A crossroad for the pro-life movement and political reason.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware that abortionist Dr. George Tiller was shot dead in his church last Sunday by Scott Roeder, a 51-year-old anti-abortion activist.

Dr. Tiller was acquitted last Friday on 19 abortion-related criminal misdemeanor counts in a Kansas courtroom. The jury was not hung. The man was acquitted. It’s pretty uncontroversial that he indeed violated Kansas law, but the jury of three men and three women nullified.

The anti-abortion so-called “pro-life” movement lost a major battle — supporters of the movement having targeted this man, his clinic, and his patients for decades.

What has stunned me was not that Dr. Tiller was killed, not that he performed late-term abortions (LTAs) with consent of the mother hosting the unborn, and not that the American political left is exploiting Dr. Tiller’s death by justifying the Department of Homeland Security singling out the anti-abortion movement as potential domestic terrorists. What’s stunning is the ‘pro-life’ movement’s cowardly, political denouncement of Dr. Tiller’s death — inconsistent with its own assertions:

“It is immoral and it is unchristian,” Rev. Rob Schenck of the National Clergy Council said of Tiller’s murder. He said the reaction to it “becomes a greater setback to the pro-life movement than anything the so-called pro-choice movement could do”.

“We call on President Obama and the [congressional leaders] not to use this tragedy for political gain,” added Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalitions….

[Operation Rescue’s] former president, Randall Terry, said that, despite Tiller’s murder, abortion opponents must not retreat from calling him a “mass murderer”.

“The pro-life movement must not be browbeaten by Obama or the child-killers into surrendering our best rhetoric, actions and images. We hold absolutely no responsibility for his death,” Terry said in a written statement.

The list goes on and on of these denouncements.

The ‘pro-life’ movement needs to pick a lane on this one: Either late-term abortionists are “mass murderers” or the killing of Dr. Tiller is a murder — neither both (nor neither) statement can be Truth.

The rule of law

In theory, the U.S. is governed not by the rule of force, but by the rule of law — that force is justified only by law. There are fallacies in this assertion as a truism, but to avoid going on a tangent, we’ll stick to the framework — the theses of the ‘pro-life’ movement that “abortion is murder” and the wider anti-LTA movement that “LTA is murder”.

Within the constructs of the law and any rational framework of morality, the use of deadly force is always justified in defense against murder.

Pacifism is not an option

The primary case against abortion is that the act is murder — the initiation of force resulting in the death of a human being. The case is that no woman, doctor, nor bureaucrat should decide as to whether a human being should be killed.

The pro-life lobby and grassroots movements push for legislation to prohibit all abortion, but a much wider movement consists of many patches within the so-called “pro-choice” movement that LTA’s should be prohibited by law and this law be enforced by the government. (As far as I know, people who lobby for legislation don’t lobby for law/policy they prefer to exist to not be enforced. If you have information on a group of this sort, feel free to amuse me with this information.)

What supporters of LTA prohibition are calling for is not a non-violent end to LTA’s, but for it to be prohibited by force. Seeking to change the law via the existing so-called democratic process or judicial review is an active measure to call on the use of force in order to prevent LTA’s.

‘Abortion is murder. Scott Roeder is a murderer.’

According to Title 18 of U.S. Code, murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. Under this definition, Scott Roeder is a murderer. But, under this same definition, most abortionists are not murderers. This isn’t a matter of opinion.

The pro-life movement applies a divine, natural law theory to call them both murderers. For this reason, the employment of the government to use force in order to prevent abortions is a morally legitimate use of force. For this reason, any individual using deadly force to prevent murder is morally legitimate. If not, they make the pacifist argument condemning all deadly force, including the use of deadly force to interrupt a man furiously beating his wife with a crowbar.

Defensive force

Under any rational common law as well as U.S. Code, the use of deadly is justified to prevent homicide, rape, sodomy, and burglary — in short against assault where the threat to life is imminent, violent coercion, and theft.

If we’re to make the moral claim that ‘abortion is murder’, the claim is only a valid moral claim if it is universally applied to all mankind. Thus: if abortion is murder, it is not murder to kill a man in order to prevent the man from committing murder.

The legitimate use of force is a hot topic in classrooms of every law school in the world, but this is a pretty uncontroversial moral, ethical, and legal claim. The largest debate surrounds the death penalty, but there’s a near consensus with the philosophical and legal communities that use of deadly force is justified as a last resort in the effort to apprehend a murderer to face a trial of some sort. When a suspect cannot be found, a case can be made for the suspect to be tried in absentia.

The pro-life movement has made their case defining Dr. Tiller as a “mass murderer”. This is a conclusion that is uncontroversial within the movement. In this assertion used to justify men in government uniforms to use force, the movement has conducted a de facto absentia trial against Dr. Tiller. These ‘absentia’ trials have been the justifications — consistent with the “abortion is murder” claim — for many uses of force against abortionists, their staffs, their clinics, and their patients.

This is why: Either late-term abortionists are “mass murderers” or the killing of Dr. Tiller is a murder — neither both (nor neither) statement can be Truth.


The ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ movements lack moral legitimacy for many reasons, but the ‘pro-life’ movement (specifically) because of these two conflicting moral assertions. If the first moral claim, on which they base their movement, is a truism, the second is not.

When the ‘pro-life’ movement states that Dr. Tiller was a “mass murderer”, they a priori state his killing is just in order to prevent the doctor’s continuing aggression. This same a priori rationale defends the use of force employed by American revolutionaries against the British colonists, slave rebellion factions against the plantation possessors who enslaved them and the enforcers of the law which protected their aggressors, as well as the locked-up battered wife who shoots her husband to steal the keys and runaway with her children.

To say that Scott Roeder is a “murderer” tosses the whole damned anti-abortion argument out the window.

‘There ought to be a law’

When any person says, ‘there ought to be a law against…’ any human action, that person is a fortiori stating that the use of force ought to be employed in preventing said action. That person is saying that people acting in such a manner ought to be shot. This is how government works.

If a person claims that abortion, LTA, not paying taxes, etc. ought to be against the law, that person is a fortiori claiming the use of force is morally legitimate in order to prevent such unlawful actions — or for the law to be enforced. If a person claims that all children ought to be educated, all people ought to have health care provided, all people ought to support a war fought by the government, that person is a fortiori claiming that the use of force is morally legitimate to remove the fruit of someone’s labor from his/her possession and allocate their to perform said ‘oughts‘. This is how government works.

I fully agree with today’s L.A. Times editorial that the death of Dr. Tiller ought not to used as justification for the use of force in order to prohibit speech, but the ‘pro-life’ movement does a fortiori state that abortionists ought to be shot when it lobbies for anti-abortion legislation. Government doesn’t operate the tools of reason, only the barrels of guns.

Remember this next time and every time you say, “There ought to be a law!” or “The government should…”

Abortion is not murder

A woman’s body is her property. It belongs to no one else. It is not for any individual, let alone a group or the majority of a population within an arbitrary territorial area to molest, remove, or feed off of her property without her consent. Abortion is not a “women’s rights” issue (as many are reporting), just as lynching Blacks under Jim Crow wasn’t a “Black rights” issue. Groups do not have rights. Only individuals can only have rights, including the right to freely assemble in order to persuade others. No individual has the right to grant the privilege to any group of initiating force against another individual.

Abortion is not a woman or abortionist initiating force on a fetus. If a fetus can only live by feeding on the woman’s body, it is a parasite to her body: the host. Her body belongs to her — not any other individual or group of individuals — a priori, only she has the legitimate individual right to decide how her body is controlled and used.

Murray Rothbard legitimizes abortion best in The Ethics of Liberty [.pdf]:

The proper groundwork for analysis of abortion is in every man’s absolute right of self-ownership. This implies immediately that every woman has the absolute right to her own body, that she has absolute dominion over her body and everything within it. This includes the fetus. Most fetuses are in the mother’s womb because the mother consents to this situation, but the fetus is there by the mother’s freely-granted consent. But should the mother decide that she does not want the fetus there any longer, then the fetus becomes a parasitic “invader” of her person, and the mother has the perfect right to expel this invader from her domain. Abortion should be looked upon, not as “murder” of a living person, but as the expulsion of an unwanted invader from the mother’s body. Any laws restricting or prohibiting abortion are therefore invasions of the rights of mothers.

It has been objected that since the mother originally consented to the conception, the mother has therefore “contracted” its status with the fetus, and may not “violate” that “contract” by having an abortion. There are many problems with this doctrine, however. In the first place, as we shall see further below, a mere promise is not an enforceable contract: contracts are only properly enforceable if their violation involves implicit theft, and clearly no such consideration can apply here. Secondly, there is obviously no “contract” here, since the fetus (fertilized ovum?) can hardly be considered a voluntarily and consciously contracting entity. And thirdly as we have seen above, a crucial point in libertarian theory is the inalienability of the will, and therefore the impermissibility of enforcing voluntary slave contracts. Even if this had been a “contract,” then, it could not be enforced because a mother’s will is inalienable, and she cannot legitimately be enslaved into carrying and having a baby against her will. (98)

The common argument isn’t the “right to life” that no one denies, but (a) whether or not the fetus is a life and (b) whether or not it is within the so-called rights of said fetus to live only by feeding on another individual possessing absolute rights to her life, liberty and property (her body). The fetus does not have to meet a burden of proof that it is alive and a fortiori possesses a “right to life”; (a) is irrelevant because it is not within any individual’s right to feed on another individual. No individual is entitled to another without full consent.

Scott Roeder was not preventing a mass murderer from continuing his so-called ‘aggression against the unborn’. Scott Roeder was not entitled to removing Dr. George Tiller’s body and life from him.

Dr. Tiller was recognized well by fellow libertarian blogger Charles Johnson:

Unlike most of the bellowing blowhard “sheepdogs” of the world, who can’t get enough of trumpeting how they “put their lives on the line,” Dr. Tiller actually did so in the interest of serving the well-being and the free choices of willing patients who asked for his help in a time of crisis. He put his life on the line to provide women with life-saving safe abortions, in despite of the outrage of the entitled majority, and in the face of physical threats, day after day, showing not just boldness, but real courage, and honor.

We are, and have for a long time, been in a much more precarious position than we sometimes realize; we have spent too many years defending an ever-shrinking number of clinics and doctors against the repeated harassment, blockades, vandalism and guerrilla violence of the antis. We owe it to Dr. Tiller to remember him — to remember him and to remember Dr. Gunn, Dr. Patterson, Dr. Britton, James Barrett, Shannon Lowney, Lee Ann Nichols, Robert Sanderson, and Dr. Slepian — to remember our dead. But more than that, we need to work in honor of their memories, and to make sure that there are no more of whom we have nothing left but names.

Dr. George Tiller and Scott Roeder are not both murderers, under any rational framework defining the word ‘murder’.

Dr. George Tiller was a hero. Scott Roeder is a villain. Scott Roeder is a murderer.

Scott Roeder used murder as a means to intimidate, to coerce the population. His ends were either political or solely religious. This makes Scott Roeder a terrorist.


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  2. […] troubling to me, and should be to any objective moral agent (which I go into greater detail here, here and here). And, though, he remains an exquisite, informative writer, he is not the eloquent speaker […]

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