Dr. George Tiller, a Kansas abortion provider, was shot to death in church Sunday morning. Is it so hard to say that this was a heinous act that should be condemned by all reasonable people?
Apparently it is for some. Religious Right theocrat Randall Terry reserved space at the National Press Club yesterday to opine that Tiller got what he deserved.
Terry called Tiller a mass murderer and said he "reaped what he sowed." Terry added that he wants abortion opponents to employ "confrontational" tactics and "highly charged rhetoric."
At the same time, a band of extremists is applauding Tiller's assassination. The Washington Post quoted one of them, Regina Dinwiddie, who said, "I don't think he [Tiller] was murdered. I believe he was absolutely stopped in his tracks, and it was long overdue."
People have the right to say extreme things like this, but that doesn't mean the rest of us have to remain silent. I believe we have an obligation to speak out against such incendiary talk. I also think we need to stand up to the "confrontational" tactics and "highly charged rhetoric" Terry supports. We've been seeing and hearing a steady stream of it since Roe v. Wade in 1973. All it has done is sparked several fanatics to murder abortion doctors.
What such tactics have not done is reduce the rate of abortion. The Guttmacher Institute reports that by age 44, 35 percent of American women will have had an abortion.
Guttmacher also reports that about half of the annual pregnancies in America are unintended. About half of those end in abortion. It would stand to reason, therefore, that one way to reduce abortion would be to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies. Ironically, some of the same forces that attack legal abortion – fundamentalist Protestants and the Roman Catholic hierarchy – also labor to keep sex education out of public schools and frequently oppose access to contraceptives.
Facts like these, of course, mean little to Terry. His main goal is self promotion and generating a media circus. Make no mistake, Terry has the right to speak at the Press Club or any other venue. He even has the right to applaud Tiller's killer. He doesn't have the right to have such reprehensible views go unchallenged. Indeed, people of goodwill need to denounce them in the strongest terms possible.
Terry has been knocking around the fringes of the Religious Right for a long time. In my view, he's little more than an opportunist and a huckster. I see him as a rather pathetic figure, always scratching to make a living by attacking proponents of legal abortion, gay rights and any other Religious Right target du jour. He blows into town spewing hot air, tossing outrageous tidbits to the press gallery and trying to collect just enough donations from the gullible to keep him afloat for another week.
What's most infuriating about him is that the man is a hypocrite. Terry claims to revere the Bible and seek a godly society. A few years ago, he converted to Catholicism. His interpretation of the Bible does not allow for divorce. Yet when Terry grew tired of his wife and children in 1999, he simply abandoned them and took up with a younger woman, later securing a divorce.
None of this means Terry isn't dangerous. There's no telling what effect his words have on unhinged minds. There are plenty of people in the most extreme fringes of the anti-abortion movement who really believe they are like the Nazi-era resistance fighters who plotted to kill Adolf Hitler. Their delusions are so strong they actually see themselves as heroes instead of what they really are: cold-blooded killers.
Yet these people – who back shooting doctors in church and tossing bombs at women's clinics – never hesitate to judge the ethics and morals of anyone who behaves "unbiblically." The unmitigated gall!
Reading about Terry's rant at the Press Club, I was reminded of the words of Army attorney Joseph N. Welch, who so eloquently challenged the red-baiting demagogue Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1954: "Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"
In Terry's case, I would just add one more question: "Isn't it high time you shut up?"