I’m sure that you were as shocked and outraged as I was by the murder of Dr. George Tiller while he was handing out orders of service at his church on a Sunday morning. His wife was in the choir at the time. The irony of a “pro life” person shooting a 67-year-old father of four and grandfather of ten is exceeded only by the hypocrisy of committing murder in a house of worship. Do these people really believe they are acting on God’s behalf? This was not the first time Dr. Tiller had been targeted by these self-appointed agents of divine justice. In 1985 Tiller’s clinic was bombed, and in 1993 a right-to-lifer shot him in both arms. Tiller’s Women’s Health Care Services clinic was regularly vandalized, the latest episode occurring just last month.
Right-to-lifers abhor abortion in any form, but they especially loathed Dr. Tiller’s willingness to perform late term abortions. What they seemingly don’t understand or don’t care to understand is that late term abortions are performed only when the fetus is severely deformed or has fatal birth defects or the mother’s life is endangered by the pregnancy. Dr. Tiller was one of only three physicians in the country who performed late term abortions. His murder means that now there will be even fewer opportunities for women to have the procedure. The fact that there were only three physicians in the whole country willing to perform the procedure is an indication that Right Wing terrorism and intimidation have largely succeeded at denying women their Constitutional right to have an abortion, something the Right Wing has been unable to accomplish at the voting booth or in the courts. Apparently, the sword is mightier than the pen.
Right to life groups, like Operation Rescue and the National Right to Life Committee, have largely denounced the violence against Tiller, but not all right-to-lifers have been as magnanimous. In a written statement, Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry called Tiller a “mass murderer” and stated that he “grieved for him that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God.” Southern Baptist minister and radio host Wiley Drake said bluntly, “I am glad that he is dead.”
Yet the Right Wing can’t have it both ways – condemning violence against abortion doctors and clinics while simultaneously inciting violence with their incendiary rhetoric. For instance, Bill O’Reilly highlighted Dr. Tiller on 28 episodes of his Fox News show The O’Reilly Factor before his murder. O’Reilly referred to him as “Tiller the Baby Killer” and warned of Tiller’s “judgment day.” Right-to-lifers regularly call abortion “murder” and doctors who perform abortions “murderers.” Wouldn’t the use of deadly force against a “murderer” of “innocent children” be the logical and moral response?
O’Reilly, Terry, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and the other purveyors of Right Wing hate didn’t pull the trigger of the gun used by Dr. Tiller’s murderer, but their vicious words give permission and encouragement to fanatics and mentally unstable people to pull the trigger on targets of their hate. Once a person is demonized, it becomes easier to regard him or her as subhuman, and once subhuman, to kill them. Dr. Tiller’s murder soberly reminds us that words have consequences and that violent words ultimately lead to violent consequences.