However, the second question is far more complicated.

From a legal standpoint, the shooting deprived the doctor of due process of law. Whatever the charges against him--and the charges are very grave if you believe that a human fetus is a human being--even the Nazi's had their day in court.

And this brings us to the sticky point. No matter what your persuasion is on the issue, humor me, please, and just suppose that a viable human fetus is a human being. Supposing this to be the case--remember, you're humoring me--then Dr. Tiller was in league with Dr. Mengele; like Mengele's Auschwitz, Tillers clinics were "death camps," and his victims were the epitome of innocents.

Still humoring me? Because this is my point. To the suspect in this case, the Dr. Tiller whom he shot is the Dr. Tiller described above. It all hinges on what a viable fetus is. If it's a human, then Dr. Tiller was indeed a monster who, if left alone, would have continued to murder many times more. The suspect felt that he had to act outside of the law because the law is, perversely, on the side of the abortionists. Just as Mengele acted under the full sanction of law during the Holocaust, Tiller acted under the full sanction of the law in Kansas. If you wish that someone had walked into Auschwitz and shot Mengele to death before he could murder more children or even just escape from the prosecutions at Nuremburg, then you have understand just a little bit what the suspect was thinking.

Of course, if you don't consider a viable human fetus a human being, then there's no question that the killing of Dr. Tiller was a despicable and cowardly murderer.

The whole case reminds me of John Brown. In the mid-1850's, Brown moved to Kansas in order to help establish the territory as a free-state. He condemned slavery, slave-owners, and those in support of slavery with the almost identical rhetoric used by those against abortion, abortionists, and abortion supporters. During Brown's time in Kansas, he was personally responsible for several killings. Murders, from a legal stand-point, but justified according to his principles.

In Dred Scott v Sanford (1857), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that slavery was legal in all territories. Essentially, slavery was the law of the land except in the established states that had abolished the institution. The Dred Scott decision convinced Brown that he needed to be bolder, so he returned to New England and began planning a slave revolt that he hoped would spread throughout the South and lead to the end of slavery once and for all. In 1859, his raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, VA, failed to spark the slave revolt. He was captured, tried, and hanged.

Henry David Thoreau and a good many others noted that while what Brown did was in deed illegal and punishable by death, the problem wasn't what Brown did, per say, (and Thoreau was a true-blue pacifist) but that Brown felt that he had to do it. As Thoreau stated,

Though you may not approve of his method or his principles, recognize his magnanimity. . . . When a government puts forth its strength on the side of injustice, as ours to maintain slavery and kill the liberators of the slave, it reveals itself a merely brute force, or worse, a demoniacal force. . . . The only government that I recognize,--and it matters not how few are at the head of it, or how small its army,--is that power that establishes justice in the land, never that which establishes injustice. What shall we think of a government to which all the truly brave and just men in the land are enemies, standing between it and those whom it oppresses? A government that pretends to be Christian and crucifies a million Christs every day! Treason! . . . High treason, when it is resistance to tyranny here below, has its origin in, and is first committed by, the power that makes and forever recreates man. When you have caught and hung all these human rebels, you have accomplished nothing but your own guilt, for you have not struck at the fountain-head. . . . Is it not possible that an individual may be right and a government wrong? Are laws to be enforced simply because they were made? or declared by any number of men to be good, if they are not good? Is there any necessity for a man's being a tool to perform a deed of which his better nature disapproves? Is it the intention of law-makers that good men shall be hung ever? Are judges to interpret the law according to the letter, and not the spirit? What right have you to enter into a compact with yourself that you will do thus or so, against the light within you? Is it for you to make up your mind,--to form any resolution whatever,--and not accept the convictions that are forced upon you, and which ever pass your understanding?
To summarize Thoreau's apology of Brown, the state had assumed a monopoly on the justice industry, and its laws were on the side of the unjust. Brown may have been a traitor to Virginia, but he was a hero for humanity.

The 13th Amendment ended slavery. John Brown had been dead for over six years, and his revolt had failed. He didn't end slavery, and he died a criminal's death.

The solution to the abortion issue is not to be found in the assassination of abortionists, as the suspect in the present case seems to have concluded. He is as wrong as John Brown was. Rather, just as the solution to the slavery issue was the abolition of slavery, the solution to the abortion issue is the abolition of abortion.

In the darkness of his deeds, John Brown did indeed bring to light the need to end slavery. Perhaps in the darkness of his deeds, the suspect in the killing of Dr. Tiller might at least lead eventually to the end of abortion.

* By "unjustified killing," I mean that the victim did not pose a threat to the killer or other innocents. By "intentional . . . killing" I mean that the killer purposefully committed homicide. This is an important distinction, for a man can still properly be called "pro-life" if he kills another innocent person by some sort of accident, say a car crash.


  1. With all due respect, the popular comparison of John Brown with contemporary anti-abortion killers is misplaced and self-serving to both the right- and left-wing people who use it. Certainly what happened in Kansas in 1856 was not ideological killing. You write: "[Brown] was personally responsible for several killings. Murders, from a legal stand-point, but justified according to his principles." The context of lawless Kansas is not parallel with our own; as a territory it was technically outside the USA; there was a pro-slavery government in Washington, and the territory was out of control. Despite a majority of free state settlers, the pro-slavery terrorists were running roughshod and murdering. However the five men killed by Brown's group were not killed for ideological reasons; they were killed for conspiring to bring violence down upon the Browns and other free state people. In another words, they were terrorists or aiding terrorists. Brown was the counter-terrorist. His "dark deeds" as you put it were desperate measures made in a context where he had no resort to law, no hope of getting assistance let alone justice. If you look at Brown's entire record you will see that he never murdered anyone because they were pro-slavery. He did not believe in cold-blooded murder and did not practice it as a rule. The Kansas killings are greatly misrepresented and most people make remarks about Brown without knowing anything except what they've heard. It's like bad historical gossip--and then it's applied to the current abortion theme. But it's a self-serving straw man and has little to do with the man who lived, what he actually did, or what he stood for. I am a biographer of John Brown and it amazes me that most of what journalists, bloggers, and commentators have to say about him is largely based upon assumption and half-truth. Best wishes.

  2. Mr. DeCaro:

    You said, "If you look at Brown's entire record you will see that he never murdered anyone because they were pro-slavery."

    As an apparently amateur half-wit who must only refer to Brown "based upon assumption and half-truth" I ask an expert:

    Were Brown's victims at Pottawotomie were in the process of endangering innocent people's lives when Brown killed them?

    If Brown's victims only posed a threat eventually but not at the moment, then the reasoning that led to the comparison is sound-- for when Dr. Tiller returned to his clinic on Monday, he posed a threat to what the assassin deemed were innocent people.

  3. Mr. DeCaro,

    After re-reading your apology of Brown, it seems to me that you argue essentially that Brown killed the men at Pottowatomie because no legal authorities would stop them from harming Brown and his free-soil brethren.

    If this is true, then you and I do not disagree as much as you apparently think that I do. I crafted my post in such a way as to explain what must go on in the heads of pro-lifers who kill abortionists.

  4. I see, you took exception when I referred to Brown's activities in Kansas as "Murders, from a legal stand-point, but justified according to his principles."

    Clearly by his actions Brown's principles allowed him to kill others and not consider himself a murder.

    I don't understand why you somehow have construed this as an attack upon Brown, and I still don't see how my assertion is erroneous.

  5. John Brown was a vigilante, and he encouraged his friends and family to do the same. He realized that the government would not do what he thought was just, so he did it himself. It is clear that you think highly of John Brown, Dr. DeCaro. That is probably an understatement. His actions would have been unnecessary if the 13th Amendment had been ratified sooner, or every state had outlawed slavery. But that was not what happened, and John Brown did not wait for the democratic process. The point Aristos makes is this: abortion is just as wrong as slavery. I would say that it might be worse. One could own slaves but never take a human life. Yes, forcing someone to work for you without pay is bad, but it does not deprive the person of life. I am well aware that you are far better versed in the details of John Brown's life than I, but in this case that does not matter. I suggest you reread Aristos's post a bit more objectively.


Bill of Rights