Over at Bloomberg View, I go into the questions of what responsibility pro-lifers bear for the murders in Colorado Springs, what political movements generally have a responsibility to do to discourage violence, and how selectively the press covers these issues. Here I want to make a simple point about the political exploitation of these killings to discredit pro-lifers: I don’t think it’s going to work.
I think, that is, that most Americans are perfectly capable of distinguishing this murderer from peaceful pro-lifers and of seeing that, while pro-life activists, like any other kind of activists, sometimes say intemperate things, they are not responsible for these murders. That might change if these murders were followed up by others, so that we had a real pattern that people regularly saw in the news. But nothing like that has been happening in recent years. Look at this chart from the National Abortion Federation: There were 2 murders attributable to anti-abortion violence in 1998, one in 2009, and none in between or afterward–until now. That’s too many murders, of course, but thankfully we have seen no organized campaign of anti-abortion violence.
Late-term abortionist George Tiller was murdered on May 31, 2009. (Here’s NR’s editorial on that murder.) That murder was clearly a political act; the mix of politics and mental illness in this weekend’s killings is still a bit murky. But many of the same arguments about pro-life complicity in the murder that are being made today were being made then too. Those arguments don’t seem to have had much political effect. Gallup asked abortion questions both in early May (before the Tiller murder) and July (after it). There was a dip in the percentage of people who considered themselves “pro-life” and an increase in the percentage who considered themselves “pro-choice.” But I wouldn’t bank on even that short-term shift. The early-May number for pro-lifers was unusually high–the highest Gallup had ever recorded–and even the July number was the second-highest until that time. And Gallup also asked whether abortion should be allowed in all, most, a few, or no circumstances. Over that period support for the two most liberal positions dropped slightly and support for the most conservative one rose.
The next year, pro-lifers won elections at every level of government.
Assuming that we see no more anti-abortion murders, and that the Republican presidential nominee does not say anything crazy about these murders, I suspect that what happened in Colorado Springs will play no role in next year’s election.