As Jen mentioned in this morning’s Quickies, yesterday Dr. George Tiller was murdered on his way to church, most likely by an extreme fundamentalist who disagreed with Tiller’s decision to provide women with therapeutic abortions. Tiller was well-known for running one of the only abortion-providing clinics in Kansas, where he and his team gave women extensive counseling before and after procedures. He was by all accounts an amazing man and a hero, especially to the many women whose lives he saved.
Tiller had previously been shot in 1993, and was a victim of a long-running campaign of hate directed at him from Christian “pro-life” groups (Amanda Marcotte recently used the apt phrase “forced childbirth terrorist” to describe the killer).
The hate campaign against Tiller wasn’t just some fringe loonies protesting the clinic. It included Bill O’Reilly using his show as a platform to call Tiller a murderer, stalk the doctor and his associates, and senselessly accuse him of covering up child rape.
This event has spurred an important discussion about the responsibility we take when our words spur others to action. While O’Reilly and other pro-life/pro-forced birth/anti-abortion/etc. groups will decry this murder, are they in fact culpable?
Like many others in the feminist blogosphere, I think that yes, they are.
The best piece I’ve read on this issue comes courtesy of Jesse at Pandagon, who breaks down the difference between anti-abortionists and other ideological groups, pointing out the culture of hate and fear that the pro-lifers have fostered:
There is no other â€œmainstreamâ€ political movement in this country which keeps as a part of its bag of tricks the intent to frighten those in the midst of a legally protected activity.
Pro-gun control liberals donâ€™t show up at gun shows and hector attendees. (And if your response is, â€œDamn right they donâ€™t, because theyâ€™d get shot,â€ youâ€™re proving my point.) Fundamentalists donâ€™t have to worry about fleets of bike-riding hippies showing up at the entrance to their church every Sunday, telling them that their God is false. Religious â€œfamily planningâ€ clinics donâ€™t live in constant fear of a Molotov cocktail flying through their plate glass window, donâ€™t have to train their employees on how to handle bomb threats, donâ€™t need to worry about their clientsâ€™ safety on the way from their car to the front door. But if you provide abortion services – even if youâ€™re not actually providing an abortion to the person coming in the door, even though it has been repeatedly declared legal – you live in fear.
The anti-abortionists have regularly associated abortion-providers with Nazis (with fetuses playing the parts of Jews, Gypsies, atheists and others), an association that is as insulting to those affected by the Holocaust as it is to doctors. This kind of language has two results: it cheapens the tragedy of the Holocaust and demonizes doctors, transforming them from human beings into monsters who deserve to be harassed, insulted, and gunned down.
While I agree with Jesse’s message, I disagree slightly with the first sentence quoted above. Unfortunately, anti-abortionists aren’t the only group using fear as a successful tactic.
For instance, animal rights extremists (a word I use to differentiate them from “activists”) thrive on fear, encouraging the bombings of animal testing facilities as well as more general harassment of anyone who they feel mistreats animals. Groups like the Animal Liberation Front and PETA skip real dialogue in order to focus on mindless violence and intimidation, leaving the rest of us non-extremist animal lovers wishing they’d stop making us all look so stupid. In response, many scientists (and politicians, and other innocent people) really do have to worry about their safety.
There’s another group that sprang to my mind when reading Jesse’s post: creationists.
There’s an enormous overlap between creationists and anti-abortionists, since they all tend to be fundamentalist Christians. So in a way, I’m talking about one group of people with two distinct focuses.
At the moment, fundamentalists aren’t nearly as violent about their creationist views as they are about their anti-abortionist viewsâ€”but might that change? Too many of them already draw parallels between scientists and Nazis, most notably Ben Stein in his horrible movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. This isn’t just a cheap, throwaway Godwin-ish comparisonâ€”Stein literally believes that the theory of evolution and natural selection directly led to and caused the Holocaust, and therefore scientists who consider evolution a fact (i.e., pretty much all scientists) are Nazis.
If anti-abortionists are driven to murder because they believe doctors are murderers, will the same extremists react in the same way if they believe scientists are murderers? And if they do, how much responsibility would rest on the shoulders of Ben Stein and his ilk?