George Tiller, the mass murderer of Wichita, Kansas is dead. “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword,” said the Lord. I will pray for his eternal salvation as I do for all abortionists, and I will also pray for his murderer who proved that he was no better than Tiller in that final act. The killing of Tiller has generated an immense amount of publicity, rancor and confusion, even among pro-lifers, so I would like to reflect on a few issues surrounding Tiller’s death that are on people’s minds.
- Can killing a mass murderer be considered “justifiable homicide”? The short answer to this is “no,” but it is not always apparent why. The Church teaches that people and nations certainly have the right to defend themselves, even if necessary with the use of lethal force. Scripture and tradition also teach us that we have the duty to defend the innocent and rescue them, but there are several provisions that put this admonition into a moral context.
- The lethal use of force to protect or rescue someone is to be employed in the midst of a life-threatening aggression already in progress; it is not to be used as retaliation, and it is usually not pre-emptive.
- The use of force has to be proportionate to the aggression (that is, one can’t use a gun to kill someone who only insulted him).
- There also has to be a high likelihood of success in actually stopping the aggressions.
- And finally, one has to have tried using every other means possible to stop the aggressor up to the point of using lethal force.
In light of all this, the killing of even mass abortionist Tiller while he was in church is not justifiable. He was not in the midst of an aggressive act at that moment, and his killer could not know for certain whether or not he was intending to go back to his dirty business the following day. In addition to that, all other legal and moral efforts were actually being made to stop him from doing his work, and it was a fairly well-known fact that Tiller was coming close to having his license revoked by the State of Kansas. In other words, a legal means of stopping the killing was already being played out and may have worked had the murder not taken place. Who knows what will happen now.
- Then could an abortionist be killed in his abortion clinic while in the act of committing abortions? While some might justify such an act based on the above criteria, it would be almost impossible to carry out with the security of the modern abortion system, and the likelihood of its overall success would be extremely low. For example, even if a person killed an abortionist in the act and perhaps saved the baby he was attempting to abort at that moment, the abortion clinic would continue to do business using other abortionists and just re-schedule the other abortions. It is likely that the very same baby that he thought he saved would have just been aborted in a later appointment.
Would that killing save a small percentage of babies whose mothers would not come back to the abortion mill? Probably, but sidewalk counseling does that already and the sidewalk counselors would not be in jail like the murderer would, so they could continue to save babies on a routine basis whereas the murderer’s one single act of saving babies cannot be repeated.
- What effect does the killing of abortionists have on the pro-life effort and is this to be taken into account in the criteria to determine the “likelihood of success”? Presumably a person kills an abortionist because he wants the killing of babies to stop. He tries to cut off the supply of aggression at its source by making one less abortionist in the world; but again, the overall goal of stopping the killing of babies has not been accomplished because there are still abortionists in the world and an abortion industry that an isolated murder has not been able to stop. In fact, the case can be made that such an act makes the pro-life effort much more difficult for those on the front lines as it generates reprisals in the form of bubble zones, lawsuits and the souring of public sentiment against our cause.
The killing of abortionists can only be seen as a desperate act, one which is ineffective at stopping the killing of babies. We must never miss the real tragedy, however, which is the fact of the 60,000 dead babies killed by the mass murderer of Wichita. May God have mercy on George Tiller’s soul.