Late last week the United States became the victim of another domestic terrorist attack, this time at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado. From the moment the shooting began, and even now, the internet has been busy discussing and dissecting the situation from multiple angles– and there certainly are multiple angles to this story. Today however, I simply want to respond to one of those angles: the issue of how the common pro-life ethical system leaves room for this kind of violence.
In an effort to explain why someone was motivated to do something, we look to the ideology behind their actions. In this case, it appears the individual was anti-abortion, and it would logically seem that his anti-abortion views were a chief motivator. Flowing from that, I’ve seen no shortage of chatter placing blame on what some are calling pro-life rhetoric– but quite honestly I don’t see that as the culprit.
Instead, the chief problem facing the pro-life movement– and what I would suggest was a major factor in the attack– is the absence of a comprehensive pro-life ethic.
For example, many of the people I know who loudly wear their pro-life label are also the folks who are the most pro-gun, pro-self-defense, pro-capital punishment, pro-war, etc. They are the same folks who show up here in the comment sections to push back when I teach nonviolent enemy love (something I plagiarized from Jesus, FWIW), often citing that we “have a responsibility to defend the innocent and vulnerable, even if that means lethal violence.”
And that right there, is the heart of the issue.
You see, if that’s true– if we have a responsibility to use lethal violence to defend the innocent and vulnerable, then it’s difficult to condemn the actions of the Planned Parenthood terrorist. In fact, as I’ve watched some of the condemnation of the attack I’ve had to sit back and scratch my head, curious as to why so many in the pro-life camp cannot see that shooting abortion providers is actually consistent with the set of ethics held by so many in the movement.
I would love to ask them the burning question: if God sanctions the use of violence, and if using lethal violence to protect the innocent and vulnerable is good and noble, why is shooting an abortion provider wrong?
Their instinct that such actions are morally reprehensible is an excellent instinct– it is reprehensible. I simply wish they would think that through to the logical conclusion: the use of lethal violence is always reprehensible.
Until the pro-life movement awakens to this glaring gap in logic and ethics, I believe we will continue to see some in the movement follow the train of thought to the logical conclusion, and choose to use violence to oppose abortion. An ethical system that claims killing people can sometimes be God-ordained, good, or noble will continue to have people who actually do it.
While the vast majority of pro-life folks reject the use of violence against abortion providers, what I long for them to see is that the most common pro-life ethic does not. In fact, if it’s true that God wants us to use lethal violence to defend the vulnerable and innocent, one would actually have an easier time making the argument in favor of violence against abortion providers, and this alone should be a giant red flag that something is horribly and insufferably wrong with this ethical system.
The only solution to the problem is a comprehensive, total pro-life ethic– one where we believe in the depths of our being that unborn babies, post-born babies, children and adults of all shapes, sizes, and colors, from kind-hearted grandmas to the most vile of criminals, are all image bearers of the Living God and have such intrinsic value that we refuse to end their life.
The only pro-life ethic that truly leaves no room for the evil we saw happen in Colorado Springs is one where pro-life equals ALL life, without exceptions.
Until we embrace an ethical system that is comprehensive and truly pro-life without exception, we leave the door cracked open for the evil violence we witnessed in Colorado– and that’s not a door that I think should be left open.
If lethal violence is always wrong, it would be wrong to kill a person who is about to kill you, or someone else. Yet will you truly tell someone that killed only to save themselves or another person their action was wrong? What should they do?
Leaving aside the question of whether lethal violence is always wrong when it comes to trying to create a just world where innocent people aren’t abused, I think Mr. Corey asks a decent question when he writes “if God sanctions the use of violence, and if using lethal violence to protect the innocent and vulnerable is good and noble, why is shooting an abortion provider wrong?”
And I think Ross Douthat provides a decent answer in his blog post here: http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/12/01/why-the-pro-life-movement-opposes-violence/
You really have to read the whole thing to understand his argument, but the bottom line is: evil is evil, but in a democratic society where political change can be sought freely and violence would clearly breed worse evils still, vigilante gestures against institutional evils are just, well, murder: Not acts of heroism, but grotesque wastes of human life.
On another point raised by Mr. Corey, I would love it if more pro-lifers opposed the death penalty, were less quick to agitate for military force as a solution to foreign policy problems, were less likely to engage in “gun culture,” etc. but I don’t think the lack of a comprehensive ethic of life among pro-lifers could be considered a “major factor” in this attack. The perpetrator was clearly a fringe figure, pretty looney, etc. I don’t he think subscribed to any particular “ethic.” If the lack of a comprehensive ethic of life was a major factor, surely there would be more attacks perpetrated by more sane and committed individuals. These attacks would be more frequent and intentional. But they’re not. They’re pretty rare.
To be specific, I find it really funny (in an extremely sad way) that some political conservatives[*] who oppose this shooter and condemn him turn around and– in terms of war in the Mideast– say that the U.S. should ‘take the gloves off’ and start bombing children’s schools, bombing hospitals, bombing public parks, etc.
Because nothing says “I believe in the sanctity of human life” like a nine millimeter hole lodged inside of the body of the little kid in Pakistan that was just caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, right?
[*]I say ‘some’, rather than ‘most’ or whatever else, for a good reason. I know that many right-of-center people find the kind of insane-troll-logic of the far right to be horrible also.
You outline very clearly what many of us have intuitively grasped for some time. There’s almost a metaphorical “Jesuit” quality to many in the pro-life movement. My community has a fairly well known family who are quite publicly involved in this. (The name “Benham” ring a bell there?) When they are “home” they gather – pretty much as a family – at a local Chick-fil-A right across the street from the busiest mall in the state, complete with sound system (cranked really loud), signs, placards, even those graphic photos blown up to poster size being waved around by children, while one or another of the men (never the women, of course) will “Preach” at passing cars. (That means essentially yelling at the top of their amplified lungs.)
To see, hear, and perceive the incredibly violent anger in every aspect of what these folks call their “ministry” is actually a pretty frightening sensation…
The anti-abortion movement has decided arbitrarily that there’s no difference between a zygote and a fully conscious person. Life and consciousness don’t work that way, and at some level, anti-abortion Americans know this. No matter how fervent your commitment to your cause, you don’t have funerals for all miscarriages. You don’t call Jehovah the greatest mass-murderer of all time just because two-thirds of all embryos fail to develop successfully. https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2010/10/earlier-more-accurate-prediction-of-embryo-survival-enabled-by-research.html
And yet a disgusting number of anti-abortion people are comfortable calling total strangers “murderers” because they either had an abortion or performed one. If you’ve done so, and you’re not going to also call Jehovah a murderer, then you have no integrity.
On top of this, many of you throw all morality out the window in pursuit of making other people’s medical decisions. To the point that the majority of you are willing to repeat the CMP lie that “Planned Parenthood sellsbaby parts,” when that claim is a pathetic and transparent lie.
Once you’ve engaged in this kind of mob mentality, repeating blood slander over and over again, you play a part in the violence that results. I’m not saying that all anti-abortion people are violent, or that your repeating lies in the name of anti-abortion makes you responsible for these murders or any others. But you play a part, and that should be enough to keep you from easily repeating claims that aren’t true.