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?

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