Blog Debate of the Day

Damon Linker:

If abortion truly is what the pro-life movement says it is — if it is the infliction of deadly violence against an innocent and defenseless human being — then doesn’t morality demand that pro-lifers act in any way they can to stop this violence? I mean, if I believed that a guy working in an office down the street was murdering innocent and defenseless human beings every day, and the governing authorities repeatedly refused to intervene on behalf of the victims, I might feel compelled to do something about it, perhaps even something unreasonable and irresponsible. Wouldn’t you?

Rod Dreher:

The answer, I think, has to do with prudence. We live in a society and a culture in which there is wide disagreement about the moral personhood of the unborn child (or, if you prefer, “fetus”). Taking another human life is the gravest crime imaginable. If one is prepared to do that, one had better believe that one has no other choice, and that the stakes are radically high. The consequences for introducing lawless violence into a society, even in a righteous cause, are unpredictable, and stands to bring about a worse evil than the evil the violence is designed to fight.

Ezra Klein:

Yesterday’s killing was meant to render abortive procedures unsafe for doctors to conduct and thus inaccessible.
If a woman cannot get an abortion because no nearby providers are willing to assume the risk of performing it, the actual outcome is precisely the same as if the procedure were illegal. Roeder has, in all likelihood, made abortion less accessible. It would be, in my view, a perfectly appropriate response for the Congress to decisively prove his action not only ineffectual, but, in a broad sense, counterproductive.
That’s not to suggest fast-tracking legislation that radically transforms the county’s uneasy consensus. But there are plenty of remedies that speak to the question of access alone: Bills that make abortion centers safer and help poor women afford treatment, for instance. We can’t stop Scott Roeder from killing George Tiller. But we can stop him from having his intended effect on a woman’s ability to choose.

Megan McArdle:

… if you actually think late-term abortion is murder, then the murder of Dr. Tiller makes total sense. Putting up touching anecdotes about people he’s helped find adoptions, etc, doesn’t change the fact that if you think late-term abortions are murder, the man was systematically butchering hundreds of human beings a year—indeed, not merely butchering them, but vivisecting them without anesthetic. I’m sure many mass murderers have done any number of kind things over the course of their lives, to which the correct response, if you’re trying to stop the murders, is “so?”
…We accept that when the law is powerless, people are entitled to kill in order to prevent other murders—had Tiller whipped out a gun at an elementary school, we would now be applauding his murderer’s actions. In this case, the law was powerless because the law supported late-term abortions. Moreover, that law had been ruled outside the normal political process by the Supreme Court. If you think that someone is committing hundreds of gruesome murders a year, and that the law cannot touch him, what is the moral action? To shrug? Is that what you think of ordinary Germans who ignored Nazi crimes? Is it really much of an excuse to say that, well, most of your neighbors didn’t seem to mind, so you concluded it must be all right? We are not morally required to obey an unjust law. In fact, when the death of innocents is involved, we are required to defy it.
As I say, I think their moral intuition is incorrect. The fact that conception and birth are the easiest bright lines to draw does not make either of them the correct one. Tiller’s killer is a murderer, and whether or not he deserves the lengthy jail sentence he will get, society needs him in jail for its own protection.
Still, I am shocked to see so many liberals today saying that the correct response is, essentially, doubling down…. Using the political system to stomp on radicalized fringes does not seem to be very effective in getting them to eschew violence. In fact, it seems to be a very good way of getting more violence.

An interesting debate—and one I’ve no desire to enter, except to observe that if even a small minority of Americans took it upon themselves to kill whenever they thought their target to be a murderer, the dead would eventually include OJ Simpson, slaughterhouse workers, air force pilots, exterminators, animal researchers, tobacco executives, and many others. There are any number of professions that small numbers of Americans take to be gravely immoral, even as they conclude that they aren’t justified in committing murder to stop the associated injustice.

Anyway, I mostly posted all this to see what those in comments think about the debate aired above. Please keep in mind, as you post, that Rod, Ezra, Megan and Damon are owed civility — all are intellectually honest writers doing their best to grapple with the morality of an exceedingly thorny issue (and I’ve been forced to strip their posts of nuance by the need to excerpt, so due read their comments in full, especially if you plan to criticize them). An objectively correct conclusion is beyond mere logic, and it is only through conversations like the one they’re having that humanity can grapple toward the best conclusions we have the capacity to reach.