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Anti-abortion movement not to blame for clinic violence

By Jim Trageser
This article was originally published in the January 26, 1994 edition of The Southern Cross, the San Diego diocesan newspaper.

Following the recent terrorist attacks outside two Massachusetts abortion clinics and another in Virginia, the more extreme pro-abortion groups and their allies in the national media have argued that all abortion opponents share responsibility for the murders. The argument, first raised last year by nationally syndicated columnists including Ellen Goodman of the Boston Globe, Anthony Lewis of The New York Times and Tom Teepen of Cox Newspapers after Paul Hill's deadly attack in Florida, is that because moderate pro-lifers have not corralled the more violent fringe elements of the anti-abortion movement, all must share the blame.

As an avowed liberal who opposes abortion because it is an act of violence, I wholly reject that argument.

I didn't aim the gun. I didn't pull the trigger. I didn't kill anyone. I have vehemently condemned these attacks for the exact same reason I condemn abortion – we do not have the right to take another's life.

I oppose violence of all kinds, from the death penalty and war to abortion and euthanasia. To suggest I am guilty or share the blame for these abominable attacks is to stretch the meaning of personal responsibility beyond all reasonable recognition.

By this logic, Martin Luther King Jr. was responsible for the Black Panthers because both sought equality for blacks. Extend this argument to its logical conclusion, and Abraham Lincoln shares the guilt for John Brown's terrorism because both opposed slavery.

If anyone is guilty of fanning the flames of hatred leading to the deadly attacks, it is the national media, which gives disproportionate attention to the nutcases of society. Even when "moderate" ("responsible" might be a better word) anti-abortion groups do try to get their message out, the media generally ignores them in favor of the radical fringe.

In fairness, abortion abolitionists are not the only victims of the media's preoccupation with the bizarre and aberrant. Middle-class, law-abiding blacks and Hispanics are all but invisible in the national media – especially if they are not entertainers or athletes. The gay rights movement is still presented in most of the media as a side show of cross-dressers and transsexuals, with the vast majority of gays who are quiet and middle-class ignored. And when conservative, Republican women made huge gains in the 1994 congressional elections, the media ignored it – contrast that with the so-called "Year of the Woman" in 1992 when liberal Democratic women made similar gains.

So it should come as no surprise that the vast majority of abortion abolitionists – nonviolent, law-abiding and, well, boring – are likewise overlooked by the media in its search for the sensational.

Too, the same columnists who now chastise what they refer to as "mainstream" anti-abortion groups are also guilty of giving the fringe more weight than it deserves. When media voices such as Lewis and Teepen spend most of their time portraying all abortion opponents as dangerous radicals completely removed from the American mainstream, they cannot then turn around and blame the recent tragedies on "moderate" abortion opponents not speaking out more strongly against violence. It is more than a little hypocritical to hold as responsible someone whose existence you earlier denied.

How many anti-violence abortion opponents have been intimidated into silence by the national media's portrayal of the pro-life movement as a bunch of gun-toting fanatics out to kill all who oppose them? If the majority of abolitionists hadn't been disenfranchised from the political dialogue by the media, the fanatics – the Paul Hills of the world, who were feted on the talk shows and presented as representative of a movement whose motives they reject – might not have taken it upon themselves to kill.

Other syndicated columnists, including Diana Griego Erwin of The Sacramento Bee, have argued that by referring to abortion as "murder," the Catholic Church and other religious leaders have created a climate in which mentally unstable individuals feel compelled to kill abortionists. If those of us who oppose abortion do so because we believe it to be the taking of human life, then what should we call it? To argue that abortion abolitionists must euphemize and obfuscate our opposition lest we encourage lunatics to kill is to use the horrific tragedies in Massachusetts and Virginia in an effort to silence one's political opposition.

It is interesting that when death penalty abolitionists – who unlike abortion abolitionists enjoy broad support in the media – refer to capital punishment as "state-sanctioned murder" (which it is) they are not condemned for encouraging violence against judges or government officials.

Are abortion opponents as a whole responsible for what power-mad fanatics did in the name of stopping abortion? No. We are each responsible only for our own actions. Only those very few extremists who have advocated violence share the blame. Any effort to stigmatize the entire pro-life movement because of what a few terrorists claim as their motive is nothing more than emotional blackmail.