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.
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