Yesterday, in Wichita, Kansas, Dr. George Tiller was murdered while attending services at the Reformation Lutheran Church. The suspect, now in custody, is Scott Roeder, a 51 year-old man from Merriam, Kansas. Dr. Tiller ran one of only three clinics in the nation, the Women's Health Care Services clinic, that would perform late-term abortions, which are abortions of fetuses that are considered able to survive outside the womb.
Regardless of how one feels about the abortion issue, it is important to acknowledge that there is tragedy here, and to express sympathy for those who are grieving.
Beyond that, this murder carries weighty implications for our society.
What, again, is a terrorist?
I don't know if it will happen or not, but this murder might perhaps bring about another examination of the term "terrorist." Circumstances indicate that Mr. Roeder was motivated by religious and/or political beliefs. If he were a Muslim, instead of a Christian, we can imagine that the terrorist label would already have been bandied about in all the media.
As we have all learned, the legal and Constitutional rules are different for suspects who are "terrorists" than those who are "common criminals." Suppose there is evidence to suggest that Mr. Roeder was part of a conspiracy. In order to protect "American lives" might he be detained "indefinitely?" Would Dick Cheney and right-wing zombies advocate that he be water-boarded in order to get the names of his conspirators who, even now, could be plotting some future "terrorist acts?"
Right-wing rhetoric bears more ugly fruit
Right-wing blowhards, and especially Bill O'Reilly, have long been agitating, perhaps not that Dr. Tiller would be murdered, but that he at least would abandon his practice. And this is not the first such incident to have occurred, as we all know. In fact, there have been 10 incidents of anti-abortion violence in the United States since 1993. Dr. Tiller, himself, was shot in both arms in that year by Rachelle "Shelley" Shannon. Ms. Shannon was later convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Will Bill O'Reilly and his ilk be at all chastened by this turn of events? It seems doubtful.
Scott Roeder's "greater good"
As I've stated before, the nature of the abortion issue is such that any debate around it is going to be strident and highly emotional. To reiterate:
"...anyone who has a position on abortion will be strident in his/her advocacy. People who are 'pro-life,' who view human life as beginning at the instant that a sperm fertilizes an ovum, are of course convinced that an abortion is the willful taking of an innocent life. And it follows that such people would believe that abortion is a monstrous crime..."And so, we must imagine that Mr. Roeder believes that he has committed an evil in order to bring about a greater good. Guided by the truth that his god has placed in his heart, Roeder seems to have determined that killing Dr. Tiller would save lives... the lives of the "unborn children" that he believed Dr. Tiller was murdering.
Viewed in this light, Mr. Roeder's terrible decision reminds me of the decision made by Adrian Veidt, the villain of Alan Moore's classic novel, Watchmen. Veidt annoints himself as humanity's savior, then murders some 3 million people in order to bring about a New Age Utopia. "A world at peace...there had to be a sacrifice." Roeder was operating on a smaller scale obviously, but the philosophy is the same. (Watchmen was recently produced as a full length feature film).
For those who believe as Roeder believes, he will be cast as a noble martyr. For those who believe differently, he will be viewed as a deranged religious fanatic.
The unpleasant reality of late-term abortions
No one wants to contemplate the idea of destroying a fetus in the third trimester of gestation. The procedure is brutal, without a doubt. And it brings to the fore all those ugly emotional issues around the idea of terminating a pregnancy.
But, as Mary Mapes points out in her emotional column, late-term abortions, just like all things, cannot be categorically classified as evil. At the risk of drawing an inappropriate comparison, when an animal, a dog or a cat, is born with severe defects it is put down, quickly and as painlessly as possible, rather than subjected to a brief and agonizing life.
Late-term abortions are performed in cases where the fetus is discovered to have severe deformities that would preclude a "decent" life. That, of course is subjective. And one could argue that the person making that decision is, him-or-her-self, assuming the role of Alan Moore's Adrian Veidt.
No easy answers here, people. With issues like these, we have to make the best judgments we humanly can, codify those judgments in the form of laws, and, if they are found wanting, reexamine them. All of this must be done collectively, as a society, if we are to remain a society.
If we tolerate lawless murders like the murder of Dr. Tiller, if we attempt to justify them, we instigate an abortion of sorts: the abortion of our orderly, lawful society.