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Friday, February 5, 2010

Setting the Record Straight: The Pro-Life Movement is Mostly PEACEFUL

Let's set the record straight on George Tiller's murder and the reaction of the pro-life movement to it. I contend that the pro-life movement is overwhelmingly peaceful and composed mostly of peace-loving, life-loving, non-violent members who wouldn't even consider using violence to spread their message and who abhor so-called "pro-life" activists who take it upon themselves to shoot abortionist doctors.

I also like to use the pro-life movement as a shining example of a movement that does a fantastic job of policing its members and issuing clear, unequivocal condemnations of militant fringe members. All popular political movements have to deal with fringe elements that they are not so proud of, and who do harm to their message and cause by mingling it with hatred, lies, fear-mongering, strange conspiracy theories, or even militancy.

Some groups handle it better than others by making it clear where they stand and by going out of their way to distance themselves from fringe members. I think that the pro-life movement is one of these groups, and have expressed that the mainstream contingent of other movements (like the environmentalists and animal rights people among others) would do well to emulate the pro-lifers' unfailing condemnation of militancy.

Skeptics will parade out Randall Terry the founder (but not current leader) of Operation Rescue as a counter-example to my characterization of the pro-life movement, because after the murder of abortionist doctor George Tiller, Randall Terry's press release did not condemn the murder, and went to great lengths to condemn the murder victim, George Tiller. But to make a sweeping generalization about the pro-life movement from one Randall Terry's heartless press release simply will not do.

Setting the Record Straight

To begin with, Operation Rescue itself released the following regarding George Tiller's death:

We are shocked at this morning’s disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down. Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice. We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning. We pray for Mr. Tiller’s family that they will find comfort and healing that can only be found in Jesus Christ.

National Right to Life, the United States' largest pro-life organization had this to say about George Tiller's death:

National Right to Life extends its sympathies to Dr. Tiller’s family over this loss of life.

Further, the National Right to Life Committee unequivocally condemns any such acts of violence regardless of motivation. The pro-life movement works to protect the right to life and increase respect for human life. The unlawful use of violence is directly contrary to that goal.

The National Right to Life Committee has always been involved in peaceful, legal activities to protect human lives threatened by abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. We always have and will continue to oppose any form of violence to fight the violence of abortion. NRLC has had a policy of forbidding violence or illegal activity by its staff, directors, officers, affiliated state organizations and chapters.

Notable pro-life conservative, James Dobson's group, the Family Research Council (which is a division of the very "right-wing" Focus on the Family) said this about George Tiller's death:

We are stunned at today's news. As Christians we pray and look toward the end of all violence and for the saving of souls, not the taking of human life. George Tiller was a man who we publicly sought to stop through legal and peaceful means. We strongly condemn the actions taken today by this vigilante killer and we pray for the Tiller family and for the nation that we might once again be a nation that values all human life, both born and unborn.

One of the strongest, most visible pro-life lobbies in America and the world is the Roman Catholic Church. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said this about Tiller's shooting:

Speaking on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, expressed profound regret upon learning of the shooting death of abortion doctor George Tiller.

"Our bishops' conference and all its members have repeatedly and publicly denounced all forms of violence in our society, including abortion as well as the misguided resort to violence by anyone opposed to abortion," Cardinal Rigali said. "Such killing is the opposite of everything we stand for, and everything we want our culture to stand for: respect for the life of each and every human being from its beginning to its natural end. We pray for Dr. Tiller and his family."

The Pro-Life Action League said this:

"We deplore the killing of George Tiller on Sunday morning," said Joseph M. Scheidler, national director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League.

"It has always been my philosophy that we convert abortionists," said Scheidler. "As activists committed to saving lives, we vigorously oppose violence."

Priests For Life said:

The pro-life leadership has gone out of its way – and rightly so – to condemn the violence that took the life of abortionist George Tiller on Sunday. I join with those voices, as I always have done, that declare that the end never justifies the means, and that violence has no place in the effort to end abortion...

The pro-life movement is a movement of non-violence. As Ghandi and Dr. King taught, and as we teach, non-violence is not passivity, and it is not obscurity. It is a force. It is a clear and strong response against violence, in whatever form that violence takes.

Let the outcry against Tiller’s murder be loud and clear. And let the outcry against the murders he committed – and that other abortionists commit -- be loud and clear as well.

And on a local level in George Tiller's state, Kansans for Life said:

"Kansans for Life deplores the murder of Dr. George Tiller, and we wish to express our deep and sincere sympathy to his family and friends,” said director Mary Kay Culp. “We value life, completely deplore violence, and are shocked and very upset by what happened in Wichita today."

So I hope that sets the record straight for any honest observer. The mainstream groups within the pro-life movement have done everything they can to make abundantly clear that they condemn the murder of George Tiller and to distance themselves from any use of violence to advance the pro-life cause. Other activist movements can and should take a lesson from this.

Photo Credit: / CC BY-ND 2.0


  1. Thanks so much for pointing out that the pro-life movement is a peaceful movement. Yes, I am sure there are nutjobs that go out and commit murder in the name of justice for unborn babies but those are few and far between and represent the very fringe of the movement, and not the vast majority of pro-lifers. Your post shows that the pro-life groups denounce murder committed in order to save unborn babies lives. Two wrongs don't make a right.

  2. Thanks Teresa. I think I may be referring to this post frequently in the future.

  3. It would be absolutely inconsistent with the philosophy the Pro Life Movement holds if they ever failed to emphatically, and with great dispatch, denounce the this violent action.

  4. and PETA is mostly peaceful...

    now what?

  5. cut and paste jobs:

    Mr. Tucci would not allow a reporter to sit in on the classroom sessions, which he said have included a presentation by two private investigators on electronic surveillance equipment, a lecture by an American-history teacher on the connection between the anti-abortion movement and abolitionism and the use of "Wanted" posters with the names, pictures and addresses of doctors who perform abortions.

    (it is amazing, Op. Res. says it has no idea where those wanted posters came from, and yet, they have seminars on how to distribute them.)

    here is what a witness to the first doctor murdered reported:

    Steve Powell, an employee at an office park where the clinic is located, told reporters that Griffin singled out the physician as his target, chased him and shot him at point-blank range.

    Powell said the protesters acted strangely after the shooting. "It looked like they were just happy," he said.

    I am sure they were happy before the cameras showed up, afterwards, they felt really, really bad that the man they have been accusing of murder was himself murdered.

    it's a Holy War against doctors:

    "What's happening is that those who live by the sword now face dying by the sword. Violence begets violence, and abortion is the ultimate violence," says Joseph M. Scheidler, one of the grandfathers of the militant wing of the anti-abortion movement and the head of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League.

    "I used to be able to sit around a table and without any prevarication at all say these were nonviolent people. I can't any more. I'm somewhat surprised at how many are saying we have to go ahead with this holy war."

    how widespread is it:

    According to the National Abortion Federation, more than 500 clinics have been vandalized since the late 1970s, and another 200 have been bombed, set afire or were targets of attempted destruction. In the last 10 days alone, fire bombings hit family planning and abortion-related facilities in Bakersfield, Peoria, Ill., and Lancaster, Pa. Earlier this month, an abortion clinic in Newport Beach was damaged by a small bomb, and its manager said that she later received a telephone threat that her car and house would be next.

    In recent weeks, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., clinic's staff tried to reopen after a firebombing only to be locked out because the landlord said he received repeated death threats. A Baton Rouge, La., clinic closed because its retired doctor could not be replaced, and a fire bombed clinic's staff in Missoula, Mont., says it cannot find anyone to rent it new space.

  6. more:

    Life Dynamics, a pro-life group had this to say:

    Called "Bottom Feeder," the cartoon book lampooned abortion doctors with eight pages of bathroom-style jokes, including a couple with violent suggestions:
    "Q: What would you do if you found yourself in a room with Hitler, Mussolini and an abortionist, and you had a gun with only two bullets?
    A: Shoot the abortionist twice."

    Life Dynamics described the resulting national furor as a publicity bonanza. "Had we known it would work as well as it did, we would have done it sooner," the group said in its Update publication.

    more from Operation Rescue ilk:

    Joseph L. Foreman, a Presbyterian minister who helped found Operation Rescue and now leads the Milwaukee-based Missionaries to the Preborn. "The transcendent question being forced upon the pro-life movement is, do you really think this is murder? You know it would be right if your family was defended from murderers by someone using lethal force. Why not a fetus? To say that it's not murder is to buy the line of the abortionists--that the fetus isn't quite as human as a human."

    Scheidler is a leader of the pro life movement who has spoken out publically against violence... good for him

    however, in a court of law, this came out:

    `Thanks so much for sending the photographs of our gang in front of the bombed-out abortuary--great scene,'' Scheidler wrote to a supporter in May 1985. ``Appreciate your help. Keep up the good work.'' In 1986, Scheidler wrote an attorney representing kidnapper Don Benny Anderson, suggesting a ``nationwide movement to seek his release.'' Scheidler told another supporter in 1984 that Anderson ``has a lot to teach us.'' Citing this evidence, U.S. District Judge James Holderman ruled that Scheidler had maintained ``links'' to arsonists, noting that the letters in particular ``reveal that Scheidler did nothing to discourage bombings of clinics, but rather encouraged the activity.''

    i am sure everything is different now...

    and i haven't even started on the Army of God.

    I don't think PETA 'policing their own' is a big problem in light of this.

    I will agree that people should wear fur if they choose...

  7. still more from Op Res:

    "I think the posters are a good idea," Mr. Tucci said, adding that the posters should always include a disclaimer prohibiting violence. "They expose these people to the community."

    The wanted posters are a good idea, even if somebody who reads them goes out and shoots the guy on the poster...

  8. and I call utter bullshit on 'the wanted posters expose these guys to the public.'

    theY're a doctor providing services TO THE COMMUNITY !!!!! they are already 'exposed' to the community.

    maybe the posters are for a different reason?

    did you guys know that one of the judges who ruled in Roe vs Wade has had his house shot up?

    or the Army of God's kidnapping of an abortion doctor?

    or the fake anthrax letters?

    and the bombings and the arson?

    by all means, bring the pro-life movement in the debate over groups policing violence in their name.

    sad to say, the ProLife movement isn't as stellar in this regard as you imply.

    PETA may have a violent aspect, but Hey kettle, youre black!!!!

  9. has PETA murdered anyone yet?

    seems like they are more 'peaceful' then the pro-lifers.

    a murderer who is really, really sorry for what he did is not 'more peaceful' than a person who hasn't murdered anyone.

    a group who denounces murders committed by their followers is not more peaceful than a group who doesn't murder at all.

    that seems logical to me

  10. Tom,
    You are confusing the people who proclaim to be pro-life and really are not with the people who are really pro-life. But, PETA does not make that distinction. PETA promotes all things necessary, including violence, to save the animals. Pro-life groups do not promote violence and that is the difference.

    Accompanying the attacks is increasingly tough talk from activists such as Dr. Jerry Vlasak, a spokesman for the Animal Liberation Front press office. In an interview with The Associated Press, he said he is not encouraging anyone to commit murder, but “if you had to hurt somebody or intimidate them or kill them, it would be morally justifiable.”

    Here is the site:

    You don't hear or see any language like that coming from truly pro-life groups.

    PETA ties to terrorism:

    I think this sounds like a great blog post: PETA and violence-- coming soon.

  11. Gee, Todd- you really have a chip on your shoulder against the pro-life movement.

    Please remember that I haven't denied that violence occurs against abortion clinics and doctors in the name of the pro-life movement. In fact I readily acknowledge it and explain that every major activist movement has its militant nuts.

    But cases of violence against abortion clinics are overwhelmingly carried out by individuals acting alone, and my point here is to show that when they do happen, every major pro-life group in the country vocally, unequivocally, and harshly condemns the violent acts.

    I've proven that above. If you refuse to see it, there's nothing more I can do for you.

  12. very well then.

    I thought you were saying that the pro-life movement is less violent than PETA...

    because when violence (spefically murder)occurs from the pro-life movement, they denounce it.

    PETA has yet to murder anyone.

    I am all for peaceful pro life movements, which, as you have proven, exist aplenty...

    but you don't get the right to say the 'violent ones' don't count, or that they are individuals acting alone, because there are pro life groups that promote and COMMIT violence.

    if you think those 'groups' don't count - cool.

    we can disagree.

  13. theresa:

    I in no way condone what ALF or ELF does.

    I will also say fighting abortion by killing others makes more 'sense' then killing and destroying over "animal rights"

    I am in no way trying to deginerate 'true' pro-life movements.

    I was simply trying to make a point. (and I am a little salty today)

  14. Wes, regarding chips on my shoulder:

    when you verbally assault my friends, calling them selfish whores, murderers, spitting at them, which the 'peaceful pro-life' movement was doing when I was younger than you are now (20+ years), don't be surprised if some people may despise your movement for the rest of their lives for it.

    you movement has been murdering people since the 80's.

    who has PETA, ELF or ALF killed? lets do a body count.

    this wasn't some fringe movement dude, they did that shit all over the country...there were over 100 were we were at... every day, assaulting people.

    I'd leave them out of any conversation regarding violence. I am sure I am not the only one who has experienced the pro-life's peaceful protests.

  15. if the pro-life movement does such a good job policing thier own, as you assert, why do doctors keep getting killed, and not one animal abuser has ever been killed?

    why do judges and the police keep having to get involved?

  16. I wouldn't say that violent killings in the name of the pro-life movement "don't count." I'm not even sure what that means, but I definitely wouldn't say that they don't matter. And again, I'm not saying it doesn't happen.

    It does happen. It does matter. It is wrong. I am simply saying that most pro-life people are not violent, and that furthermore, every mainstream pro-life organization from the Catholic Church to National Right to Life vocally condemns these acts and carefully distances themselves from the nuts that commit them.

    I would appreciate that same kind of careful marginalization of militant activity on the left from mainstream left-wing activist groups.

    To answer your final question- I don't think it's a very fair one. Take me for instance, Todd. I'm pro-life and very non-violent. But I have absolutely no control over what some nutjob does in the name of the pro-life movement. Neither does the director of National Right to Life.

    What can we possibly do to stop such a person? If he's crazy enough to kill someone, nothing is going to stand in his way, certainly not my disapproval.

    So when I say that the pro-life movement is good at policing its militant nuts, I don't mean that it is good at preventing them from committing acts of crime, which it couldn't possibly do and can't fairly be expected to do.

    I simply mean that it is good at keeping those people at arms length and clearly spelling out that they do not have the sanction or support of the movement.

    Animal rights extremists and eco-terrorists pull the same kind of crap (e.g. and I'm not satisfied that groups like PETA do enough condemning and distancing. In fact, PETA actually gives financial support to groups like ALF.

    Do the research yourself- PETA has paid for the legal defense of ALF members who have carried out militant acts. Now if National Right to Life paid for the legal defense of Tiller's shooter, they would deserve our scorn. Why not PETA too?

  17. I agree, and I have tried to be clear... PETA deserves our scorn. I also agree, most pro-life people are peaceful, as are most PETA members.

    But here is how I remember us getting to the point where protesters were sitting outside abortion clinics with their mouths taped shut...

    A long time ago, a bunch of people started showing up at clinics terrorizing people involved in the abortion industry.

    This went on for some time.

    Then laws had to be passed to prevent these people from 'expressing their right to free speech'

    then thousand had to be arrested, many had to be convicted.

    Lawsuits had to be filed, and judgements had to be awarded AGAINST these pro-life groups.

    Operation Rescue had to go broke b4 they got rid of ol' Terry.

    Then, and only then, did the 'pro-life' movement become 'peaceful protesters'.

    that is how I remember it happening...

    Some animal rights groups don't condemn violence.

    Some pro-life groups don't condemn violence.

    all deserve our scorn.

  18. Hey I agree with you there too- that the government should absolutely prosecute militant terrorists for commiting acts of violence.

    Again, I don't think the Family Research Council or the Catholic Church in America was organizing these violent acts or approves of them. So naturally, they didn't need to face any legal action or undergo some sort of transformation into a peaceful group- because they already were.

    But yes- the government should do the literal policing, and put arsonists and shooters and such behind bars.

    Thanks for the discussion, Todd!

  19. You can't be libertarian and ProLife. It's an oxymoron. You're just a disgruntled republican.

  20. I disagree. My short answer is:

    If you believe that a fetus is a human being (just like you believe an infant is, or a child is, or a teenager is), then as a libertarian you would probably believe government should protect that human being's life like it protects the infant's life, the child's life, and the teenager's life. Doesn't seem very inconsistent to me.

    Now naturally if you think that a fetus is simply tissue mass, then of course as a libertarian you would oppose restrictions on abortion just as you would oppose restrictions on say- getting a hair cut. But the issue hinges on that question (the ontological status of the fetus).

    My long answer defends the idea that the fetus is in fact a human being (without using sectarian religious revelation as my argument). You can read it here: