Monday, June 1, 2009

In Defense of Pro-Life Organizations

Some in the progressive websites and blogosphere have started to spread the blame around for yesterday's tragedy, targeting pro-life groups in particular.

Take this poll at DemocraticUnderground, a progressive webboard.

As of my time of checking it 77 of 79 responses say that Operation Rescue, a Kansas-based pro-life group, is a "terrorist" organization rather than a political advocacy organization.

While it's true much of their effort to end abortion has been focused on tactics that could hinge on radical -- like having thousands of their members arrested at abortion clinics for civil disobedience and renting "Truth Trucks" with aborted fetus pictures plastered to their sides -- it isn't fair to refer to them or other groups that are militant in their pro-life stances as "terrorist" unless they explicitly and officially endorse violence.

They don't.

That doesn't mean that there may not be members of these organizations who have or would take part in violence. Every large political movement picks up a few extremists. Having been part of the anti-war movement for the past few years, I wouldn't doubt that maybe one or two percent of the people I encountered wouldn't take a shot at Dick Cheney if they had the opportunity -- but they weren't representative of the group.

But how pro-life people feel about the killing of Tiller might be a separate issue. Most people I know who are against abortion do generally believe that doctors who perform abortions are murderers. If someone holds that belief, they could logically follow it to seeing the killing of an abortion-performing doctor as self-defense. So I'd gather that a lot of people who are rigidly pro-life and who denounce it as murder probably are happy that Tiller is gone.

Matt Yglesias at ThinkProgress notes that this sort of terrorism actually can be effective. If performing abortions becomes a dangerous activity, less people will do it.

Rather than demonizing pro-life groups, what I'm really worried about here is that this sort of way of settling our differences will become popularized following this.

Unlike many progressives, I do not have a very firm position on the issue either way, and I find that the issue is captured by extremes -- those on the right who rant and rave about how abortion-performing doctors should be put to death and women who seek them are sluts-tramps-amoral and those on the left who completely remove the moral aspect from the issue and pretend like it's all about "choice," which is a vulgar amoral argument in itself and not convincing to anyone who's not already 100% on board -- and it's the inability of these extremes to reconcile themselves that leads to things like this.

I don't think we'll see any reconciliation if the left jumps on this case and tries to portray everyone with doubts about abortion rights as a terrorist out to gun down physicians.

I will add, however, that some of these groups aren't doing themselves the most in the way of favors. Note Operation Rescue's official response:

"We are shocked at this morning's disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down. Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice. We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning. We pray for Mr. Tiller's family that they will find comfort and healing that can only be found in Jesus Christ."

1) We all know you're against abortion, it wasn't really necessary to add the bit about bringing Tiller "to justice." That would kind of be like if, after the 9/11 attacks, some Palestinian group were to give condolences and then say, "We'd rather pursue the right channels to bring those killed in the Pentagon who've been contributing to us being blown to bits for years to justice." It might hold some truth, but it's not a very good time to say that.

2) Adding the bit about Jesus is a little too agenda-y to me.