A few weeks ago Dr. George Tiller was shot and murdered while handing out bulletins in the church he attended in Wichita, KS. Scott Roeder has been charged with the murder and awaits trial. I don’t want to use the space here to argue for the positions for or against abortion although I’m against abortion. I want to write about the issue of whether Scott Roeder or those like him are or could be ethical in killing abortion providers. The point I want to make is that this action and others like it are not ethical and should not occur. Scott Roeder, if guilty, should face the full extent of the law.
Let me start by handling some comments or ideas that may bump heads with my view. First, some not associated with the crime but are anti-abortionists are saying, “He got what he deserved.” The thought I’m assuming here is that even though they would not kill an abortion provider themselves, they still think that Tiller in this case deserved to be murdered or death for providing abortions. What I really think is being said here is akin to the “eye for an eye” principle stripped away from any legal setting. Dr. Tiller provided abortions, which is taken as the killing of another person, therefore, apart from what is the legal process involved to change abortion law and the minds of people, he is deserving of death for those actions. Here is a good example of what is seen as a disconnect between what many anti-abortionists see as law or morality upheld by God and the current laws in our pluralistic society. There definitely is a difference between the two. Efforts to overturn current abortion law may be attempts to bring the two together. But, none of that justifies the efforts of one or a few to murder another individual. We’ve heard it said “two wrongs don’t make a right” or “the ends don’t justify the means”. In this case it is not ethical for an individual or a few people to murder someone for murdering others, especially in a nation or state that provides other means to change the current law regarding abortion.
This issue allows me to elaborate on how I think we should distinguish between vigilantism and due process of law. Since our country does provide the means to change or repeal laws in a civil and just manner, Scott Roeder is a vigilante. He is someone who took “the law” into his own hands, and in one act became judge, jury and executioner. Our system of jurisprudence attempts to separate these components out to arrive at timely justice. So not only does our system allow for concerned citizens to participate in elections of representatives to change law along with other legislative means, in the justice system we divide powers up as a means of checking the power that can accumulate with a judge or a jury (think of posies formed to hunt criminals or lynching to catch an execute African-Americans) or the executioner. It also implements a system to allow cases to be presented on each side and representatives of those cases to argue about the issue at hand instead of the people themselves fighting it out in the streets. All this allows for individuals who have a claim against injustice to remove themselves somewhat from the actions against them and see the person behind injustices with the hope of possibly forgiving them and hoping the best for them. On one hand, this in no way diminishes the justice that is sought but helps people be able to turn the other cheek. On the other hand it allows a place for the proper role of government to rule and protect civil society from sliding into chaos.