Dr. George Tiller and “Defensive Action”

By Jay Rogers

If you are concerned with the abortion issue at all, you already know about Dr. George Tiller’s death. Tiller was the late term abortionist who operated a clinic in Wichita, Kansas. He was shot to death while serving as an usher in his church on Sunday, May 31st, 2009.

In 1993, I moved into a house directly across the street from one of America’s most notorious abortion clinics, Aware Woman Center for Choice in Melbourne, Florida. I had been involved in pro-life activism at abortion clinics since 1989 and was especially concerned that, after the shooting deaths of two abortionists in 1993, the movement was in serious trouble. Rather than duck and cover like so many other Christian media outlets had done, I felt it was the right time to confront the issue head on with a viable solution. I later bought the house and it became a staging area for peaceful protest. I became obnoxious to both the abortionists, who attempted unsuccessfully to sue me, and even to some pro-lifers who refused to act without a proper respect for the guidance of seasoned pro-life pastors and leaders. I even banned several people from use of my property who refused to follow the protocol I demanded as the owner. Eventually, the clinic was forced to close in 1999 and the owners chose to retire rather than relocate.

But in 1993, the prospect of furthering peaceful resistance looked bleak. With the election of Bill Clinton, restrictive federal laws were created concerning free speech and assembly. The right to protest in front of abortion clinic in Melbourne, Florida was made illegal for a time. Such laws, which were applied only to pro-lifers, would have been unthinkable had they been applied to any other social activist group. Civil rights protesters who trespassed in “whites only” restaurants, PETA protesters who spray paint fur, and environmental activists who chain themselves to redwoods to save the trees from logging companies are not only tolerated under the first amendment, but even celebrated within their own community of advocates. But with the election of Clinton, pro-life speech suddenly became illegal. The reason given, of course, was to curb the “terrorism” of the defensive action crowd within the pro-life movement.

The crisis of principles was inevitable. Pro-life advocates believe abortion is murder. Many of us were drawn into pro-life activism because we were challenged by a radical idea.

If you believe that abortion is murder, then act like it is murder!

Taken to a logical extreme comes the philosophy of defensive action — that it is permissible to use violent force in resistance to a more egregious violent force. I wrote a response to defensive action in 1993, called Justifiable Homicide that was published in the Christian Reconstructionist magazine, The Chalcedon Report. The article has been referenced by both pro-life and pro-abortion activists. I won’t paste my argument in its entirety into this blog entry, but it is available at our website:

http://www.forerunner.com/chalcedon/X0003_3._Justifiable_homic.html

Defensive action is the idea that violent force in the defense of life is permissible since a human life is being taken in an abortion. Since the civil magistrates’ duty is to protect life is being neglected, it is logical to a certain type of mind that individual violent resistance becomes permissible in these cases. Defensive action advocates claim that this is not vigilantism, but the necessary use of violent force in defense of life.

In 1993, Rachelle Shannon used this rationale to shot Dr. Tiller in both arms with a .32 caliber pistol — a gun that is able to kill, but usually does not incapacitate people. Her intent has to merely prevent his ability to commit abortion that day, but not to kill. I remember at the time wondering why in heaven’s name, if she used this argument to justify her defensive action, she simply didn’t finish the job once and for all. As one activist remarked, “This woman is a disgrace both to our pro-life ethic and our marksmanship!”

I’ve spent many hours debating with the defensive action crowd. I will be the first to say that their argument, although wrong, deserves careful scrutiny. I actually agree with defensive action in certain cases. Think of the following situation. Let’s say a serial child molester was released from prison. It defies all justice that the man was released, but let’s suppose that an extreme circumstance was responsible for this travesty. Suppose also that this sociopath has moved into your neighborhood. Soon after that you discover that your six-year-old daughter has wandered on to his property. After a frantic search, you find your child pinned to the ground by the man in the very act of rape. You hold a baseball bat in your hand.

Is it permissible in this case to use deadly force in defense of life?

Let’s say a group of pastors in Nazi Germany begin to participate in a strategy of espionage that results in several assassination attempts on Adolf Hitler. We applaud the resistance of brave Lutheran pastors and erstwhile pacifists such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoeller, precisely because their defensive action in taking one life would have prevented the killing of tens of millions.

What makes killing abortion doctors any different?

The reason is that the defensive action scenarios and their actual implementation have never taken place within the confines of God’s law. That is not to say that they cannot in any circumstance be justified. For instance, if a family member, let’s say a 16-year-old daughter, was about to kill her unborn child and was inside the abortion clinic with a police presence that prevented you from interceding for the life of the baby. I believe it would be permissible to use violent force to prevent the abortionist from murdering your grandchild. In this example, I would agree with violent defensive action.

However, under God’s moral law, we cannot act outside the authority of the civil magistrate to prevent all murder in all cases through the use of deadly force. The only exceptions to this would be the case of a war action, defending a family member, which I’ve mentioned, or a case in which all other options of non-violent resistance would be ineffective to defend a helpless victim. None of the four deadly shootings of abortion doctors that have occurred since 1993 fit these parameters.

It is also good to keep this in perspective. Four cases have occurred in 16 years in which abortion doctors have been shot to death in the United States. Yet since Roe v. Wade was decided, about 45 million unborn baby boys and girls have been slaughtered.

“Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord GOD, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?” – Ezekiel 18:23

Except for the sorrow expressed by God himself when an unrepentant sinner perishes, I don’t mourn the death of those who deserve death. I expect that the general public’s attitude toward Tiller’s assassination is going to be a lot less austere than it was in 1993. We have a president who refused to vote to protect babies even in the ninth month of pregnancy. It’s no coincidence that abortion clinic related violence decreases when a pro-life president is in office, but increases when extreme pro-abortion legislation is enacted that is out of the mainstream of American public opinion.

Barack Obama is responsible for creating the atmosphere of violence among the defensive action folks in the pro-life movement, just as Bill Clinton and Janet Reno through their jackbooted federal thuggery were responsible for creating the frustrated backlash that erupted from among a fringe element who were previously quelled by opportunities for social and political activism within the larger peaceful movement.

As John F. Kennedy said about the civil rights movement, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

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