USA: Abortion doc gunned down in church-Comment Is Free
June 12, 2009
The Tiller Murder Wasn’t a Lone Killer’s Sick Plot; It Came Out of the Radical Anti-Abortion Movement
The murder of Dr. George Tiller is a logical outcome of increasingly violent rhetoric from pundits like Bill O’Reilly and radical pro-life groups.
George Tiller, a Kansas physician, was shot to death in church on Sunday. He was one of only a handful of doctors in the United States providing late-term therapeutic abortions for women in need — women whose pregnancies threatened their lives or their health, and women who learned that they were carrying fetuses with severe abnormalities. Women traveled across the country to see Tiller when their own physicians and local medical providers couldn’t help them. For many women, Tiller was, as one of his patients put it, “the one shining light in the worst week of my life”.
He was also a major lightening-rod in the abortion wars. Anti-choicers harassed his patients, day in and day out. They bombed his clinic. They shot him once before. They filed lawsuit after lawsuit and even convinced local prosecutors to launch criminal investigations and trials (none were successful). They published his home address and the full names of his family members on their websites. They posted information about anyone who did business with him, from where he got his coffee to where he did his dry cleaning.
They had him and his staff wearing bullet-proof vests to work every day. Tiller drove an armored car and protected his home with a state-of-the-art security system. And, to better enable stalking and harassment, they posted his daily comings and goings — including the fact that he attended services every Sunday at Reformation Lutheran Church, the place where he was ultimately shot and killed.
All because he was a licensed physician who performed legal medical procedures.
Not surprisingly, his killer is strongly suspected to be affiliated with the “pro-life” movement. If that’s the case, it makes Tiller the 10th person in the United States to be murdered by anti-choice terrorists.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Since 1977, there have been at least 17 attempted murders, 383 death threats, 153 incidents of assault or battery and three kidnappings committed against abortion providers in North America. Tiller himself survived an assassination attempt in 1993.
Some pro-life groups are issuing statements of condemnation and attempting to paint this murder as the work of an extremist. But this latest act of terrorism is, sadly, not an anomaly. It is part of a clearly-established pattern of harassment, intimidation and violence against abortion providers and pro-choice individuals. And mainstream pro-life groups shoulder much of the blame.
Pro-life organizations routinely refer to abortion as “murder“, a “genocide” and a “holocaust“. They post the full names abortion providers on their websites, along with their addresses, their license plate numbers, their photos, the names of children and the schools those children attend (sometimes with helpful Wild-West-style “Wanted” posters offering $5,000 rewards).
When you convince your followers that abortion providers are the equivalent of SS officers slaughtering innocents by the millions, tell them that “it’s all-out WAR” against pro-choicers and then provide the home addresses and personal information of the “monster” “late-term baby-killer” abortion providers you’re supposedly at war against, you can’t act surprised when those followers conclude that it’s morally justified to use the information to kill doctors.
These are not fringe groups. Conservative television personality Bill O’Reilly called Tiller’s clinic a “death mill”, referred to Tiller as a “baby killer” who was “executing babies about to be born” and said Tiller was doing “Nazi stuff” for which he “had blood on his hands”.
Frank Pavone, a Roman Catholic priest, member of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family and director of Priests for Life, posted a YouTube video on Sunday to say that he “abhors” the violence committed against Tiller but “we just don’t know and we shouldn’t jump to conclusions” in assuming that an anti-choice terrorist may have murdered Tiller — although, he concedes, someone may have assassinated him “in order to stop Tiller from killing more babies”. He continued: “When we talk about abortion, we are taking about killing. There’s no two ways about it. … This is a massive holocaust, it is killing.”
George Tiller was a mass-murderer. We grieve for him that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God. I am more concerned that the Obama administration will use Tiller’s killing to intimidate pro-lifers into surrendering our most effective rhetoric and actions. Abortion is still murder. And we still must call abortion by its proper name: murder.
Those men and women who slaughter the unborn are murderers according to the law of God. We must continue to expose them in our communities and peacefully protest them at their offices and homes, and yes, even their churches.
That’s some definition of “peacefully protesting”.
The prime suspect in Tiller’s murder appears to have frequented the Operation Rescue website (which had it’s own “Tiller Watch” section), and took part in some of those “peaceful protests” that anti-choicers hold so dear. Far from a random extremist, he appears to have been fairly entrenched in the anti-choice movement.
And if he is the person who murdered Tiller, he isn’t alone among pro-lifers who embrace Terry’s directive that “If you think abortion is murder, act like it.” (After all, Terry has posited, “Wouldn’t it have been OK to kill Hitler if you knew you could save millions of Jews?”).
Self-identified pro-lifers have celebrated Tiller’s murder, leaving hundreds of comments on rightwing blogs (and a good number at progressive and pro-choice blogs, just for good measure). Conservative writer LaShawn Barber gloated at the “irony” of “Tiller the child killer, cultivator of death” being murdered at church. A quick perusal of the front page of ProLifeBlogs.com includes such headlines as “George Tiller has killed his last baby,” “Baby killer Tiller shot, killed at church,” “Tiller the Killer killed,” “Today Tiller the Killer, now a martyr for Molech, met God” and “Tiller shot to death!”
These are not “bad apples”. They are symptomatic of (and sometimes the spokespeople for) a larger a movement that is disturbed and dangerous.
While individuals who self-identify as pro-life may be well-meaning and against violence, mainstream pro-life groups and the people who run them do not care about life, before or after birth. And while today anti-choice groups are half-heartedly condemning Tiller’s murder, they continue to use the same outlandish and inflammatory rhetoric that inspired and enabled it.
Words mean things. Anti-choicers should certainly have every right to express their views, but they must also realize that actions have consequences and their rhetoric is not harmless. If you yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, it’s reasonably foreseeable that people will panic and someone will be injured. And if you yell “Murderer!” “Baby-Killer!” and “Holocaust!” long enough, it’s reasonably foreseeable that someone will take it upon themselves to make sure that vigilante justice is done (especially if you provide the name and address of the person who you claim is committing “genocide”).
This was not the act of a lone extremist. It is one more act of violence to add to a long, long list of crimes committed by anti-choice terrorists, and it is the logical outcome of years of increasingly violent, dehumanizing and threatening rhetoric and action on the part of supposedly mainstream pro-life groups. The responsibility for George Tiller’s death surely falls on the shoulders of the person who actually pulled the trigger. But when pro-life groups did everything but give him a gun, their hands are hardly clean.
Jill Filipovic is a lawyer in Manhattan who formerly served as the Gender and Reproductive Justice editor at AlterNet. More of her writing is available online at her blog, Feministe.