Their Bad Mother

Their Bad Mother

Sticks & Stones May Break Bones, But Words… Can Raise A Shotgun?

I can’t stop thinking about the murder of George Tiller. I can’t stop thinking about it because it is – as I said the other day – just so horrible. And I can’t stop thinking about it because I wonder, where does such a thing put debates and discussions concerning abortion and abortion rights? Will this set us back? How can we talk about this sensitive subject now that violence has exploded around it?

Bill O’Reilly staked out a position last night. He said this of George Tiller’s murder: I knew that we would be blamed for this. He said he knew that they – those who publicly deplored Tiller’s profession – would be accused of inciting – or playing some part in inciting – extremists to murder, and hated for doing so. Which struck me as a terrible thing: those who regard abortion as deplorable should be able to say so without fear of being held responsible for the actions of extremists.


But then I thought this: shouldn’t there be a line, somewhere far short of the discursive equivalent of yelling Fire! in a crowded theatre, that not be crossed, if commentators wish to avoid blame? Where is that line – and did Bill O’Reilly ever cross it? Even as he deplored the murder of George Tiller, O’Reilly refered to him as a “baby-killer” and implied that the abortions performed by Tiller were murders – of future American citizens, no less. To an unhinged extremist, might such words not be understood as calls to action – or justification for the action already taken? What Tiller did was acceptable according to the laws of Kansas, said O’Reilly – but the none-to-subtle suggestion behind those words was: but not according to any higher law. And if anyone out there believes that higher laws are more binding than mundane laws… well, who’s law you gonna follow? Onward Christian soldiers?


I’m not saying that Bill O’Reilly should be held responsible. I’m asking where the line is, and whether such lines put a chill on public discourse. I disagree with what Bill O’Reilly says, but I do – as the saying goes – defend his right to say it. But what if his saying it does have or could have something – anything – to do with extremists taking the law into their own hands? What if any such discussion – rhetorically-charged discussion – has such an effect? Should such discussion be discouraged? Forbidden?

I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. All I know is, I‘ve been party to some remarkably gentle and respectful discussions about abortion and choice that included perspectives from all sides, and I fear that space for such discussion may be closing. How do we work against that?


Bill O’Reilly in action (video via YouTube via Gawker):


What do you think?

Comments read comments(6)
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posted June 2, 2009 at 1:20 pm

I think that extremists of any type will view any statement in the light of their extremism. In the past eight years, the West generally has gone to great lengths to separate the religion of Islam from what happened on 9/11 even though many, not most, Muslims do not find the actions of those terrorists deplorable. (That may be an incoherent statement, I am typing with one hand as I sit here and nurse my baby. My brain is moving faster than my hand.)
There are people who are prone to violence in every “movement” that there is. I really don’t see how anyone can think that the mainstream prolife movement is inciting anyone. I mean, there are loud protests every time there is an execution in this country. And the protesters call the executioners “murderers”. No one thinks that those protesters are inciting violence.
Abortion, I think, is unique among other political issues, because there is so much emotion involved. There are very few, if any, women for whom abortion is a painless decision. And many remain highly conflicted about their decision. But just because I believe that an unborn baby’s life outweighs her mother’s choice does NOT mean that I am guilty of hate. And just because there are hateful people who have anti-abortion views, does not mean that the movement is hateful.
There is no legitimate argument that killing Tiller, ESPECIALLY in church, is justifiable, much less right. It is horrible, for everyone.

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posted June 2, 2009 at 4:14 pm

Nobody calmly expressing the view that abortion is wrong and should be illegal would expect to be blamed for a nutcase deciding to commit murder. O’Reilly’s statement, “I knew we would be blamed for this,” is as good an admission as any that he was aware that his way of condemning abortion doctors in general and Tiller in particular would eventually incite some nutcase to act as this one did.
Nobody who states their opposition to abortion and their belief that it should not be legal should be seen as being in any way responsible for Tiller’s death; O’Reilly and those who attack in the same manner as he does should be.

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posted June 2, 2009 at 8:57 pm

I don’t think you can call what has happened to the issue of abortion in the United States a debate. I’m hard pressed to find an anti-abortion organization (and I’m not talking about religious organizations that ALSO happen to be anti-abortion, I’m talking about groups whose sole purpose is to oppose abortion) that doesn’t use horrific tactics including intimidation, stalking, violence, vandalism, destruction of property and hate speech to terrorize women, doctors and clinic workers (and anyone who supports or knows them). I think it’s pretty clear that these actions incite people to violence and yes, sometimes murder.
I’ve had many interesting discussions about the subject with people who feel differently than I do. I have no problem with discussion and debate. However, when anti-abortionists organize into groups like Operation Rescue, they (more often than not) become bullies and yes, terrorists. It’s not just Bill O’Reilly (though I find his “I’m the victim” rhetoric disgusting), that’s too easy and simplifies the issue. It’s all of the organizations who feel it’s their right to use these kinds of intimidation and call it “free speech”. It’s shameful and not at all conducive to discussion… though why anyone thinks they have the right to discuss my medical decisions is beyond me.

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posted June 3, 2009 at 5:46 am

I’m not going to claim to know what I’m saying, I’m writing this off the cuff.
However, I have to wonder at something.
Osama Ben Laden and Bill O’Reilly.
What’s the difference?
Both of them use language that appeals to radicals and extremists that leads to terrorism and yet only one of them is hiding in the hills somewhere in the middle of nowhere with a price on his head.

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posted June 3, 2009 at 5:49 am

That last comment is mine. Dunno why my name got struck. Bizarre.

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posted June 3, 2009 at 11:00 am

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