Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Murder Of Doctor George Tiller

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?]


one L bill said...

Maybe I'm the only one asking this question: Why was he rendering services, in a church on Sunday morning, in front of his wife, friends and neighbors?

JBW said...

I'm not a churchgoer one L so I'm not fully versed in the term "rendering services" as you might be using it. As far as I can tell, he was serving as an usher at the time and was shot in the foyer of the church.

Anonymous said...

I wrote a post about this 2 days ago.
I identified myself as a person against abortion, but pro choice. Who am I to dictate such a choice to any woman?
Abortion is the law of the land. It is legal, within limits.
There are also laws making it a criminal offense to incite people to commit violence. Hard to prove because of free speech protections, but not a rare charge, or conviction.
Abortion is a gross and for late term, dangerous procedure.
Dr. Tiller, by law (part of Roe v Wade) has to detail the danger to a woman if she were to carry to term, in order for the late term abortion to be legal.
It is not (as O'rielly would have us believe) as easy as giving the doctor $5,000 and anyone can have the procedure.
Pro-Life groups had Dr. Tiller charged with breaking the restrictions of Roe v Wade and doing illegal abortions. He was acquitted of all (16) charges. As you can imagine, his record keeping is and must be very detailed.
Choice (not just regarding abortion) is the base of a free and democratic society.
No matter what my feelings ( or any other Americans feelings) I respect the law and a woman's legal choice.
To murder someone performing legal, medical procedures deserves the highest prosecution possible.
To murder someone while they are praying to their God, must be a sin of great magnitude.
This is not the first abortion doctor killed in America, nor will it be the last. These criminals will stop at nothing, including murder, to get their way.
They should try the normal way to change laws in our society.
If they fail to change the law, they have to live with the reality that a majority of Americans do not agree with their position on abortion.

JBW said...

I agree with most of what you say here, Time. Thanks for stopping by.

Benjamin Blattberg said...

re: Update 2: what I've been seeing on the right is a reaction that mostly goes like this: "The murder of this hell-destined baby-killer is a shocking crime; I totally abhor the murder of this man who killed 60,000 little angels."

I think some of them are not entirely conscious of what they're saying, which leads to some unfortunate "but" statements, like: "This is a terrible crime. But on the other hand, he was so controversial--almost like he was asking for it."

In other words, there's a lot of "reap what he sowed" and "got what he deserved" sentiments burbling to the surface.

JBW said...

I'm sure that there are more than a few right-wing douchebags who are secretly celebrating his murder Ben JB, just as there would most assuradly be more than a few left-wing douchebags who would do the same if Dick Cheney were assassinated. At least the nutballs who are celebrating publicly are being honest about it.

Tim said...

Best post ever, thanks JBW. This is a rational response to an irrational crime, one that many on the opposite end of the spectrum are often incapable of discerning.

I agree with your sentiments entirely. It's not an easy subject, but it is ultimately a woman's choice.

My biggest bitch about the self-righteous people who cannot bring themselves to condemn this murder, honestly and without caveats, is how they are deflecting the tragedy by pointing out how other people are reacting, i.e. the pro-choice crowd.

This type of behavior is exactly what the DHS report a couple of weeks ago got the right all up in arms about.

JBW said...

Appreciate the compliment, Tim. I wrote this last night. It took quite a while and by the time I finished the Chardonnay was definitely affecting things. I'm glad it remained coherent to the end.

Van Zan said...

Excellent post.

Tim said...

Speaking of chardonnay, when I'm president, you must be able to tell the difference between La Crema and Charles Shaw in order to get a) citizenship, b) naturalization and/or c) passport.

JBW said...

The day I can't tell the difference is the day I stop drinking, Tim.

cracker said...

I wonder what one would call a person who is 100% pro-life, but also believes that Roe v Wade should stand and that Womens health services should always offer an available option for safe, regulated abortion procedures. I wanna say "pro-logic", but I think that means something else.

"We are captive to language, and he who defines first, usually wins."(thats a quote of my very own)

The term "Pro-life" was co-opted to mean something else, and folks who believe in choice got pigeon holed early on."Pro-abortion" is an inflammatory term that has never been rejected by the folks of choice and logic.

These definitions have driven this debate......to deeply disturbing, frightening realities.....like the tragic, unnecessary, useless death, of a doctor who had the courage to save one life instead of losing two.

Anonymous said...

Tiller was a baby killer
Baby killers must be put out of action
You can't just wait years for the law to change.
The fact that the Clinic where Tiller practice is going to be closed forever accomplished, with one bullet, what years of protests have been unable to achieve.
Tillers death should be a warning to all abortionists that they await the same fate if they do not stop their barbaric practices.
Who would hesitate to put a bullet in Hitler's head or Osama Bin Ladins? Who would hesitate kill someone who was threatening the lives of their children?
When you have the chance to put a killer out of his misery and no one else will do it, is it not your moral obligation to do the job.

Tiller is gone and his clinic is closed. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!

JBW said...

I think that Anonymous (if that is his real name) is stating what a lot of people on the right are thinking about this murder, despite the vociferous public outcry against it. He's probably a fairly contemptible person but at least he's being honest.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure anonymous speaks for millions of people.
I call them criminals.
I call them anti-American.
They hate America.
They refuse to obey the laws of America.
They promote murder, which makes them anti-God, and against God's commandment of "Shall not kill."
They also prove that this act of murder was not the act of a "lone wolf" nut job, but the act of an organized terrorist group.
The FBI also thinks they are an organized terror group, and that is how the FBI is treating the investigation and prosecution of these people.
America would be better off without these criminals in our society.
If they don't leave America, then our justice system should put them in jail for a long time.
"Can't wait for the laws to change." Is the statement of a criminal and against everything all good Americans believe.
More correctly, Americans, by a large majority, have made abortion legal and these people cannot accept that, just another sign that they are anti-American.
Worse, anonymous probably considers themselves a follower of Christ, as if Christ wants his followers to go around killing people.
Using violence to reach a goal is criminal oppression against a law abiding society.
Anti-social, compared to the normal people in society who follow the peaceful route of how to change a law, within our legal system.
Be thankful that our laws allow you the right to speak your mind, but as you use that right to spew your hate, there are laws against inciting violence and you anonymous have just promoted murder, which is illegal in the law of inciting violence.
I guess you know that, because of course, you are cowardly anonymous.
Show us the deepness of your principles.
Reveal your identity and be willing to accept the legal consequences of your free speech.

JBW said...

I agree with a lot of what you're saying Time, but I have to disagree with you that it's un-American to disagree with a law or want to change it. There are several laws I myself disagree with and would like to see changed.

The difference between Anon and myself is that I don't condone individuals taking the law into their own hands and meting out justice as they see fit. Changing the law is fine, ignoring the law leads to lawlessness.

Anonymous said...

I'm saying it is unamerican to not follow the law, to break the law. As I said before, there are ways to change the law in America and they do not include violence, or murder. It is perfectly American to disagree with any law. I disagree with many laws, but I don't break the laws i disagree with.

JBW said...

I do. If my buddy's 20 year old nephew comes back from his first tour in Iraq, I'm going to buy that kid a beer. If my friend's mother who has MS is in constant pain, I'm going to procure some cannabis for her if she asks me to. If my gay friend's partner isn't allowed into his hospital room because they can't get married, I'm going to help him sneak in.

I recognize a distinction between doing the "right" thing and doing the "lawful" thing, and sometimes breaking the law is the right thing to do because some laws are wrong. Read Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience". Basic human rights and freedoms are more important than laws and a person's rights should supersede what is lawful.

The right to own slaves was a law for many years in this country, as was a punishment for helping escaped slaves travel North on the Underground Railroad. Now as you said, there were lawful ways to change these laws and they eventually worked, but I refuse to believe that helping those escaped slaves was wrong, nor will I believe that it was un-American.

America was founded and built on dissent against laws that were considered unjust by the people living under them. Now obviously I don't condone vigilantism or murder or any other actions which curtail the rights and freedoms of others such as in Tiller's case but I do take exception to your assertion that breaking the law is un-American. I believe that our very conception of freedom is what makes us American, and that all laws should follow from this supposition.

Anonymous said...

If someone is willing to face the consequences of breaking the law, then let their conscience be their guide.
I can go along with the items you mentioned and more, but not crimes of violence, murder, or inciting crimes of violence, or murder as anonymous did.
That is a far cry from civil disobedience, or protesting in public against what you believe to be unjust laws.
I once fought and protested to change the drinking law from 21 to 18. Made sense to me that someone expected to fight and die for his country should have the right to drink alcohol. That change in the law was made. Over the years the law got reversed and I again disagree with raising the drinking age. I would not break the law now, and serve or buy alcohol to a minor, because I'm not willing to risk jail for breaking that law.
But again, the laws are made by the majority, or at least the majority that are willing to show up and vote.
Like the guys who burned their draft cards and went to jail for it, but they had the courage of their convictions, they identified themselves, made a public issue of their actions to educate the public, and were willing to accept their punishment.
People who put spikes into trees to protest the cutting of trees are wrong because the lumberjack (trying to make a legal living) will get hurt or killed when they try to cut the tree with the spike in it.
That is not what we (anonymous) are talking about here.
Our laws make clear distinctions between crimes of violence and non violence.
Those who break the highway speed limit get a ticket, not jail time. Those who deal drugs get a longer sentence than users. Those who commit crimes with a gun get longer sentences than those who do not.
The law has a reputation of being slow and keeping up with the wishes of the people, that is no excuse for people taking the law into their own hands.
In our system it is the majority that decides what is right and what is wrong, and yes, the majority can be immoral and wrong.
I have been forced to live with many laws I disagree with because the majority has decided it is wrong, yet the majority have spoken and I have an obligation as a citizen to obey the law.
Your point is well made and taken, but I won't include in your idea the ideas that anonymous is pushing.
If my use of unamerican is overstated, it was to make the point that we are a nation of laws, so to break the law, is to be against America's laws.
As good citizens we have an obligation to protest and change unjust laws, in a civil manner.

JBW said...

Time, I'm perfectly willing to face the consequences of breaking the law (if I get caught, which I will try very hard not to do). I think that we would agree on most of the points discussed here (although I fail to see how dealing drugs is any more violent than buying them, or violent at all in most cases) and yes, as good citizens we have an obligation to protest and change unjust laws, in a civil manner.

But I again have to disagree that America is primarily a nation of laws. I believe that we are a nation of rights and freedoms, and that our laws should exist to ensure these concepts. To break the law may be to be against America's laws, but it is not to be against America (or un-American, if you prefer).

Anonymous said...

The only thing that protects those rights and freedoms, is our laws.

If one considers themselves a good American citizen (one who protects our rights and freedoms by obeying and protecting the laws) then someone who does not, can be considered a bad, or "un" American.

That does not mean that American laws are correct in defining what is morally right or wrong. It simply defines an act as being legal or illegal.

If you bring your sick friend cannabis, you might be doing the right thing morally, but it is illegal, you are breaking the law, you can be classified a criminal.

Cannabis used to be legal, now it is illegal.

Abortion used to be illegal, now it is legal.

Slavery used to be legal, now it is illegal.

Drinking alcohol at 18 used to be legal, now it is illegal.

Those changes only reflect the current morality of a voting generation, not a constant or consistent morality as defined by law, or government, and especially not an American permanent philosophy of morality.

I am speaking to the legal process of America, not my personal philosophy of what I think is right, or wrong, or moral.

Personally, I am a social liberal and cannot stand the fact that our laws deny freedoms and rights to individuals that government has no right to deny people (like gays marrying).

Our forefathers were law abiding citizens.

They found it oppressive that they had no say (representation) in the laws they were forced to live under, not to mention that certain laws were unjust by there thinking.

Once they set up laws that were representative of the majority (by democratic vote) of the American citizens, then they accepted that enforcing the law was just and essential to a peaceful society that protected the rights (as defined then) of all.

I'm sure (by their morality) they would disagree with some of our current laws, but they would work to change those laws, not simply become criminals. Because they have a legal course now, to change those laws. Back then they did not.

At some point government must be forced to accept morality and the decent treatment of people. And the same goes for the citizens of the country.

The Civil War started over the legality of whether or not the South had a right to leave the Union.

The issue of why they wanted to leave the Union (slavery) was not the reason the federal government had a right to force (at the point of a gun) the South to remain in the Union.

Lincoln alone, acting as President, made slavery illegal by signing a document. When the South lost, they were then bound to follow that new law.

The South continued to discriminate against blacks through a legal process (Jim Crow laws) and segregation. It took our country way to long to legally rectify that situation. But we did it through the law, not going back to killing each other.

Seems to me that even though millions suffered discrimination, the legal process to a resolution was better than starting another war and killing off another 600,000 Americans.

It was a lack of moral character in the people, that allowed these practices to go on for to long. Yet, it did reflect the wishes of the people at the time.

A hard choice to be sure, but then following the law is never easy, just preferable.

Following the law has a funny way of taking us, to where we do not want to go.