And so we have another tragedy. Here is another law-abiding citizen holding to a particular religious belief about when life begins, following the law as prescribed in his state, who is murdered. He is murdered by another citizen who happens to disagree with that particular religious belief as to when life begins as well as with the law concerning abortion. The murderer is convinced that his religious belief as to when life begins is the only correct one, and that all others, in his non-legal concept of the law, are criminal. He holds to the view that his particular version of “the truth” is “ordained by God,” which somehow, in his view, and in the view of many others of his ilk, justifies violence against those who disagree with them, up to and including murder.
He holds to this view despite the fact that there are many other people who believe in God who do not agree with that particular religious position, holding rather that a) life begins at the time of viability, b) that in certain circumstances where the life of the mother is in grave danger if the pregnancy is allowed to proceed to term, abortion after the time of viability is justified, and c) that in certain circumstances the fetus is so fundamentally damaged that if it came to term the result would not be considered “life” by some significant portion of the body politic, and so abortion, with the express permission of the pregnant woman, in those cases is justified. So this man has a particular mind-set and thinks that because “God” and a whole range of ministers have told him, in one way or another, that it’s OK, he can just go and kill somebody.
In our society, most such people dealing with issues other than abortion-rights are roundly condemned and if caught, punished, either before or after taking such actions, for whatever reasons. Let’s say that someone thinks that Bernard Madoff deserves to be killed because he has ruined or at least severely damaged the lives of who knows how many thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people. No one (and certainly not the Bill O’Reillys and Ann Coulters of this world) would defend that person’s right to commit murder in that case. Suppose a disgruntled GM autoworker or dealer thought that Rick Waggoner deserved the death penalty because of the state to which his leadership brought General Motors. No one (and certainly not the Bill O’Reillys and Ann Coulters of this world) would defend that person’s right to commit murder in that case. You get my drift, I’m sure. And so who are the usual suspects in creating the atmosphere in which in this particular case, murder, a crime itself, of a physician who is exercising his right to practice medicine as he sees fit in a perfectly lawful manner, also consistent with his own religious beliefs, is justified? Well, they are indeed the usual suspects. Bill O’Reilly for sure (The Progress Report, June 2, 2009, p. 3, “Under the Radar). He has been calling Dr. Tiller a “baby killer” for years. Then there is the former “Operation Rescue” leader Randall Terry, who said that Dr. Tiller “reaped what he sowed,” and was one of the originators of the no-choice movement’s practices of putting photos of targeted abortion-providers up on Web sites, often at the center of gun targets. Then there are the “religious” ministers of a variety of “faiths” who have equated abortion with murder for years and who have never condemned violence in dealing with supporters or practitioners of legal abortion. Then there is Pat Buchanan, always talking about legal abortion as the “equivalent of the Holocaust.” And so on, and horrifyingly so on, for a long list. They are the usual suspects.
But who are the not-usual ones? Well, in the big picture, one certainly has to include the Republican Party. A Constitutional amendment that would criminalize the religious belief that life begins at any other time than the moment of conception has been part of their party’s platform going back to the 1980s. When George H.W. Bush was offered the Vice President nomination by Ronald Reagan in 1980, the first thing he (and Barbara) had to do was a 180 on legal abortion. After all, they had been long-time supporters of the Texas branch of Planned Parenthood. Obviously Bush did not become an opponent of abortion rights on principle. He did so on the basis of Republican politics. Coming from a decades-long career in Hollywood, it is highly unlikely that Reagan himself was against abortion rights on principle either.
If the Republicans had not decided to make no-choice a major plank of their platforms for all of these years, people such as O’Reilly, one of their principal spokesmen, would likely have ignored the issue just as he ignores so many others. But the Republican Party has given the no-choice movement, up to and including their pro-violence members, cover. They have given them a degree of credibility. Most damaging, they have provided those who preach violence a certain degree of respectability and justification. After all, which party was it that fought so long and hard against the Federal laws that give some minor bit of protection from violence to abortion clinics and their staffs that may become targets of the religious bigots?
At the same time, the pro-choice movement needs to move to the next level. It is time to move beyond the “woman’s right to choose” (which I fully support) to making the issue one of freedom of religious belief. This affects all U.S. citizens, not just women of child-bearing age. It is time to stop calling the opponents of legal abortion “pro-life” or even “anti-choice.” They are proponents of no choice, of compulsory pregnancy. We should use those terms to describe them.
Since they also oppose sex education in the schools and the use of contraception, they are actually pro-abortion, for their policies lead to an ever higher number of unwanted pregnancies, the principal cause of the choice of abortion (a non-desirable, anti-public health medical procedure). Finally, it is time to stop letting the Republican Party off the hook for the cover that their party platform, their politicians, and their politics gives to violent lawbreakers and in rare cases (fortunately) murderers. In a word, it is time for us to go the offensive against those who would criminalize the religious belief that life begins at some time other than the moment of conception.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a Columnist for Buzz Flash, Dr. Jonas is also a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Special Contributing Editor for Cyrano’s Journal Online; a Contributing Columnist for the Project for the Old American Century (POAC); and a Contributor to The Planetary Movement.