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