The shooting death of Dr. George Tiller, a Kansas physician, was all about abortion. The response cannot be. The man arrested for Tiller's murder has been an outspoken opponent of abortion, particularly late-term abortion. That is his constitutional right.
Individuals may, within specific constraints, picket abortion clinics as they did Tiller's clinic; they can protest outside churches, as they routinely did outside the church where Tiller worshipped and died. They may pray without ceasing. They may lobby for or against abortion; they can urge their legislators to restrict abortion rights within the context of Roe v. Wade. They may file lawsuits. They may urge the president to appoint Supreme Court justices sympathetic to their beliefs. They may enlist others to their cause.
They may choose never to have an abortion themselves. They may choose not to risk conception with anyone who would consider abortion, or under any circumstance in which they would not be prepared to welcome a child. They may choose to be very careful about contraception; they may choose to be abstinent. They may choose to encourage women to continue their pregnancies or to educate them about how to prevent pregnancy. They may offer to personally care for, or financially provide for, the children born to those women. They may put into place social policies and institutions to decrease the desirability of abortion, the demand for abortion or the prevalence of abortion.
They have the legal right to do any or all of those things, but they have no right to kill an abortion provider. The United States is a nation founded on the rule of law. Individuals collectively have very broad rights to enable them to shape the laws of the nation and states. That belief is the foundation of democracy. Once those laws are made, they must be enforced fairly and consistently, and those who act outside them must be punished. Murder is well beyond the boundaries.
Even in states where the death penalty remains legal, the procedures and safeguards leading up to it are clear. No one may be punished, let alone executed, without a trial, a conviction and the opportunity to exhaust all avenues of appeal. Tiller's opponents, including former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, had availed themselves of that system, and in March, Tiller was acquitted of all 19 misdemeanor counts against him. No matter how abhorrent the shooter found Tiller, no matter how deeply he felt Tiller was ending lives that should be preserved, taking another life was not the right response.
Returning evil for evil only perpetuates evil. Taking an eye for an eye only proliferates blindness. To say it plainly, murdering a human being is no way to defend the right to life. That the person who murdered George Tiller apparently had ideological motivation is important but it cannot be central. At base, this is the crime that is being investigated and will be tried: A man was intentionally shot to death. The accused must be judged on the evidence of that crime, not on his beliefs.
Those who take exception to abortion in general - or late-term abortion in particular - have at their disposal mechanisms to challenge the legality of those procedures, and many other ways to make their beliefs known to all. Once a person has broken the law, he or she no longer has the right to set the agenda. The judicial system will be doing that, and it must ensure that it conducts a trial of the accused killer and the crime he is accused of committing, not of the murder victim and his beliefs about the reproductive-choice rights of his patients.