The Common Good

Abortion: Conversations, Not Killings

Yesterday on The Huffington Post, former religious-right leader Frank Schaeffer made a significant response to the murder of Dr. George Tiller, acknowledging his part in the blame for creating the sparks that too easily turn into wildfires:

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The reason this issue will never go away is that the Roe ruling was an over-broad court decision that makes abortion legal even in the last weeks of pregnancy. Take away the pictures of all those dead late-term fetuses and everything changes emotionally. Democracy and civil debate is messy but if abortion had been argued state-by-state, abortion would be legal in almost all our states today and probably the laws would be written more like those of Europe, where late-term abortions (of the kind Dr. Tiller specialized in performing) are illegal and/or highly discouraged.

The same hate machine I was part of is still attacking all abortionists as "murderers." And today once again the "pro-life" leaders are busy ducking their personal responsibility for people acting on their words. The people who stir up the fringe never take responsibility. But I'd like to say on this day after a man was murdered in cold blood for preforming abortions that I - and the people I worked with in the religious right, the Republican Party, the pro-life movement and the Roman Catholic Church - all contributed to this killing by our foolish and incendiary words.

I am very sorry.

Later last night, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow attempted to shock those who might feel something approaching ambivalence regarding Dr. Tiller's murder by portraying it as "domestic terrorism." This is understandable, but I think it comes close to mirroring the belligerence of those they are trying to denounce (O'Reilly, Limbaugh, etc.). The use of terror terminology has a murky history. I've written before that for me, growing up in Northern Ireland -- a society where the word "terrorist" was bandied about as if it were as ubiquitous as sugar in tea -- the word served only to delay the inevitable: a process where we talked, instead of killing each other. Use the word "terrorist" of an enemy and you make it much harder for political representatives to negotiate a less violent outcome.

So, because these things are more complicated than the tax code, let me say this, with apologies for not being able to find a way today to keep it brief:

  1. The word "murder" has become devalued. So has the word "terrorist". We need to be more careful when we use them. Murder is far more serious than our popular culture allows
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