Scott Roeder, the man who killed George Tiller, must bear the blame for his wicked act, even if it turns out that mental incapacity mitigated his guilt. Some blame must also attach to that tiny fringe of the anti-abortion movement that traffics in fevered theories about the justifiable killing of abortionists. That fringe doesn’t just set back its purported cause; it perverts it. The pro-life movement aims to end a scourge of violence, not to invent new excuses for violence. It seeks to abolish a private right to kill, not to license one. It aims to return the law to its moral foundations, not to abandon the rule of law altogether.
Almost everyone who calls himself a pro-lifer has condemned Roeder’s evil. All pro-lifers should make it clear that those who take up the gun, or tolerate it, have no place in their movement. Our only weapons should be persuasion, law, and prayer.
That renunciation does not go far enough for some on the other side of the debate. They say that the mainstream pro-life movement bears responsibility for Tiller’s murder. In one sense it must be admitted that this accusation is true. If there were no pro-life movement in America, or it muted its claims, the likelihood that anyone would twist its premises to violence would be lower.
That observation applies just as well to many other movements. Without abolitionism there would probably have been no John Brown. Without anti–Vietnam War activism, no Weathermen. (At the very least, disturbed and violent people would have found other outlets for their rage.) The abolitionists and the antiwar movement could not reasonably have been asked to foreswear passionate advocacy of their causes in order to minimize the chance of violence. Pro-lifers cannot reasonably be asked to stop saying that George Tiller spent his days killing young human beings — especially since what they say is true.
What any group of activists can reasonably be asked is to condemn violence and to do the best they can to root out anyone who does not condemn it. This pro-lifers have done and are doing. They can also be asked to do and have done one more thing: to support the just punishment, by legitimate authorities, of murderers.