I've refrained from commenting on this news story partly because I've just been too busy to write a decent post about it and partly because I wanted to let all of the facts come out before I spoke. I know that many aspects of the blogosphere are about being expedient and timely but I've moved past the mindset that made me want to be the first to speak about any given subject or event to one where having more information at hand is much more preferable.
For those who have not yet heard, George Tiller was a late-term (that's the correct medical terminology; "partial-birth" is a manufactured and deliberately incendiary political term) abortionist in Kansas, who apparently had a policy of performing abortions at any stage in the pregnancy if he deemed it medically feasible. He was one of only three doctors in the country to perform the procedure this late in pregnancy and many women traveled to Kansas to avail themselves of his services.
Before I continue, full disclosure: I am vehemently against the practice of performing late-term abortions except in the most dire of emergencies, any and all of which I'm not qualified to determine here. As someone who reluctantly identifies myself as pro-choice, I like most others am decidedly not "pro-abortion" by any definition of that term. I know that it sounds cliche but I really do believe that abortions should be safe, legal and rare. This means concentrating societal and governmental resources on comprehensive sex education programs, the dissemination of any and all forms of contraception to anyone who requests them and effective, professional single-mother and couples counseling about adoption for anyone considering abortion as a viable option.
I use the term "reluctantly" because I do find abortion to be such a horrible procedure, yet I'm loathe to outlaw it altogether. I've spent a lot of time wrestling with this issue, mainly because of the words and arguments put forth by hot momma, wife of occasional commenter BD, both of whom I respect a great deal and are two of my dearest friends in the world. And I say that I'm loathe to outlaw the practice altogether because history has shown that, just as with the prohibition of alcohol and recreational drugs (just two examples that come immediately to mind), people will always find a way to procure the desired, outlawed substance or service by illegal means and those means are almost always more dangerous to the individual than the safer, legal alternative.
The other reason I'm reluctant to outlaw the practice is because, put most simply, I'm a man and will never know what it's like to have to make that choice, nor to have that choice taken away from me. As much as I dislike the idea of abortion, I just can not bring myself to tell a woman what to do with her own body. I believe that choice should be hers, and hers alone.
Now some might say that simultaneously holding these seemingly disparate views makes me a hypocrite, that if I'm against late-term abortion that I should also be as equally opposed to the performing of all abortions at any stage of a pregnancy. And maybe they're right. I'm only human and I do try to be honest about my own failings whenever I can. But I would also counter that most people with any kind of objection to the practice are just as much hypocrites as myself.
When someone calls abortion "murder" and the physician performing that abortion a "murderer", should not the woman who chose to undergo the procedure be similarly labeled as well? And if this is the case, then should not both of these individuals be tried as murderers by our justice system? I know a lot of people who oppose abortion because they consider it to be the equivalent of taking the life of another human being, yet their views become a lot less strident at the prospect of actually trying and summarily executing every woman in the country who has undergone the procedure. This reluctance reveals the dangers of holding black or white beliefs in a world where almost all of the hard choices are decidedly grey.
On that note, another aspect of my own hypocrisy is that I delineate the differences between a five-day-old blastocyst and a viable eight-month old fetus when determining whether either should be allowed to be terminated. Full disclosure, again: I do not believe in the existence of any type of intangible human soul so I discount that argument (one which I'd be happy to have during a different discussion) as it applies here. As such, the blastocyst (a cluster of 70-100 undifferentiated cells) does not feel any pain when it is expelled from the womb because it does not possess pain receptors, the nerve cells needed to transmit pain nor a brain capable of experiencing or realizing pain and suffering. And while I'm not a doctor I definitely know that an eight-month-old fetus can feel and experience pain, and I am very much against the infliction of any kind of unnecessary pain on innocent children.
After that unintentionally long segue, let me return to my original line of thought: I'm writing this post because George Tiller was shot and killed during services in his Wichita, Kansas church Sunday morning in front of his wife and their friends and neighbors. The alleged shooter, one Scott Roeder, is a member of both The Freemen, a radical anti-government group and Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion rights group that has persisted in protesting Tiller and his clinic over the past two decades. During that time, Tiller has been previously shot, his clinic has been bombed and similarly subjected to various other forms of vandalism and destruction.
Much has been said and written lately around the blogosphere about the apparent influence and culpability of cable talk show host Bill O'Reilly on these horrific events. O'Reilly had recently made a practice of demonizing Tiller on his show for weeks at a time, sending a producer to harass him about his legal medical clinic and had routinely called him "Tiller, the baby killer" and referred to his practice as a "death-mill" on his national forum. As this situation seems to closely mirror the multiple police slayings committed a month ago in Pittsburgh I'd like to reiterate my own take on that horrific incident:
Now obviously Poplawski is the only person responsible for the deaths of these three men; they died by his hand and his alone. But let's be honest here: this young man did not create these paranoid delusions or plan these violent acts in a vacuum. The steady drumbeat of right-wing talk radio, bloggers and other media about Obama taking away our guns, about re-education camps and civil indoctrination squads, about the supposed descent of this country into socialist/Marxist chaos, about capitulation to our enemies and secret Muslim conspiracies has had a definite effect on the mentally deficient and morally weak amongst us, and for those who have been spewing this garbage to now throw their hands up as if they were not at least tangentially culpable for creating the atmosphere that helped lead to this tragedy is an act of outright dishonesty and rank cowardice.Just replace the names of the killers and the statements about firearms with those about abortion and I believe the quote still stands on its own as it relates to the current situation. So obviously O'Reilly bears no direct responsibility for this murder. Our constitution gives him the absolute right to say whatever he wants about anyone as long as it's factually true or at least stated as pure opinion, and I wouldn't have that any other way. Now, did O'Reilly's statements and pronouncements have any effect on Tiller's murderer? Who's to say? And even if they did, it most likely can not be proven conclusively that his words alone were the trigger (no pun intended) for the shooter's actions.
But this line of thought does force one to ponder the effect that the anti-abortion crowd's hyperbole has on those who would potentially do bodily harm to doctors who perform abortion procedures. The intentionally hateful and personal rhetoric employed by these organizations is most likely used merely to call attention to their cause in a media environment where measured thoughts and arguments can easily get lost amongst an incessant cacophony but when these inflammatory statements find and touch the mind of the occasionally deranged individual they can result in violent and sometimes deadly consequences, Tiller's murder being one of them.
In summation, I do not blame anti-abortion choice activists nor Bill O'Reilly nor anyone else besides the actual gunman for George Tiller's murder, and I would have strong words with anyone else who did. I hold a worldview of individual, personal responsibility, and I will never blame the effect of the words from some for the outcomes of the actions of others. That said, one also can not ignore the effect that those same words and their context and power have on the less than rational members of our society, especially when they irresponsibly address an issue as incendiary and divisive as abortion.
We are a society and nation of laws, and it is only through the respect for those laws and their moderating influence on our worst impulses that we can strive to be better than those same base passions. While I did not celebrate George Tiller's actions in life, I similarly do not celebrate the actions of the man who violently took that life from him, nor do I endorse the actions of those who would try to take advantage of this awful situation to score cheap political points. All human life is precious, and that is the thought that should be the driving force behind our collective discussion of this tragic and dreadful event.
[Update: In writing this post, I made a serious effort to refrain from invoking the religious aspects that almost assuredly accompany a murder as politically and socially relevant as this one. I chose to do this because I believe that most religious folks are essentially good people, and that most people who commit horrific acts in the name of their religions are intentionally subverting the basic message of those belief systems for their own personal means.
That said, Professor P.Z. Myers, a fellow atheist, contributes these words:
In many ways, though, his religiosity is going to be a distraction. It simply doesn't matter, and the strongest conclusion we can draw from it is that religion fails to provide a reasonable framework for morality, since it is so easily and regularly subverted to rationalize evil. Focus instead on the root of the problem: Roeder was an amoral, obsessed nut who found support for his delusions among a particularly ugly American subculture. Gods don't matter. And when you think gods do, you lose sight of the truth: other people matter.The simple phrase "other people matter" condenses my own thoughts and words down in a way that a verbal windbag like myself can hardly ever hope to achieve.]
[Update II: I watched O'Reilly's response to this murder last night and the thing that struck me the most was his constantly quoting the number of abortions Dr. Tiller was reported to have performed or authorized: 60,000. In fact, O'Reilly quoted that number at least four or five times in direct reference to Tiller's death. My question is this: If Tiller and other doctors like himself are really inhuman murderers running so-called "death-mills", why would the total number of abortions they performed matter one wit? Murder is murder, right? Is a murderer guilty of 60 murders a thousand times less deserving of death than one to whom 60,000 murders can be attributed? If not, then what is O'Reilly's point in emphasizing the number so incessantly, other than to further demonize Tiller in the eyes and minds of his viewers as some kind of thinly-veiled attempt to somehow, at least partially, justify his violent death by another's hand?]