A couple of weeks ago, President Obama tried to turn the page on the abortion debate during his speech at Notre Dame. This weekend, the page was turned firmly back to the status quo, with the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas. It’s inevitable that the incident would b einstantly politicized, but I found something very surreal and familiar about it – essentially, conservatives are now finding themselves playing defense, in a way that American muslims know all too well.
Let’s be clear about what Dr. Tiller’s murder represents: an act of domestic terrorism.
There are some conservatives who will deny that – attempt to spin the murder as a random event or not related to Tiller’s abortion advocacy. They will seize upon whatever tiny detail they can to minimize the significance of the murder, including arguing (correctly, but irrelevantly) that such murders are rare (though lesser crimes like arson or property damage aren’t, it should be noted).
There are some conservatives who will denounce the murder, full stop. They will be joined by prominent pro-life advocates and organizations. At the same time, they will take pains to point out that the murderer was a fringe lunatic acting against the mainstream pro-life community’s values. Despite these public denunciations, pro-life conservatives will forever be subject to the silence libel.
And the pro-life community will indeed be tarred with the brush of Tiller’s murder as a whole. That isn’t fair, but as muslim-Americans like Mazen Asbahi can tell you, life isn’t fair. While the average pro-life conservative bears zero personal repsonsibility for Tiller’s murder, the cause they subscribe to and support has engaged in rhetoric that has indeed played midwife to this act, however – a moral burden that should be recognized, and accepted.
The simple and sad truth is that a substantial fraction of conservatives are indeed sympathetic to the murder of Dr. George Tiller, ranging from outright happiness at his death to more subtle concerns about the PR implications for the pro-life movement. That’s an ugliness that conservatives will have to confront head-on. Others will pay lip service to condemning the murder, but then immediately qualify their condemnation by insisting that Tiller was a murderer himself and that pro-choice means pro-murder.
Dr. Tiller’s murder also highlights an unpleasant truth: the pro-life movement is not really pro-life, insamuch as it remains opposed only to abortion but stands mute on capital punishment and collateral damage. It would be wonderful if the Tiller murder sparked more genuine reflection and soul-searching within the pro-life community about what their own principles really dictate, and how their rhetoric of the “culture of death” for their political opponents has corrupted their souls.
Related: Paul Raushenbush highlights more rhetoric of death from the pro-life movement in response to the Tiller murder. Also see ED Kain at LOG who bemoans the culture war, and Matthew Yglesias who points out the chilling effect of pro-life intimidation tactics.