Sunday’s murder of Dr George Tiller in Kansas reduces to a handful the number of doctors in the United States still prepared to offer late term abortions. Dr. Warren Hern, one of perhaps two others publicly advertising the service, explains why:

Every doctor that does abortions has been under an assassination threat for decades. The anti-abortion movement message is, “Do what we tell you to do or we will kill you,” and they do. […]I get messages from these people saying, “Don’t bother wearing a bulletproof vest, we’re going for a head shot.”

Hern’s clinic carries the motto: “Specializing in Late Abortions for Fetal Disorders.” Tiller’s service was similar. Andrew Sullivan carries this testimony about his work:

My wife and I spent a week in Dr. Tiller’s care after we learned our 21 week fetus had a severe defect incompatible with life. The laws in our state prevented us from ending the pregnancy there, and Dr. Tiller was one of maybe three choices in the whole nation at that gestational age. My wife just called with the news of his murder, weeping.

[…]

The walls of the clinic reception and waiting room are literally covered with letters from patients thanking him. Some were heartbreaking — obviously young and/or poorly educated people thanking Dr. Tiller for being there when they had no other options, explaining their family, church etc. had abandoned them

Tiller had been previously shot through both arms. His clinic had been bombed, he’d been the target of numerous blockades and he’d received scores of specific death threats.

In some respects, the most surprising aspect of his murder — he was shot inside the foyer of his church — was that it had taken so long. For years, Tiller had been systematically demonised not only by the anti-abortion movement but by mainstream conservative talk show hosts. Salon reports that Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly had featured Tiller in an astonishing 29 episodes, invariably referring to him as “Tiller the Baby Killer”. O’Reilly compared Tiller to al-Qaida, to the paedophile group NAMBLA, to a Nazi and to both Stalin and Mao.

Of course, that was before Tiller’s death. Here’s Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, responding to news of Tiller’s shooting:

George Tiller was a mass-murderer. We grieve for him that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God. I am more concerned that the Obama Administration will use Tiller’s killing to intimidate pro-lifers into surrendering our most effective rhetoric and actions. Abortion is still murder. And we still must call abortion by its proper name; murder.

Those men and women who slaughter the unborn are murderers according to the Law of God. We must continue to expose them in our communities and peacefully protest them at their offices and homes, and yes, even their churches.

Now there’s all kinds of crazy rhetoric in the abortion debate — and a lot of it comes from Randall Terry. Almost none of those who label abortion “murder” really believe their own words – how often does the pro-life movement discuss bringing homicide charges against the million or so women who have the procedure each year?

But if even a tiny proportion take the bombast seriously, tragedy results. If Tiller was a mass murder, well, in the US mass murderers get executed. If he represented the moral equivalent of a paedophile or a Nazi, why shouldn’t he be stopped by any means necessary? Osama bin Laden’s wanted dead or live. If a top-rating TV host says that Tiller’s like al-Qaida, doesn’t that mean the same automatic death penalty applies to him?

The suspect arrested over Tiller’s death is said to belong to the Montana Freemen, a far-right militia infamous for its willingness to put words into action. There’s evidence that, since Obama came to power, such groups are growing. In that context, the blustering rhetoric of demagogues like O’Reilly can all too easily have fatal consequences.

Meanwhile, American women who learn that they’re carrying a foetus with a life-threatening condition now have almost no choices left.

Peter Fray

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