Daniel Larison and Scott Richert sound the right notes in arguing that there is no pro-life justification for George Tiller’s murder, bringing up some points I didn’t cover in my rejoinder to Jacob Sullum. Tiller’s murderer neither had the civil authority to wield the sword on behalf of the common good nor was he acting in defense of himself or his extended family. The tragedy of legal abortion is that those who have these duties are complicit: the government permits abortion and, since Roe v. Wade, has called it a constitutional right; the mother of the child is the one seeking the abortion; the father is all too often, though certainly not always, the one paying for or otherwise promotion the abortion.
These facts are relevant even when considering another commonly heard rationale for antiabortion violence: the “Good Samaritan” acting in defense of unborn children who have been abandoned unto death by their parents and government. After Tiller’s murder I received an email asking, “If your neighbor’s house is being invaded by a deranged killer, and you have a gun, you would use it, right?” And indeed, I hope I would act to disable a would-be killer terrorizing my neighbor if I was able to do so.
But in the case of abortion, it is my neighbor who is inviting in the killer. There is no moral certainty that they will not seek another one or use an abortifacient, whereas I can be morally certain I’m actually going to save my neighbor’s life if I’m successful according to my correspondent’s example. Most importantly, we live in a community where virtually everyone understands that invading a home and killing its occupants is wrong, probably including the killer himself. No one would confuse my actions to save my neighbor with the actions of the home invader.
None of that is true with abortion. In this country there are millions of otherwise decent people, with good intentions and of sound mind, who do not see anything wrong with abortion. There are millions more who have moral qualms about abortion but would be confused by violent acts by avowed pro-lifers against abortionists, hardening their hearts against the unborn rather than forming their consciences against abortion. And the people who most need to have their consciences formed against abortion are the mothers who seek them, the fathers who pay for them, and the government officials who act to legalize or subsidize the practice. In addition to not having any right or duty to dispense lethal violence, Tiller’s murderer is likely unleashing greater evils than the evil he sought to prevent.
Sometimes violence, even lethal violence, is justified. But a real pro-life ethic seeks to limits the use of violence, put strict conditions on when and by what authority the taking of a life can occur, and to keep private individuals from being able to easily make decisions about who lives and who dies. However reprehensible Tiller’s line of work was, there are many things that can be said about a fanatic gunning a man down in cold blood while he is at church. “Pro-life” isn’t one of them.
UPDATE: The Weekly Standard carries an interesting article about the thinking of antiabortion killers.