Inconsistencies in Pro Life Thought?

By now most everyone has heard of the shooting of the late-term abortion provider in his church. Needless to say the blogs are a chatter today about the incident with pro-lifers making sure to make clear and unqualified condemnations of the act. And they should. There is no justification for such violence.

However, there is an interesting push-back that comes from outraged pro-choice advocates. They might say, “There are those who believe abortion is murder and that the million children killed every year under American law amounts to a Holocaust. Yet these same people condemn the murder of abortionists. There seems to be a contradiction at work here in that hardly anyone would have a problem with the the assassination of a Nazi SS Officer working at Auschwitz. Many might even consider it heroic. Why not consider abortionist murderers heroes too?”

The seriousness of the objection has been noted. Justin Taylor linked to an article by Greg Koukl that attempts to respond to this objection, but judging from the comments in his blog, at least one person rejects it and calls the abortionist’s murderer a “hero.” Koukl seems to leave the question of whether killing an abortion doctor is morally justified, yet rejects such an action for utilitarian reasons. I left a comment that I will reproduce below (edited to admit a clarification) that takes issue with Koukl’s response.

Judging by some of the things your commenters say, like “All someone did was abort the abortionist” and “Sounds like there is a hero in jail to me,” it looks like the Koukl’s argument is in trouble. The purpose of Koukl’s argument is important, because it refuses to mitigate the immorality or even allow for justification of the murder of abortionists. If you are of the persuasion that killing abortionists should be condemned you have to be seriously disturbed by these comments.

However, if Koukl’s argument fails then you should not be disturbed by them. Mike and David apparently agree that it would be inconsistent to condemn both the killing of the abortionist and the killing of the unborn by the abortionist. If we were [inconsistent] we might tacitly admit that we don’t really believe that the unborn child is fully human and deserving of the same protection adult humans do.

Koukl goes wrong when he says, “It simply does not follow that if one believes that abortion is murder then he would advocate killing individual abortionists.” [But] Advocating is NOT the issue; moral justification is. It actually DOES follow if you believe that:

(1) innocent life is to be protected


(2) one’s right to life is forfeited when one takes innocent life


(3) taking the life of one who has forfeited their right to life is morally justifiable.

The issue of advocating (3) is another matter entirely. Koukl does not advocate it, because it would not have the pragmatic result of ending the problem of abortion. He does not say anywhere that the killing of abortionists is objectively wrong, just like he does not say anywhere that killing Nazi SS officers would be objectively wrong. Koukl’s argument fails to demonstrate “that there is no necessary contradiction in the view that abortion is a holocaust, yet the killing of individual abortionists is properly condemned.” It is only condemned on utilitarian grounds, and whether or not that is sufficiently “proper” is highly debatable.

The only way I see an objective condemnation of abortionist killers is to deny (2). That has implications for many things, but in this case it is what compels Mike and David to say what they say, and it is problematic for Koukl.

What do you think?


5 thoughts on “Inconsistencies in Pro Life Thought?

  1. The fact that this dude is dead is not particularly troublesome, in and of itself, any more than an Islamic fanatic blowing himself up would be troublesome. He profited from being a murderer. More valuable people die every day.

    But our nation exists, and saves lives, by virtue of individual autonomy. That autonomy depends on the government’s authority to protect life. We are a nation governed by laws. Pro-life advocates invest their entire argument on this concept, and rightly so.

    The pro-choice side argues from anarchy (sprinkled with fascism). Their argument boils down to the notion that people (or a collective thereof) are best able to decide what is human. To engage in random shootings is to indulge the veracity of their argument.

    The pro-life side chooses the rule of law over savagery.

  2. I was thinking about a similar conundrum while reading 2 Samuel this morning. In David’s rise to the crown, Joab, the commander of his army, murders two people who were on David’s side (Abner and Amasa) and one who David gave orders not to kill (Absalom). Joab never receives any consequence from David’s hand, though he’s eventually killed by Solomon’s order. If David had responded to Joab after he murdered Abner, two more lives could have been saved. Much like with the death of an abortionist, many more lives could be saved.

    The only reason, I think, that David wouldn’t have Joab killed is because he does deny (2). And it makes me wonder how God feels about (2). On the hand of God’s justice, one forfeits the right to life for any sin, and we all deserve death. On the hand of God’s mercy and grace, Christ suffered that penalty for us to give us life and deliver us from death. How justice and mercy coincide, however, is an immense problem.

    I’m not sure killing a murderer is morally justifiable (perhaps it is objectively so, as you lay out, Adam), but I think it’s not morally preferable. James 2:13 says, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment,” and God says at least a couple times, “Vengeance is mine; I shall repay,” and then there’s, “All who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Our job isn’t to carry out the sentence, no matter how guilty someone may be, and (troubling as it is for me to say) no matter how many lives it may save. As most pro-lifers are Christians, our job is to show mercy–in this case, it’s to love and pray for our enemies. I have a hard time believing that God, who values all life and loves everyone and died for everyone, would be pleased with this murder.

    Honestly, I think we’re playing right into the evil schemes of the devil if we start saying it’s OK to kill abortion doctors (or Islamic terrorists, or communists, or whoever we consider evil). We can’t win people to Christ if our testimony is that we kill people who do wrong.

    At the same time, we can’t win people to Christ if we’re not standing up for the innocent and defending the rights of those whose rights are being denied. But there’s got to be a better way to do that than murder, right? This is still really complicated for me, but that’s what I’ve got for now.

  3. Ben, your thoughtful comment made me think of a reply I got on Justin’s blog that I thought was helpfu. Here it is below:

    Citizen Grim said…
    Adam, I’d revise your syllogism just a bit:

    A) Innocent life is to be protected
    B) One forfeits (consciously or unconsciously) their own right to life when they take the innocent life of another
    C) Taking the life of one who has forfeited their right to life is morally justifiable IF the person taking that life is themselves morally authorized to do so. To put it more simply, we are not morally authorized to punish others for their sins, for two reasons:

    1) This is a responsibility God claims for Himself and which he delegates to governments (cf Rom 13), or in the OT, to the “avenger of blood,” which was a legal provision that has been rolled into government authority in the NT.
    2) As Christians, we were ourselves deserving of judgment, but have received mercy, thus we should extend mercy to others, not judgment. (Matt 7:1-5)

    Now, Scripture does indicate in several locations that use of force is permissible in self-defense (or defense of a defenseless third party).

    Laws in most jurisdictions allow use of force (even deadly force) for self-defense or defense of a third party if the person using force believes they (or the third party) are in danger of being killed or grievously injured. What’s more, there is a precedent in U.S. law to treat desired unborn as “persons,” even if the undesired are not. (Yes, it’s a double standard, and yes, it’s unjust.)

    Thus, if an abortion doctor broke into the maternity ward and was in the act of trying to abort babies there, it would probably be justifiable, both Scripturally and legally, to resist him with deadly force.

    But that’s clearly not what was going on in Wichita. As Mike and I pointed out above, killing an abortion doctor doesn’t actually save any lives, because the mother will simply seek another doctor.

  4. “As Mike and I pointed out above, killing an abortion doctor doesn’t actually save any lives, because the mother will simply seek another doctor.”

    Except in this case, Tiller is one of only a few who will perform a particular type of abortion, so it seems likely that some babies will indeed be saved. Killing your garden variety abortionist probably doesn’t make much of a difference, but killing a lunatic like Tiller who murdered almost fully formed children will likely severely hinder the abortion options for women late in their pregnancies.

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