So-called "mainstream" anti-abortion activists have taken pains to distance themselves from the murder of Kansas Dr. George Tiller, assassinated outside his church yesterday morning. The suspect, Scott Roeder, was a member of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, whose leader, Troy Newman, issued a statement declaring himself "shocked" at Dr. Tiller's murder yesterday. (The group's former leader, Randall Terry, used the occasion to again call Tiller a "murderer" killed because he violated the "Law of God.") Newman added that the group "has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see [Tiller] brought to justice. We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning." Meanwhile, officials called the murder "the act of an isolated individual," and President Obama said in a statement, "However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence."
The problem with statements like Obama's is that they presume each side is equally responsible for the contentiousness of the abortion "debate"—that the belief that women have a right to take part in a legal medical procedure without threats and intimidation is somehow equivalent to the belief that women should be forced to carry every child to term, even if it kills them. Or, put another way, that supporting judges and elected officials who are pro-choice is the moral equivalent of standing outside a clinic and screaming at every woman who enters. Killing doctors is only the logical conclusion of a movement whose primary currency is intimidation. No other activist movement in this nation relies so heavily on the implicit threat of physical violence to get its way. And if you believe, as anti-abortion extremists do, that abortion is "murder," then murdering in retaliation makes perfect sense. An eye for an eye.
Those of us who are pro-choice—and I include in that group all shades of pro-choicers, from those who believe abortion is morally fraught to those who support the liberalization of abortion laws— will never find "common ground" with those who are anti-choice, because there is no common ground. On one side, we have those who want to protect women's right to obtain a legal medical procedure; on the other, we have those who think abortion is murder and will use any means necessary to prevent women from obtaining one (even while they fight against measures, like accurate sex education and emergency contraception, that would make abortion less common). On one side, we have those who believe in women's right to determine their own destiny; on the other, we have those who believe women should cede control of our bodies to the state. On one side, we have those who attempt to protect women's access to abortion by supporting pro-choice judges and elected officials; on the other, we have those who use violence and the threat of violence to intimidate women and abortion providers. Tell me, where is the common ground between those two groups?
So no, President Obama, those who believe in a woman's right to choose should not "open our hearts and minds to those who may not think like we do." Because "common ground," in this case, is code for ceding away our rights— women's rights—in the interest of calming a storm we didn't create. And because you don't negotiate with terrorists—whether they're threatening doctors or taking hostages.
Obama declared himself "shocked" by Tiller's murder. But why? Tiller had been shot before. For years, he had worn a bullet-proof vest, driven an armored car, and protected himself with security guards. As Jill Filipovic notes, anti-abortion activists had harassed his patients, bombed his clinic, and published his address and the addresses of everyone who did business with him. So why should anyone profess surprise when one took those actions to their logical conclusion?
Tiller provided abortions past 21 weeks, to women whose pregnancies had gone tragically, life-threateningly wrong. They were women, as Lynn Paltrow notes, with wanted pregnancies "who learned that their baby had no brain, or kidneys growing on the outside of their bodies or things their doctors described to them as 'severe fetal cardiac malformations.'" They were rape victims as young as 10 or 11, some of them too young to even realize they had had periods. For these women and girls, Tiller was a godsend. His death leaves the US with just two doctors willing to perform late-term therapeutic abortions—and a medical community in which providing late-term abortions will be seen, rightly, as increasingly dangerous. And who can blame them? Terrorism works. Its means is intimidation—don't go into the clinic or you'll be harassed and threatened, don't provide abortions or we'll harass your family, don't provide late-term abortions or you'll be killed. In the battle to eliminate women's right to abortion, the terrorists are—undeniably—winning.
Washington State pro-choice groups are holding a candlelight vigil in Cal Anderson Park, 635 11th Ave, at 6:00 tonight. NARAL Pro-Choice Washington is Twittering updates here.