Few public health issues are as deeply divisive as the issue of abortion. Even for Christians, the debate can often be considered too contentious or morally complex to be worth the entanglement. But for those who are pro-life, the issue is clear and the debate turns on one question: is the embryo a member of the human family? Advocates of pro-life argue that – even apart from religious commitments – the unborn can be recognized as distinct, living and whole human organisms with inherent moral worth (see Matt Flannagan’s recent discussion of abortion and the inconsistency of political liberalism). It is, however, one thing to argue that the killing of embryos and fetuses for the benefit of others is egregious, but it is quite another to perpetrate violence in the name of protesting abortion.
This last weekend, a prominent abortion provider, Dr George Tiller, was shot dead in the United States and pro-lifers in New Zealand should rightly condemn such an act. Such an incident forces us to remember how fortunate we are to live in a country largely immune from forms of violence despicably veiled as political activism.
Yet our statistics on abortion in our country should give us cause for reflection. New Zealand has an alarmingly high abortion rate (20.1 abortions per 1000 women in the 15-44 age group) comparable with the US, Australia and Sweden. In 2007, there was enough unborn killed to equal the population of Levin. This sad situation is not just a concern for those with religious convictions – but for Christians it is especially significant when the Bible repeatedly exhorts us to respect human life and especially the welfare of those who are marginalized and neglected in society (“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” Matthew 25:45). While Dr George Tiller’s killer unjustifiably protested abortion in a way that is absolutely counter to the pro-life cause, it has been interesting to see the headlines and absurd leaps of reasoning by the media commentary in the wake of this incident.
Perhaps the strangest of all is the suggestion made by Shannyon Moore of the Huffington Post. Moore claims that we should call this act and others like it for what they are: Christian Fundamentalist Terrorism. Douglas Geivett, professor of philosophy of religion and ethics at Talbot School of Theology, points out the paper-thin logic of her position. He argues that she is confused in her understanding of terrorism and the law, and ultimately her suggestion reduces to angry rhetoric:
“Use of the term “terrorist” has evolved considerably since 9/11. Shannyn Moore would like to see the concept stretched even more broadly to encompass those she calls “Christian fundamentalist terrorists.” If she wants to make her case responsibly, she’ll need to tidy up her definitions of key terms, locate incentives to perform acts of terrorism within an ideology that can justly be called “Christian fundamentalism,” demonstrate that Adkisson and similar characters are appropriately affiliated with Christian fundamentalists and not lunatics who can call themselves whatever they want, and establish her generalizations on the basis of a sufficient (i.e., far greater, number of cases).”
William Slaetan, writing for Slate, provocatively opens his article with the claim: “If abortion is murder, the most efficient thing you could have done to prevent such murders this month was to kill George Tiller.” He argues that the killing of abortionists is the logical corollary of believing that the unborn have the right to life. Because pro-lifers have come out in condemnation of Dr Tiller’s killer and don’t believe in murdering abortionists, they do not really believe the unborn have a right to life.
Gregory Koukl presents a more detailed treatment of this ethical dilemma on his website but Ramesh Ponnuru responds directly to the Slate article: “Not a single step of Saletan’s logic is valid. I’ll concentrate on step one. Hypothetical scenarios can always be spun out to attempt to justify the unjustifiable. But to even begin to construct a bridge from the humanity of unborn life to the justifiability of shooting Tiller he would have to be in the act of committing an abortion, the shooter would have to know to a moral certainty that no one else would perform the abortion, the goal would have to be to disable rather than kill him, and it would have to be possible for a pro-life regime to survive without the rule of law. These are impossible conditions.”
Doubtless, the abortion debate will continue, but for those who defend the inherent moral value of the unborn and their right to life, John Piper’s words are worth heeding:
“This war will not be won by bullets. It will be won by brokenness and humility and sacrifice. It will be won when we identify with the children in our suffering rather than with the abortionist in his killing.” (Source: Justin Taylor)