Here it comes.

So the Washington Post has this:

“Operation Rescue President Troy Newman, whose group is based in Wichita and whose Web site carries a ‘Tiller Watch’ feature, said he was ‘shocked’ by the killing. ‘Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice,’ Newman said in a statement. ‘We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning.’

But Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, called Tiller ‘a mass murderer’ and added: ‘We grieve for him that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God.'”

Why the “but” before Terry’s comments? The two are not opposed. If Terry had said “I refuse to denounce this act of vigilantism because Tiller was a mass murderer,” then they would have been opposed. But that’s not what he said – or at least, that’s not what was reported.

I’d say the pot was plenty stirred without any journalistic help.


  1. NewMexicoNurse says

    Matthew, I understand and sympathize with your approach to this, but, sir, if I may say so, challenging media bias is the oldest of conservative defense mechanisms and doesn't reach the heart of the matter. I think of all the respectable conservatives I know who regularly engage in rhetorical brinkmanship with their vivid descriptions of abortion providers and clinics. Why isn't it predictable that some unsettled soul would finally take that vocabulary and respond to it IN KIND? Isn't that a more germane topic for blogging? The Washington Post will always be there to flog…

    The full text of Terry's comments make clear that he is conflicted about what justice requires and isn't sure the killer isn't a hero. His main regret is the effect this will have on his passion and livelihood. There is a lot of soul searching that needs to be done within the pro-life movement – will statements like this help it along? Behold:

    "George Tiller was a mass-murderer. We grieve for him that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God. I am more concerned that the Obama Administration will use Tiller's killing to intimidate pro-lifers into surrendering our most effective rhetoric and actions. Abortion is still murder. And we still must call abortion by its proper name; murder.

    "Those men and women who slaughter the unborn are murderers according to the Law of God. We must continue to expose them in our communities and peacefully protest them at their offices and homes, and yes, even their churches."


  2. Matthew Lickona says

    Please to cite examples of "respectable conservatives" and their vivid descriptions of abortion providers and clinics. Not suggesting they don't exist, only that I don't know so much about 'em. I mean, I've read the vivid descriptions, but they tend to come from the fringe in my experience. Terry himself has been a fringe operator for a while now, even within the pro-life movement. Yes indeed there are fire-breathers – the press wasn't long in finding someone willing to praise the shooter. Those people are not likely to engage in much soul searching, because they don't see what happened as much of a problem.

    As for Terry's full statement, it wasn't reported in the story I read, and I was responding to the story I read. I am not complaining about media bias – viz the McArdle piece I cited. I read something and had a response and blogged it.

    Even so, I disagree with your comment about Terry not being sure the killer isn't a hero. Heroes in war- and Terry seems to regard this as a war – deserve emulation, but Terry is careful to end his statement with the words "peacefully protest" – which sets him in direct opposition to the shooter's actions.

  3. NewMexicoNurse says

    Let's start with Alan Keyes who calls the clinics "abortion mills" and "abortuaries" and our President "the king of abortion mills" and pushed a stroller with a bloody fetus around UND until he got what he wanted (on film!). It all seemed brave last week, didn't it? You think he is fit to be President, right?, so he counts as respectable.
    As for Terry, you pick at a small thing to avoid the force of his statement: only the first statement is about the current event. The rest of his statement is a form of mass hypnosis to deflect attention from the ugly but predictable consequence of rhetoric like his own. If he is a fringe player how come no pro-lifers were saying that when justice seemed on ourside of the fence (the Obama speech).Oh yea, he was at UND with a bloody doll too…MJH

  4. I think the best thing we can hope out of the media in this mess is a good headline from The Onion:

    Ex-fetus guns down another ex-fetus.

  5. NewMexicoNurse,

    Given the examples you cite, it seems that you object to the very idea of people labeling abortion as being “murder” (as in, the intentional killing of an innocent human being) in any sense. That belief itself seems to be what you think is provocative. While Alan Keyes is unquestionably a gonzo (where do you get the idea any sane person would want him to be president? — he never gets any votes) his statements don’t really go beyond that basic point.

    Now, perhaps some will consider it overly rude to state such a belief in public, but in that case, the pro-life movement is no more at fault than the environmental movement, the anti-globalization movement, the animal rights movement, the anti-war movement, etc. Nor are these groups without violence. (Heck, someone with eco-terrorism ties firebombed an under-construction apartment complex being built on previously pristine grassland just a few miles from where I live.)

    I suppose really there are two approaches here: Should no one express strongly held beliefs about essential moral issues for fear of inciting some wacko to do violence? Or should we accept that rebels will always find a cause?

    Given that this particular guy was found wandering around with a home-made bomb in his car back in his tax protesting days, it sounds like he was going to kill someone for something eventually.

  6. NewMexicoNurse says

    Darwin, Thank you for even noticing my comment – I enjoy your Darwin blog very much.
    I think my original point is worth more of your thoughtful attention – you seem to want to broaden the discussion to even more fundamental questions I never spoke to. The relevant phrase I used and represent to you is "rhetorical brinkmanship" – please note I did not include 'murder' and if I wanted to, that would have been the point.
    I accept your expanded formulation as morally operable but recognize it as highly debatable. This isn't the forum for an expanded treatment of why I think the 'abortion is murder' formula is morally fragile – maybe Matthew can make room for such a discussion some day.
    IMO, once the pro-life movement took that statement as it's slogan, the above mentioned brinkmanship was the predictable course pro-life discourse would take. I am speaking here to the psychology of pro-life advocacy, not some philosophical debate.

    Perhaps my affiliation with Thomas Aquinas College colors my view of Alan Keyes' status as a pro-life leader – he is revered by many of that colleges alumni and a few of it's faculty have devoted many hours to his political efforts. Of course I chose him because his decline as an effective pro-life leader is worthy of the Greek playwrights.
    Is your point about other extremists a form of special pleading: "Look what the other guy does"? So what. As you seem to say, there are plenty of left wing nutballs – let's avoid their fate by diagnosing it's cause and some self-reflection.
    As to your third paragraph, pro-life advocacy has reminded me for a long time of drug addicts: more and more rage is required to keep the intensity up until they inevitably crash. The traditional response has been to shoot the messenger – me, on many occasions – but many a social movement has collapsed into irrelevance because outsiders were quickly convinced that the people speaking were the kind of people who are looking for something to be psychopathic about. Isn't this the time to face the possibility that pro-lifers are their own worst enemy head on? MJH

  7. Matthew Lickona says

    I agree with Ross Douthat that the actions and statements of extremists are not representative of the pro-life movement today, recent events and statements notwithstanding:

    "Compromise, rather than absolutism, has been the watchword of anti-abortion efforts for some time now. Since the early 1990s, advocates have focused on pushing largely modest state-level restrictions, from parental notification laws to waiting periods to bans on what we see as the grisliest forms of abortion.

    The culture of (sometimes violent) protest that once defined the movement is largely a thing of the past: Pay a visit to any locus of anti-abortion sentiment — an evangelical megachurch, say, or a conservative Catholic parish — and you’ll find that the bulk of pro-life energy is being channeled into grassroots efforts, from crisis pregnancy centers to post-abortion counseling, that seek to reduce the abortion rate one woman and one child at a time.

    Over the same period, pro-lifers — especially in the evangelical community — have broadened their movement’s ambit, emphasizing poverty, the environment and other non-abortion “life issues” more consistently than an earlier generation did. Leading pro-life figures like Rick Warren are more likely to be photographed touring poor nations alongside Bono than protesting outside abortion clinics. Apart from its Supreme Court appointments, the Bush administration policy most influenced by pro-life sentiment was probably its AIDS-in-Africa initiative."

  8. NewMexicoNurse says

    Matthew, this involves the perennial question about who speaks for the pro-life movement (or any movement for that matter). Yes, I understand – there are schools of thought about the role of national vs. local efforts but I don't see a discussion equivalent to National Reviews' purging of Ayn Rand and the Objectivists from the conservative movement. The easy adoption of graphic language to convey the seriousness of the issue has inherent weaknesses I have never seen frankly acknowledged. The faults and poor judgments made by pro-life leaders are never assessed because the "abortionists" are worse. Pro-life nuts seem to be secretly admired for their seriousness and clear-eyed commitment. Please don't forget someone on our side walked up to this man in CHURCH and shot him dead. Do we want to learn something important or not?…MJH

  9. Matthew Lickona says

    This is not about national vs. local efforts – the national efforts as well as the local have of late aimed at compromise.

    I take it this is not a frank enough acknowledgment.

    You're not going to see anything akin to what went on in National Review because the pro-life movement is not born out of the same intellectual environment as the conservative movement. (Though I confess I don't know if the journal The Human Life Review has ever treated the question.) But you're mistaken to think that poor judgments are never assessed. The group with which I pray and protest (when I do, which is admittedly not often) does not display graphic signs. Rather, it concentrates on ministry and outreach. Just because there hasn't been a public smackdown doesn't mean there hasn't been an assessment.

    What is it exactly you want us to learn? That "Abortion is murder" is not a practically helpful slogan? I just did a Google image search for the 2008 March for Life in DC – 500K pro-lifers attending – and have yet to find "Abortion is murder" on a sign. Stop Abortion, yes. Defend Life, yes. Even "I regret my abortion." But not "Abortion is murder." I think the change has come. This guy, according to the LAT, was stopped with explosives in a car with an illegal license plate that read "sovereign private property." Her ex reported that "her husband had become obsessed with anti-government theories and abortion in the early '90s" – almost 20 years ago. "'The anti-tax stuff came first, and then it grew and grew.'" This guy was poisoned from way back, and not simply by abortion rhetoric.

    I'm just not seeing the secret admiration you detect.

  10. NewMexicoNurse says

    Matthew, did you read the statement by Randall Terry I found for you? There is a man trapped in his own rhetoric if there ever was such a thing. He still has plenty of people willing to pay to hear him speak and organizations who host him. Why?
    I don't need google image search to remind me of the many bumper stickers and church flyers you and I have seen over the years saying "Abortion is murder" (just what drivers don't need to be thinking about on CA freeways).
    Yes, the killer is a certifiable nut but abortion politics gave him the intellectual tools or vocabulary to justify his actions. Don't worry – in the coming weeks he will explain this to the rest of us. MJH

  11. Matthew Lickona says

    No, you don't need Google Image Search to argue for what you've seen over the years. I'm talking about what is out there now, because I'm arguing that a change has come.
    I am also arguing that Randall Terry is a fringe player in the pro-life movement today, just like Richard McBrien is a fringe player in theology. He has been out of Operation Rescue since 1991. Doesn't stop folks from going to him for a juicy quote. Don't know which organizations are hosting him. But the March for Life was easily the biggest pro-life moment of 2009, not Terry's work at Notre Dame. What the press covers is one thing – I think 500K marching in the streets makes a more convincing claim to be representative of the movement.
    Again, this guy has been poisoned for a long time. I'm arguing that a change has come. I'm not arguing that there has never been fire-breathing rhetoric.

  12. Matthew, NMN,

    I know it is anecdotal evidence, but in my reportage of prolife activities here in Wisconsin through my diocesan newspaper, a ffew things of note bubble to the surface. In particular, the diocesean participation in the annual DC march has indicated two things.

    1) The real prolife movement is growing in numbers. Each year the March for Life numbers that we send to Washington have grown in our Diocese and since even the march organizers can't get an accurate count the per diocese increase could be an accurate – if not precise indicator of the growing interest in this event (despite the national media's despicable conspiracy of silence).

    2) Speaking with the people going -seminarians, high school and college students, young mothers with children, young fathers, older folks in retirement, it really is rather interesting to note that in contrast to the Great Unwashed who often attended the anti-war rallies of yore, the prolife march is bucking the trend among "conservatives" (similiar to but not the same as the recent tea parties.). That is, the participants are mostly school-aged kids and working parents who otherwise do not have time to "protest." They're too busy either trying to pass that biology exam or too busy trying to keep pace with family life. Given this cross section, I don't think pro-life America is influenced so much by the wackadoodle fringe elements as by people who do think abortion is murder but have become too polite perhaps or too savvy to say so. I concur with Matthew that the message has turned positive somewhere along the way… Defend Life, etc. .

    One further observation: when we speak of the pro-life movement – and I notice that the national media often does this (because they know no better?) – we often assume there's this umbrella organization for mobilizing the troops – much like the ACP ran things, in large part, for the anti-war movement (significant exceptions aside) during the Vietnam War. In fact, there are two prolife groups in the US – those who belive that unless we address contraception (e.g. ALL) we will never get rid of abortion completely and those who believe that abortion should be tackled on its own so as to not offend our Protestant brethern (e.g. NRLC). Each state prolife movement also has this internecine struggle – and it usually is the result of a Catholic vs. Protestant view of the prolife goal – aboriton/contraception vs. abortion.

    At any rate, to speak of any controlling rhetoric in the movement is to assume some sort of controlling voice. Not clear to me there is one.

    In the mean time, the troops continue to pour into the trenches…


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