Sunday, June 7, 2009

George Tiller, R.I.P.

I was busy for a while, so I didn't have time to comment on a fairly important event that rocked the pro-life world recently. I'm speaking about the murder of George Tiller. What an awful time for this to happen. Not that there is ever a good time for someone to be killed, but this is particularly bad timing. Just as Obama has offered an olive branch to the movement, someone in that movement has reacted with a terrible act of violence.

I posted recently on the Old Guard of the pro-life movement. Don't get me wrong. I love the Old Guard, and I think that the movement is where it is now because of them. Because of the Old Guard, more Americans now call themselves pro-life than pro-choice. In 1995, the percentage was 56-33 pro-choice. Now that has swapped to 51-42. That is quite a switch. Nor do I call Scott Roeder a member of that Old Guard. Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, has unambiguously stated that Scott was never a member of Operation Rescue.

The change has come about because of a wide variety of things. Operation Rescue played a large part. But even more importantly has been the grassroots impact of crisis pregnancy centers, post-abortive services, counseling, homes opened for women to live in while they complete a pregnancy, and other grassroots methods of fighting abortion that have focused on the women as much as on the babies.

Traditionally, the movement has employed a trio of tactics to fight abortion: operation rescue; political engagement; and services offered to women. After FACE when sitting in front of an abortion clinic became a felony, that leg of the tripod evolved into the methods of Mark Crutcher, and harassment of abortionists at their homes and at work. These methods were effective. We ran most of the abortionists out of El Paso using this latter method.

But I think what the movement has learned as of late is that the path of fanatical language and good party-bad party politics doesn't work. Tiller the Killer, as we called him growing up, was a household name. And he was a killer. To the end, he was one of the only abortionists to perform third-trimester abortions for almost no reason whatsoever, even on minors, without reporting any instances of statutory rape. But Norma McCorvey was converted, not by being called a killer, but by the love of a young girl. And I think that one thing that we should accept from Obama is his offer of dialogue.

This does not mean that we get lulled to sleep. It means that we actively engage in this new stage of the battle. There are a Scylla and a Charybdis that we must navigate here. On the one side, we can hear Obama's framing of the issue in a whole new way, a way more positive for the pro-life movement than from any other democratic president, and sit back and believe ourselves victorious in the culture wars. If we do this, we will wake up to find ourselves in the situation of Europe now, where issues of morality have ceased to be salient in the public square. Or, we can go the route of the three wise men -- Novak, Hudson (replacing Neuhaus) and Weigel -- and refuse to hear Obama as anything but a fork-tongued politician. If we go this route, we must also condemn L'Osservatore Romano as naive and ignorant of American affairs. But we must steer between these two hazards. We have not won, but the days of Weigel's partisanship are over. They must be over, because they did not work. It is time to universalize our movement, removing it from the shade of any party and any ideology. We will talk to everyone, and we will rejoice in the death of no one.

I'm not sure where this should take us necessarily. But hopefully the death of George Tiller will bring the abortion debate to a new level that will finally lead us to that hoped-for victory.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ


BCatholic said...

I remember last year, the spring of 2008, when a group from BC went to NY to meet with a priest who runs a pro-life apostolate and trains people to protest at abortion clinics. He's converted doctors. He told this one story, relayed to me by the group that went down...

After a few weeks of praying at the clinic (no megaphones, no shouting, just quiet prayer) he saw the doctor walking in. He said, "I just want to say, I know you believe you are doing good, and if any member of the pro-life movement has ever treated you uncharitably, I want to apologize on behalf of the movement." The doctor said thank you and that was that. After a few weeks, the priest said, "Would you pray an Our Father with us?" The doctor began standing with them while they prayed one every day before walking into the clinic. Six months later the doctor came out and said, "I'm done." One nurse said, "Every time you sang 'Amazing Grace' we stopped doing our work inside until it was over."

That's the power of Love.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the Obama offer of dialogue on abortion includes open, frank, two-way discussion of the issue that is central to pro-lifers: that abortion constitutes the killing of a human life. In the early days after Roe v. Wade was decided, many pro-choice proponents made arguments that most people today would consider disingenuous: it's just a "clump of cells," analogies to parasital life, etc. Perhaps because of the ubiquity of ultrasound, I don't hear those kinds of arguments from intelligent people today. Most proponents of legalised abortion simply dodge the issue of the taking of human life by declaring it insoluble and off-limits for reasoned discussion--an inherently religious or personal matter on which we should "trust" women to do the right thing. A notable exception is Camille Paglia, who openly acknowledges that abortion kills a human life but nevertheless feels it is important that we have that right.

I do believe that dialogue between people with opposing viewpoints is important. However, it will not be a very fruitful endeavor if the rules of engagement dictate that the central concern of one dialogue partner cannot openly and honestly be discussed.

Bobadilla said...

It is time to universalize our movement, removing it from the shade of any party and any ideology.

That is a great goal. Sadly it is not within the power of the Pro Life movement if certain parties and certain ideologies refuse to accept the Pro Life position. It is not prolifers' fault that they can't get a hearing in the Democratic Party or among leftists generally.

Also, thanks for that link to Weigel's article. His analysis was insightful and balanced as always, your disparaging comments notwithstanding.