Clinic Violence: A "Moral" Way to Bring About Change?
On Veterans Day in 1998, Dr. Barnett Slepian was sitting in the kitchen of his Buffalo, New York, home, when shots rang out. Soon afterward, Dr. Slepian was dead, yet another victim in a wave of shootings targeted at abortion providers. A tragic event, yet ironic because Dr. Slepian was not even intensely pro-abortion. He terminated pregnancies only because his patients requested it and always preferred births.
Back in the seventies, in its decision in the case Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court legalized the practice of abortion. Their controversial decision brought about a great shift in American medicine. Doctors removed the clause from the Hippocratic Oath stating that they would never perform abortions. Abortion went from something that took place in back alleys to a common medical procedure. This transformation angered many and in some cases led to the formation of extremist groups that protest abortions through violence. These groups use arson, bombings, and even shootings as the means to protest the practice of abortion.
But should violence be used to bring about change? In reality, abortion clinic violence is immoral since all life is sacred and has dignity, because individuals alone do not have the right to enforce the laws, and because most violent abortion protesters run away after committing their crimes, showing that they, in fact, believe that what they did was wrong.
In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II affirms that all human life has dignity and that this dignity should be respected. Because humans share in Gods life, every persons life, has "inestimable value." Although this statement is most often used by the Catholic church to oppose abortion and the death penalty, it can also be applied to clinic violence. Just like the unborn were created by God and have inherent dignity, so, too, do the doctors who perform abortions, no matter how much protesters abhor their actions.
Nat Hentoff remarks in his report on the antiabortion web site "The Nuremberg Files":
An "assault on life", in this context, indicates any form of killing. Abortion clinic violence causes the death of many people. Therefore, it is an "assault on life" that destroys ones "seamless garment" by crossing the line to committing the very sin that pro-lifers claim to oppose, killing. If extremist protesters truly consider it wrong to kill the unborn, why isnt it wrong for them to kill their neighbors? Such questions are usually dismissed by the supporters of abortion clinic violence. Unfortunately, this dismissal leads to dire consequences.
Advocates of abortion clinic violence believe that civil authorities are corrupt, since they allow abortion, and that the only way to stop the practice of abortion is to take the law into their own hands. People who commit violent acts aimed at abortion clinics ordain themselves judge and jury under God to justify their actions. Yet according to the Bible, God reserves judgment of peoples actions, such as the actions of the abortion providers, for Himself. Do radical protesters consider themselves equals of God?
According to the Bible, killing constitutes murder when the killer has not been given covenantal authorization to kill. Gods Law authorizes civil authorities to use execution as a means to protect society when nothing else suffices. It does not authorize an individual to pick up a gun and take the law into his own hands. Individuals do not share with civil authorities the right to enforce the law. God does not ordain abortion protesters His divine executors of the law.
People who commit violent acts targeted at abortion clinics often run away afterward rather than face the consequences of their actions. Witness the Eric Rudolph case. Rudolph allegedly bombed a Birmingham, Alabama, abortion clinic in January of 1998. By the time law officials came after him, he had disappeared into the vast North Carolina woods. Since then, the FBI has been combing the forests for him without success.
Some violent protesters, to completely evade facing the consequences of their actions, do not physically go to an abortion clinic to protest its actions but send their attacks through the mail. Recently, abortion clinics across the country have received envelopes containing sheets of dirty paper, which claim to be covered in the deadly bacillus anthrax. Fortunately, most of these threats turn out to be false alarms, but every time an abortion clinic receives one of these letters a biohazard team must be called in, effectively shutting down operations at the clinic for the day. And God forbid that one of these anthrax attacks should ever be real. Thirty-five anthrax hoaxes were reported between February 18 and February 22 alone. Thirty-five in four days!
Refusal to accept the consequences shows a lack of courage and conviction on the part of the person who commits the act of violence. It shows that they, in truth, believe that what they did was wrong, despite the fact that they claim to be defending a principle and, often, acting on behalf of God and Gods Law.
As any reasonable person can see, it is society as a whole that makes abortion legal, not merely the doctors performing the abortions. Therefore, the killing of individual doctors does not help solve the problem. But if the entire society is the source of the problem, should protesters exterminate every member of it? What purpose would this serve?
By using nonviolent resistance, protesters take the moral high ground and, unlike violence advocates, who often turn people away from a cause, can change the hearts of the public. Nonviolent resistance was the creed of many famous and successful protesters throughout the centuries, from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the twentieth century, who urged protesters to base their methods of protest in love, to Plutarch, who lived near the beginning of the common era and advocated perseverance over violence in the face of a stubborn problem.
The biblical Book of Exodus says, "You shall not kill," a fairly straightforward commandment. According to violent protesters, abortion is killing, and therefore, abortion is wrong. But clinic violence, usually, is killing, or threatening to kill, and therefore, it is wrong. Abortion clinic violence is simply immoral and unjustifiable. It destroys life, which has "inestimable value" in the eyes of God. It makes protesters self-appointed judges and juries when God reserves ultimate retribution for Himself. Finally, those who commit violent acts of protest often run away from their crimes rather than face the consequences of their actions. Protesters must communicate their beliefs to the world without bringing harm to others. As a society, we must bring a halt to clinic violence, a dreadful crime against life.
Copyright © 2002 Colleen Fischer | Last updated October 7, 2002