Dr. George Tiller was murdered, it seems, because he performed abortions. Those who defend such actions justify them by claiming that it is entirely appropriate to kill a person in order to prevent their killing others. Are they right?
It’s important to ask this question, upsetting as it may be, because the fundamental claim (no pun intended) made in defense of Dr. Tiller’s murderer does follow a certain logic, which if correct, might justify the actions of his actions. They claim that killing Tiller saves many lives and is therefore justifiable.
According to Jewish law, the principle which they argue is, in fact correct. It’s called the law of the rodef, or pursuer. Based on a rule found in Exodus 22 and explained by the Babylonian Talmud on page 73a, this law actually demands that one preempt a murderer by killing them before they commit their crime. So again, one might come to the conclusion that the events in Kansas actually have the biblical and religious grounding that supporters of accused murdered, Scott Roeder, claim. They are wrong, at least from the perspective of Jewish law.
Under no circumstances is a fetus considered a human life, according to Jewish law. Ironically, Maimonides, calling a fetus a rodef, uses this law to explain why a baby must be aborted if the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life. While Jewish law is no fan of abortion, and does not sanction abortion on demand under all circumstances, it is never murder.
Now, I have no expectation or desire to see Jewish law become the law of the land. Nor do I expect to convince radical Christian murderers to change their ways because of a Jewish reading of scripture. But I think that all of us who want to see Dr. Tiller’s murderer prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and even more importantly, bring about an end to such murders, consider the claims made by the murderers. We must, because actually our views are ultimately not so different. Yes, I really mean that.
If we truly believed that abortions were murder, and had the ability to stop someone from performing them, would we not be justified in using all available means to do so? Would we not want someone to do just that if a person was heading off to kill one of our kids?
So how would you respond to someone who genuinely believes that is the case in this case? What arguments can be used to dissuade the future murderers from following a path to what they imagine to be a justifiable homicide and most of us know to be murder?