Beware Of Decoys In The Abortion Wars

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At 7:20 a.m. on Friday, a pro-life protester was shot. He was 63 years old and had spent much of his life protesting abortion. He was brandishing a graphic photo of a fetus outside a Michigan high school when someone sped by in a car and shot him down. The suspect, now in custody, is also linked to another recent, unrelated murder and told police that he had planned to kill a third person. The other victim and intended victim had each employed the suspect's mother upwards of ten years ago, so his motive in these cases does not seem related to the abortion debate.

But despite the potential psychopathic tendencies underlying this crime, it does fall painfully close to the still reverberating murder of abortion doctor George Tiller. Megan worried that this most recent episode of the abortion wars will spur moralistic and self-righteous attacks from the right, and indeed, the Pro-Life Action League is already calling on the Justice Department to investigate the killing and establish "a task force to protect pro-life advocates" just as it established the National Task Force on Violence Against Reproductive Health Care Providers in 1998, after abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian was shot and killed in his home in western New York.

I'm all for pro-choicers condemning Friday's murder, as many pro-lifers did Tiller's. Obama, in fact, has already denounced the act, if in a two-sentence statement. But a task force? George Tiller was one of a very small handful of late-term abortion providers in the United States, in part because of the gruesome nature of his job but also due to the very real danger that came with it. He'd been shot once before (after that attempted assassination, he wore a bulletproof vest to work every day), and in addition to Slepian, other abortion providers have suffered similar fates; in 1993, Dr. David Gunn was killed outside his Florida clinic.

I'm not aware of a similarly grave and persistent threat facing anti-abortion activists. Operation Rescue has drawn attention to death threats it's received, though its decision to publish the threats on its website along with the email addresses of the senders seems suspect. These threats are not to be minimized, however, and as we've seen today, they may occasionally be accompanied by violence. That said, the pro-life movement has long wielded intimidation and terror tactics as key components of its strategic tool set. Every day, clinic staffers and their patients--often very young girls--run gauntlets of shouting, sign-waving protesters. As Obama announced yesterday, "Whichever side of a public debate you're on, violence is never the right answer." But we can't let this most recent act of violence distract from the reality of who's at risk in the abortion wars.

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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