16 September 2015

Pro-Lifers and Killing Abortion-Doctors

Stephen Kershnar
Pro-lifers and Killing Abortion-Doctors
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
August 31, 2015

Over the summer, the Center for Medical Progress released secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood officials that appear to capture a criminal conspiracy by the organization to sell fetal body parts. Several states responding by cutting Planned Parenthood’s funding. Congress tried to defund it, but the attempt died in the Senate. While embarrassing, and perhaps criminal, the videos are less intellectually troubling than the pro-lifers implicit commitment to violence.

There is a history of violence by pro-life forces against abortion providers. The New York Times reports that between 1978 and 1993, there were over one hundred bombings and arsons of clinics, more than three hundred invasions, and over four hundred incidents of vandalism.

Pro-life violence has also resulted in eight people being killed, including four doctors, two clinic employees, a security guard, and a clinic escort. Two examples are worth considering. On October 23, 1998, Dr. Barnett Slepian was shot to death with a high-powered rifle at his home in Amherst, New York. On May 31, 2009, Scott Roeder shot and killed Dr. George Tiller as the latter served as an usher at a Wichita, Kansas church. The leading pro-life groups publicly reject this violence.

The problem is that if the pro-life position is true, then the above killings and some of the other violence are justified. The argument is straightforward. Lethal violence may sometimes to be used to defend innocent parties and, if the pro-life position is true, then, sometimes, assassinating abortion-doctors is an instance of such defense.

By analogy, consider the following case. A Nazi worker drives his truck to his job at the death camp, Treblinka. His job is to drop Zyklon B into the shower-like rooms that are used to kill Jews. A Jewish resistance group kills the worker with an anti-tank round when he is a mile away from the camp. They do so in order to save Jewish lives. Under German law, assassinating death camp workers is illegal and punishable by death.

It intuitively seems the resistance group can permissible assassinate the worker. On the pro-life position, the Nazi worker is analogous to an abortion-doctor, the Jews who would otherwise be killed by the worker are analogous to fetuses, and the Jewish resistance is analogous to the pro-life resistance.

To deny this analogy, the pro-life opponent of assassinating abortion-doctors has to deny that the Nazi worker may be assassinated or show that, on pro-life assumptions, assassinating him is different from assassinating an abortion-doctor. The pro-life position blocks both moves.

The pro-life argument for assassinating abortion-doctors makes the following assumption: Abortion is as wrong as killing adult people and is wrong for the same reason. On different accounts, abortion is wrong because it kills an innocent, infringes the fetus’ rights, violates the Golden Rule, conflicts with God’s prohibition on such killing, deprives the fetus of a valuable future, or brutalizes the killer. The reason one of these wrong-making features is present depends on further assumptions concerning whether the fetus is a person or human being, is loved by God, has a valuable future, and so on.  

The pro-life commitment to violence can be seen in that on almost every pro-life view, killing a fetus is as wrong as killing a newborn. If defending a newborn’s life warrants lethal force, then so does killing a fetus. This can be seen in the above case in that the resistance may kill the Nazi worker if his job consisted of gassing Jewish newborns.

One objector might claim that assassinating doctors is illegal. This objection is weak because morality and legality are distinct. Slave-owning was immoral even though it was legal. Helping slaves escape was moral even though it was illegal.

A second objector might argue that it is always wrong to kill someone, intentionally kill someone, commit violence, intentionally commit violence, and so on. If this is a commitment of the pro-life position, then it is rather implausible. This would rule out defensive war and lethal protection of children being slaughtered. For example, the Catholic Church is pro-life but holds that some wars are permissible.

A third objector might claim that pro-life assassination is justified only if benefit of the killing exceeds its cost. From the pro-life perspective this is likely the case because assassinating and harassing abortion clinics reduces their frequency and each additional life saved is likely to add a happy person to the world. It is also reasonable to think that having children will even add to the lives of mothers who are prevented from getting an abortion. This rests on psychological studies of the effects of motherhood, including unwanted motherhood.

If we have to trade off a fetus for an abortion-doctor, then, in terms of costs and benefits, the tradeoff is worthwhile. The happiness the fetus gains by not being killed likely outweighs that lost by the doctor and his grieving family members. This is because, on average, the fetus has more years of life ahead of her than does the doctor.   

This fetus’ being more important is further evidenced by the fact that, in many cases, the abortion-doctor completed some or all of his reproduction and the fetus has not yet reproduced. Also, because, on average, aborted fetuses have demographic features (for example, black and poor) that suggest that they will have more children than abortion-doctors and will reproduce at a younger age (thus shortening reproductive cycles), there is even more reason to believe that in terms of producing happy people, a fetus’ life is more valuable than that of an abortion-doctor.

In short, consistency requires that if those who accept the pro-life position also accept assassinating abortion-doctors. If you think such assassination is crazy, you’re no pro-lifer, despite your protestations on Sunday. The reason almost no one believes that it’s okay to kill abortion-doctors is that they really don’t think that a fetus has a right to be in the woman’s body when she doesn’t want it there.

LOCATION             a:  DFOKershnar190.mat; Art. Sum. Set #60: Disc #1; Box #13-99; 08/31/15

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