I tried to only brief myself on the days' events while I was on vacation last week--both because I like to stay informed, and because it makes the transition back to regular life a little less jarring--but the news that hit me upon return to my home was still hard to take.
You've all undoubtedly heard about it by now. Dr. George Tiller, for a long time one of the few providers of safe, legal, late-term abortions in this country, was gunned down while attending church services in his hometown of Wichita, Kansas. His alleged killer, 51-year-old Scott Roeder of Merriam, Kansas, has a storied history of far-right, rabidly anti-abortion and anti-government activity. It's not a stretch at all to assume he carried out the assassination based on his beliefs.
The tragic events have, predictably and rightfully, brought the issue blazing back to the forefront of our national discussion. Many pro-choice advocates are pointing out the utter hypocrisy inherent in an act of murder by a supposedly "pro-life" individual. And many anti-abortion activists are doing their best to distance themselves from the act while still demonizing Tiller's profession.
Some just can't quite give up the ghost. In comments posted over at Folkbum's site, for instance, several went from denouncing the act to saying that Tiller "deserved what he got." That does a lot to illustrate the kind of cowardly inciting to violence that some of our nation's loudest right-wing talkers like to do. Bill O'Reilly has made Tiller into a favorite bogeyman, referencing the doctor in 28 separate episodes of his show since 2005. O'Reilly frequently referred to Tiller as a "baby killer" with "blood on his hands" and who is guilty of "Nazi stuff." He also made frequent claims that Tiller had performed upwards of 60,000 abortions in his career--which, given the limits of space and time, seems highly implausible to me. But plausibility, and facts for that matter, don't seem to stop O'Reilly and his ilk.
Roeder and his extreme actions certainly don't represent all anti-abortion advocates, not by any means. But he's not alone in viewing the murder of abortion providers as being "justifiable homicide." Several groups across the country operate on that assumption--unapologetically flouting the law and, in my opinion, their own allegedly pro-life stance.
I don't pretend that everyone is ever going to agree on the issue of abortion. But I expect a modicum of civility in the debate that has been lacking, in certain sections of both sides of the issue, since as long as I can remember. And I definitely expect everyone involved to remain safe from harm. There is no excuse, no justifiability, nothing to brush aside the abuse, violence, and even death that many abortion workers and patients have to face down every damn day.
Those who spend their time demonizing and rationalizing the harassment and abuse of abortion providers and patients may not enjoy the same level of culpability as those who carry out the types of disgusting acts being discussed here, but they're not guiltless, either. I'm just a lowly blogger, and yet I'm reminded time and time again through angry comments that, through the operation of a public forum, I have a responsibility for what I espouse and support here.
So then one should suppose that that responsibility should only be dramatically increased when one has a bigger audience, a larger platform from which to spout their thoughts. I'm about as big a proponent of free speech as you're likely to come by, but even I recognize that no one has the right to shout "fire!" in a crowded theatre. Perhaps, then, we should be more closely examining the effects of shouting "baby killer!" on a public, nationally syndicated talk show.
And in the meantime, we would all do well to take a step back and cut the more inflammatory rhetoric and tactics. That way it might be easier to pick out the potential Roeders from the more sane citizens in the crowd--I wouldn't be tempted to drive by the protesters outside the Madison clinic soon to provide late-term abortions and wonder which one is carrying the gun, for instance. And that way, there might be less senseless murder and terrorism (because that's what this is) in the future.
UPDATE TO ADD: A very interesting look at the issue over at Jezebel, featuring the testimony of many women who went to Tiller's clinic for its services.