Skip to content

Is it simply “Killing a Mass Murderer”? Why anti-abortion zealots need to reconsider their arguments.

Recently, Dr. George Tiller was shot dead. Three hours after his assassination in Kansas, a pro-life activist was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

This case is so interesting, because Dr. Tiller’s clinic is one of only three in America, where late-term abortions after the 21st week of gestation are performed. And obviously that did not make Dr Tiller particularly popular among radical pro-life activists, as the fact that he was shot in both arms in 1993 and that his clinic was bombed in 1985 shows (not to mention the daily acts of vandalism making high security necessary).
A substantial history of threatening or killing health care professionals who perform(ed) abortions in America, Australia and New Zealand, points in a similar direction.

The larger part of the public reaction to the shooting of Dr Tiller was shock and the act was condemned by President Obama as ‘murder’, emphasizing that violence was not the answer to resolve differing opinions about abortion.
Dr Tiller’s abortions were in accordance with the law as several trials that he won, show. So, that this killing was illegal is beyond reasonable doubt.

But what if we set aside the evident legal injustice and the violence of the deed and take a closer look at the arguments which might apply from the assassin’s point of view? Probably the line of argument is something like the following: There is someone who kills a lot of children. So if I kill that ‘mass murderer’, then I save a lot of ‘innocent’ lives.

Clearly, the argument from a ‘divine mission’ or at least an adherence to deeply rooted religious beliefs are boringly mistaken in this context. It is quite easy to see, that from a Christian point of view – if we consider the backgrounds of Tiller and his suspected assassin Scott Roeder – every life is sacred and no killing, even that of people who have done evil deeds is justified (just quickly think about the general idea in the story of the adulteress, where Jesus makes clear that it is not up to fallible human beings to convict and kill a sinner). From a religious perspective the sanctity of life-argument applies to all human beings, and it does not matter whether one considers Dr Tiller’s doings morally wrong, whether one regards the fetuses as children (by the way, something which seems not far-fetched in children after the 21st week of gestation, with a certain viability of survival outside their mothers’ wombs), or whether one lays emphasis on the fact that there are the fetuses are innocent. Killing Tiller is not justified at all.

A coherent line of argument can not therefore be a religious one. But perhaps there is a good secular logic underlying? Sacrificing one life to save hundreds or thousands of other lives sounds familiarly Utilitarian. And a lot of intelligent thinkers argue within a Utilitarian framework. So, can we assume that anti-abortion assassins argue from a Utilitarian point of view?

Obviously not, when we look at the broader Utilitarian theory, where maximizing the happiness is a mainstay. What kinds of children are aborted in a clinic like doctor Tiller’s? These are fetuses with severe impairments or disabilities, which were diagnosed late in pregnancy. Or two independent physicians have certified that the mother will suffer serious damage should the child be born. Hence, the practice of late-term abortions is about reducing the harm and maximizing the overall happiness. These terminations are performed in well-considered cases of a conceivable miserable situation. Late-term abortions are not the destruction of perfectly happy lives in blind fury.

If you think that the practice of late term abortions is wrong and you are ruthless enough to consider killing the physician who performs these abortions, religious arguments are certainly extremely weak grounds for such an act.
And even the most obvious secular viewpoint, Utilitarianism, where numbers are taken into account, is definitely no justifying grounds for ‘killing the (supposed) child-murderer’ as there is still the – strong – happiness-criterion to be taken into account.    

Dr Tiller’s family has announced that the abortion clinic will be closed down. What a regrettable, hollow victory for weak, deluded anti-abortion thinkers.  

Share on

1 Comment on this post

  1. There are two begged question in the argument that an abortionist is a mass murderer. The argument assumes that the aborted fetus or near-born is a person for purposes of determining what counts as homicide and it also assumes that there is no countervailing claim by the mother that modifies the general obligation to let the fetus get born (or, the “claim” on behalf of the fetus to be allowed to live). Neither assumption needs to be examined through a utilitarian lense. One can simply look at them against the background of ordinary and evolving cultural norms.

    The anti-abortion people have two arguments in favor of the embryo’s and fetus’s personhood — biologists agree that the fertilized ovum is “fully human” and that once the ovum is fertilized it is ensouled and is therefore endowed with the right to live (as against any claim by the mother). The second argument is religious and is subject to the criticisms of the post. The first argument is problematic because it assumes that anything biologically human is properly considered to have all the rights of a human being. That is seriously debatable, and should therefore be dealt with socially, perhaps politically.

    Most people go along with that and modify their general aversion to abortion with exceptions. I suppose most people are not against the morning-after pill even if it is an abortifacient because four or eight cells do not a human person make, at least when it comes to the claims of the woman who bears it. I suspect that most people would draw the line at “quickening” or “viabililty ” Because at that point the little thing looks and seems like a human person.

Comments are closed.