Terror in the Name of Jesus
The Guardian, June 1, 2009
As of 30 May, abortion providers in America had experienced 15,124 acts of violence. On 31 May, the number rose to 15,125. Dr George Tiller was murdered at church in Wichita, Kansas. His wife, who was singing in the choir, was a witness. Tiller had been shot in 1993. His clinic has often been the target of violence and vandalism as one of only three places in the US where women could get late-term abortions, and he refused to turn his back on his patients.
The National Council of Catholic Bishops, the National Right to Life Committee, Operation Rescue, and other groups opposed to women’s reproductive health and privacy are almost all headed by men. In the 36 years since the supreme court decided Roe, followers of these and other groups have performed acts ranging from murder and attempted murder (26), acid attacks (108), bombings (41) and arson (175). Relatives are threatened and support staff attacked.
The head of Operation Rescue issued a statement after Tiller’s murder. “He was one of the most evil men on the planet … He deserved … a legal execution.” The organisation also compared Tiller to the Nazis.
In Barack Obama’s commencement speech at Notre Dame – preceded by protests from Roman Catholic bishops because he is pro-choice – the president urged pro-choicers to find common ground with anti-abortion zealots. I do not know how you find common ground with someone who says you deserve to die. For such people, women are not as deserving of rights as the foetuses they may carry. Supreme court Justice Anthony Kennedy made that clear: he ruled that one recent law did not need to provide an exception to protect the health of the pregnant woman. This law also allows the partners or parents of a woman who terminates a pregnancy to sue the doctor for emotional damage to themselves. It says, in essence, that a pregnant woman is the property of her parents or male partner.
The 14th amendment of the US constitution says “No state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” A series of laws passed over the last decade have expanded foetal rights and diminished women’s. Among these are providing federal healthcare dollars to foetuses but none to pregnant women; allowing states to block poor women from receiving public aid to terminate pregnancies; preventing insurance plans for women on the federal payroll covering abortion; allowing states to criminalise an adult who drives a teen across a state line to receive an abortion – since the campaign of violence has terrorised abortion providers it is often necessary to travel across several states to find a clinic.
To President Obama’s credit, he has overturned the pernicious, so-called global gag rule, which prohibited health clinics overseas from receiving US aid if they even mentioned abortion – a policy causing millions of women to die or suffer devastating health impairment. But Obama has not tried to address the myriad other laws that block access to reproductive care at home.
I hope George Tiller’s death begins a real search for common ground. I hope his murder galvanises people into thinking that women deserve equal protection under the law as that accorded to their unborn children. This didn’t happen in the wake of Dr David Gunn’s murder in Pensacola, nor Dr Barnett Slepian’s murder in Buffalo. It didn’t happen when a protester at a Cleveland clinic splashed petrol on a lab technician, spread the petrol around the room and set fire to it. It is time we stopped pandering to terrorists just because they claim to be speaking in the name of Jesus. I’m not optimistic, but change in this respect is way overdue in America.