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June 1, 2009
Either Way, Abortion
Doctor’s Death a Victory for Domestic Terrorism
may be too early to call the shooting death of Dr. George Tiller the
first deadly act of terrorism in the United States under the Obama
Administration. It is not, however, too early to speculate on what the
Kansas doctor’s death means for what is currently a legal medical
Tiller performed late-term abortions, and his death immediately provoked
talk about the past connection between abortion and domestic terrorism.
Much of that talk centered on Tiller’s own history as a target for
domestic terrorism: He was shot in the early ‘90s, and following years
of protests, his clinic earlier this month was vandalized to the tune of
thousands of dollars in damage.
The connection between abortion and domestic terrorism is a long and
storied one, stretching back over decades and involving things like
bombings and murders. One of the nation’s longest-hunted fugitives, Eric
Rudolph, was tied to this movement through bombs he set off, including
the one during the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, and one at a clinic that
killed a security guard.
Human nature being what it is, it is difficult to know precisely what
the perpetrators had originally hoped to accomplish when they set out.
There are indicators that some had hoped to unleash God’s vengeance on
the guilty. What they did accomplish has been itself a victory for
is important to state at the outset here that abortion, no matter what
side of the argument you come down on, remains legal virtually
everywhere in the United States. That is, if you are a doctor in the
United States and wish to perform abortions, there is really no place
where you could go where you’d be prohibited from doing so by the legal
code. A couple of attempts to institute widespread bans on abortion have
been tried. Each time, they have failed.
Yet the number of places where you can go and get an abortion has shrunk
and continues to shrink. The reason? Terrorism works.
After the simmering campaign of violence against abortion clinics and
doctors commenced, the number of doctors willing to offer the service
unsurprisingly shrank. Doctors made that decision not because they
became personally opposed to abortion, but because they were frightened
by the prospects of becoming the victims of violence. It’s the very
definition of terrorism.
That has led, over the years, to a constriction in geography for where
abortions are available. For purposes of practicality, there are wide
swaths of the country where abortion may be legal, but may as well not
be, because no doctor within a reasonable distance performs them. The
anti-abortion movement has not achieved victory through the political
process, but its more extremist elements (rejected by the mainstream, it
should be noted) have through politically motivated violence.
For all the heat generated, this is even truer of late-term abortions.
Only a handful of doctors in the United States actually perform
late-term abortions. That number is now reduced by one, and if Tiller’s
death is tied to abortion-related terrorism, then those other doctors
who currently perform the procedure and doctors entering the field will
all have to ask themselves whether it is worth the risk. In fact, right
now even as the police search for a person of interest, all of those
people – undoubtedly familiar with the connections between abortion and
political violence in the United States – are no doubt already doing
That means that if Tiller’s murder is eventually found not to be at the
hands of an extremist, that it is intertwined with domestic terrorism.
The connection is, thanks to past actions, automatic. Each new doctor
who, considering the risk, declines to perform abortions based not on
conviction but out of physical fear is another victory for political
violence and a defeat for the way most of us think things should work.
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