Tiller Aftermath: The New Politics of Fear?

I’ve been genuinely disturbed by the nature of the reaction to this killing. In the aftermath of 9/11, there were those who used the situation (out of fear or sheer political opportunism) to restrict the civil rights of Muslim-Americans, to promote the unrelated war in Iraq (which had been Project for a New American Century’s goal for years before 2001), and to promote and harness a climate of fear to advance their goals. While there were legitimate points of criticism (Muslim-American groups seemed more interested in protecting themselves than in extending any real sympathy towards the grieving, and some, like CAIR, have since been found to have terrorist ties), the response was generally ugly and uncalled-for. Understandable, perhaps, because of the nature of human reactions, but ugly nonetheless. President Obama (wisely, in my opinion), denounced these tactics as the “politics of fear. “

I have to wonder if the death of Tiller, a single abortionist, is going to be the pro-choice movement’s attempt to create and harness that same sort of fear. We’ve seen signs of this already. NOW has declared:

“Bringing the killers to justice is not enough – the Justice Department and
the Department of Homeland Security must root out and prosecute as domestic
terrorists and violent racketeers the criminal enterprise that has organized and
funded criminal acts for decades. “

NOW has long viewed any dissent from abortion-on-demand as sexist, and thus, unacceptable for public debate. They’ve worked quickly here to try and reinforce that: now they’re trying to get the AG to use RICO to fine the entire pro-life movement (similar to how the KKK can be fined, as a group promoting criminal activity, for Klan-related hate crimes). That is how NOW views pro-lifers.

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, until recently the president of the UCC’s Chicago Theological Seminary, has written for the Washington Post, arguing that

  • “if the anti-abortion movement were honest with itself, and with the American people, it would admit that its ‘absolute truth claims’ lead inexorably to attitudes held by those who commit crimes against abortion providers: ‘the end justifies any means.'”
  • “It is important for the country as a whole for the anti-abortion movement to climb down off of the pedestal of ‘pro-life’ and work in a practical way to reduce abortion through honest sex education of young people, safe and available contraception, and the provision of health care and other economic supports for poor women who want to have a child. “
  • “Violence has been a part of the anti-abortion movement from the beginning, from the overt violence of the murder of other abortion providers to the covert violence of harassing women trying to get to clinics for reproductive services.”

While I would agree that abortion is a very violent business, the “covert violence” of abortion isn’t the pro-lifers who try their hardest to dissuade women entering clinics from making such a tragic mistake: it’s the abortion itself. It’s so thoroughly sterile, medical, passionless, and seemingly harmless that it doesn’t comport with what we imagine death to look like: it is as close as you can get to an unviolent murder, if such a thing can exist. Foucault criticized the death penalty for the same thing: when you are drawn and quartered, individuals are forced to confront what it means for society to kill a person; when it’s a silent IV-drip killer, it seems harmless enough, and so it happens with little opposition to lots of people.

Thistlethwaite’s “solution,” that pro-lifers acknowledge that there’s no real Truth (because absolute Truth is inherently violent, don’t you see?! Because violence includes disagreeing with someone openly, don’t you see?!”), and start handing out condoms with NARAL is reflected in much of the pro-choice reaction. What the Catholic Church thinks about condoms is no matter: they’re pro-absolute Truth, and thus, hatemongers whose beliefs “inexorably” lead to murdering those who disagree.

But this may actually disturb me more: It’s a Kansas City Star editorial with the audicious title, “With Tiller slaying, abortion opponents lose their moral standing.” It contains the following bone-chilling claim:

“So far, we know little about the suspect, other than that he was driving a blue Ford when the cops stopped him outside Gardner. However, the motive for the crime we can all surmise, given the vitriolic rhetoric aimed at Tiller these past couple of decades by anti-abortion activists. And if we’re right about that, then we know the identities of his accomplices. They include everyone who has ever called Tiller’s late-term abortion clinic a murder mill. Whoever called Tiller ‘Tiller the Killer.’ Groups that fomented hate toward a man who, rightly or wrongly, believed he was serving a noble purpose by being one of the few doctors in the country who performed late-term abortions. Hate. Not heated opposition. Not strong disagreement. But blind hatred.”

That’s right. Anyone who thinks that late-term abortions are murder, and that those who voluntarily perform them are murderers [and note, even most abortionists steer clear of these ghastly procedures, as the article notes in its roundabout way] are accomplicies to murder. That’s what he’s actually arguing.

In contrast to the fear-mongering we’ve seen from these pro-choicers, the facts show that Tiller is the 4th abortion doctor killed, and only the 8th person killed for their involvment with the abortion industry. Not “eighth person this year.” Eighth person ever. That’s about how many children are killed from abortion, on average, in 200 seconds. These deaths are still a tragedy, but the attempt to turn this into a string of violent deaths (as NOW and many others have done) is downright dishonest. Literally, soda machines have been responsible for more deaths (about 2 deaths per year) than anti-abortion violence. I don’t say this to minimize the tragedy of Tiller (or anyone else’s) death, but to keep things in perspective at a time when they seem very much not to be.

I mentioned earlier that many people felt that Muslim American groups said too little after 9/11, opting to defend themselves instead. Pro-life groups around the country seem to have learned from this, and have done a generally fantastic job of quickly and unequivocally denouncing this murder for what it is. Pro-life individuals, however, have been much more hit-and-miss. Perhaps it would serve well to remember how obnoxious and unwelcome organizational self-serving seemed immediately following 9/11 (or any tragedy one remembers feeling personally). At the same time, when the pro-life movement is under attack in toto (with legal action threatened by NOW), this isn’t the time to tie our hands behind our backs to show our revulsion at these fringe nuts.

Daily Kos has responded to this situtation with a round-up on insensitive blog comments gloating in Tiller’s death (warning: the material is disturbing, with the Kos blogger aptly ending with “I need a shower”). The blog comments he talks about are genuinely disgusting, but they’re hardly representative. You have to be looking for someone to defend Tiller’s murder (and have to settle, not for an organization, not even for a blog post, but for assorted comments). This cherry-picking is another attempt to paint the entire pro-life movement as anti-life, and ok with killing.

Rod Dreher sums up the media drama following Tiller’s murder: “This will not end well for us. It never has. “

1 Comment

  1. You also have to take a look at the comments on Kos… some are anti-life persons that are putting on the coat of anonymity in order to paint the pro-lifers as hatemongers.

    Great article by the way!

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