Why Pro-Lifers Oppose Violence Against Abortion Clinics

Though a million children are murdered each year, we remain non-violent. Here's why.

By John Zmirak Published on November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving weekend was marred by news of a mass shooting at a shopping center in Colorado Springs, CO, which wounded nine and claimed the lives of three people, including Garrett Swasey, a police officer, church deacon, and pro-life Christian. Pro-choice reporters jumped immediately to conclusions about the motives of the shooter, even before he was captured, because one of the nearby businesses is a Planned Parenthood clinic, whose employee placed the 911 call. Even as terrified shoppers ran for cover, Twitter filled with politicized sneers about “white Christian terrorists,” an apparent slam at citizens worried at the influx of Syrian Muslims.

There is no evidence that the suspect, Robert L. Dear, who was also shooting at passing cars, has connections with any pro-life organization or even a church. Dear does have a record of brushes with the law; he was arrested once for apparent voyeurism at a neighbor’s house, and later arrested for shooting that neighbor’s guard dog — though Dear was never convicted. President Obama used the incident to issue yet another call for restrictions on citizens’ gun rights.

So it looks as if Dear is not a “Christian terrorist,” but rather the kind of random psycho who leers into neighbor’s windows and shoots their dogs. But some phrase Dear allegedly muttered about “baby parts” will be enough for pro-choicers to tie this deranged hermit’s shooting spree to the “atmosphere of intimidation” that was allegedly created by the Center for Medical Progress’ investigative videos, which revealed Planned Parenthood employees trafficking in human body parts. Every random empty threat that some loner phoned in to a clinic — the kind of threat that Christian ministries also receive, but rarely trumpet — will now be dragged out as “evidence” that pro-lifers are suborning acts of violence by using our free speech rights to seek a change in America’s laws.

We have seen such tactics used before in America by the unjustly privileged. White racists defending segregation called civil rights demonstrators “lawbreakers,” and tried to tie peaceful protesters to Communists and terrorists. Long before that, politicians in slave states outlawed abolitionist newspapers and imprisoned those who wrote for them, accusing them of fomenting slave revolts. So now pro-life activists will suffer those kinds of attacks.

But there are deeper reasons why pro-choicers so quickly jump at any hint of clinic violence to tar peaceful pro-lifers, and why pro-lifers respond so vigorously to denounce these incidents. We don’t like to talk about these reasons, because we want to keep the civil peace, and to stay as far as possible from even the hint of advocating violence. That’s a very healthy instinct. But sometimes it must give way to a frank conversation, like the one below, between a pro-choicer (Margaret) and a pro-lifer (Susan):

Margaret: The kind of rhetoric and graphic images that you people use is bound to provoke this kind of violence.

Susan: Our rhetoric matches the facts. Each year, a million innocent children are murdered in America. Those pictures are of the victims. Does the reality of abortion trouble you? It ought to. Should we collude in sanitizing it? I won’t.

Margaret: The way you people talk about abortion providers, I’m surprised that violent attacks don’t happen more often.

Susan: Well, there are reasons that they don’t.

Margaret: What are they? It seems to me that if you really believed your own words, if you thought that every Planned Parenthood clinic was no different from a Nazi extermination camp, you wouldn’t be condemning people who attacked them. You’d be applauding them. Since you aren’t, that means that you secretly agree with us. You know that fetuses don’t have the same rights as their mothers, or else you’d favor fighting to protect the fetuses.

Susan: We do fight, within the law — just as abolitionists fought within the law to protect the rights of slaves.

Margaret: But why would you be satisfied with that, if you really, really believed that abortion is murder?

Susan: We don’t “believe” that. We know it, as we know that people of different races are equally human. It’s not a matter of opinion, or known only to Christians. It’s the only rational conclusion to draw from the medical evidence.

Margaret: Fine, then you “know” that abortion is murder, but you’re not willing to do anything about it.

Susan: We do quite a lot. You’ll see us every Saturday morning praying outside clinics, you’ll meet us on Capitol Hill, you’ll spot us stuffing envelopes and thronging the Iowa Caucuses. The Center for Medical Progress used investigative journalism to unmask Planned Parenthood’s organ trafficking.

Margaret: That’s the kind of thing you do when you want to balance the federal budget, or tweak immigration totals. But this is mass murder, according to you. If you saw your neighbor trying to kill his teenage daughter, you wouldn’t picket his house with a sign. You’d run over there and use force to stop him.

Susan: That’s true. But what if I lived in a country like Pakistan, where honor killings are tolerated, and the police turn a blind eye? In a country like that, if I intervened violently to stop an honor killing, the police might well shoot me. A mob might attack my family. So my only option would be to muster superior force, get a mob of people willing to fight against the other family and the police. In other words, to start a small-scale civil war.

Margaret: Well, sometimes civil war is justified. It took one to end slavery.

Susan: But notice who started that war — the slaveowners, when the law threatened to turn against them. They knew, in their guts, that slavery is wrong, just as you know that abortion is. They were in the habit of using violence against the innocent, flogging and raping slaves, and were ready to harness violence to defend their evil privilege. But so few abolitionists used violence that we remember the names of those who did: John Brown, and his small band of followers, who tried to start a slave revolt.

Margaret: Would that slave revolt have been justified?

Susan: Its cause would have been just. But you need much more than a worthy cause to embark on something as grave and deadly as a war — especially a civil war.

Margaret: Oh yeah? What else do you need?

Susan: I’d follow the Just War tradition, which sees war as the very last resort, and sets a long list of conditions.

Margaret: So what are they?

Susan: Here you go:

  1. the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  2. all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  3. there must be serious prospects of success;
  4. the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. (CCC 2309)

Margaret: And you don’t think that starting a civil war to end abortion meets those conditions?

Susan: On #1, I’d say absolutely — a million children murdered every year. But #2 is certainly arguable. Despite pro-choicers’ use of an activist court to take abortion out of the hands of voters, we still do have the chance to replace Supreme Court justices who corrupt the Constitution, or we can try to amend it. Your side’s anti-democratic effort to rule through the courts will fail, I believe, in the end.

But it’s #3 and #4 that clinch the case. It’s horrible to think about a civil war waged in America over any cause, even this one. I certainly can’t pretend to say which side might win. More importantly, the destruction and death that would come in such a war might very well outweigh the evil of abortion. What would happen to our country’s nuclear arsenal? Millions might die. Families would be torn apart. We would plunge our nation into poverty and ruin.

Margaret: So that’s why you’re against vigilantes using force to stop abortion?

Susan: Exactly. Not because abortion isn’t murder, which it is. Not because violence is always wrong, because it isn’t. But because clinic violence is an act of civil war. We have not exhausted all non-violent means of fighting this evil. The violent means might fail, and the destruction that they would cause would outweigh even the horror of a million dead children each year.

It’s appalling that we even have to speak of such things in America. But that’s not prolifers’ fault. We’re not the ones who favor mass killing in every city in America, who sell human beings dismembered to medical labs, and hide behind the courts because the voters aren’t with us. We’re not the side favoring violence, though it suits your side to accuse us of it. Psychologists have a name for that. It’s “projection.”

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  • Papist

    Timely and spot-on.

  • Dennis Neylon

    One of the best discussions of the issue of clinic violence and non-violent response to abortion I have ever seen. Thank you!

  • Nick

    isn’t this like saying we shouldn’t bomb ISIS because we haven’t utilized enough peaceful methods yet?

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