There’s so much flying around about the murder of Dr. George Tiller, one of the few doctors left who would perform late-term abortions, that one hesitates to weigh in. But here’s a telling piece of context from Mary Mapes, writing for Huff Post on the tactics of Operation Rescue, the rabid anti-abortion vengeance strike force that protested at Tiller’s Wichita clinic. In 1991, Mapes covered the group’s “Summer of Mercy,” which took its vile road show to the clinic:
“[T]hey were bullies.
“In 1991 and until his murder, Dr. Tiller was one of the few doctors in this country who performed late-term abortions. Despite what Operation Rescue claimed, none of his clients were ending pregnancies on a whim. None of them wanted to be there.
“Each case was a tragedy — a much anticipated child discovered to have only a partially formed head, a baby that was dying in the womb and had to be delivered, a child with medical problems so profound as to be unimaginable, a diagnosis that meant a child’s life outside its mother’s body would be both brief and brutal.
“Tiller’s clients often included couples who had been hoping to become parents but had their hearts broken late in pregnancy when they received horrifying medical news about their much-wanted babies.
“These people got no mercy from Operation Rescue.”
“They were hounded and harassed, shoved and shouted at on the most heart-breaking day of their lives. In order for patients to make it to their appointments, clinic supporters had to coordinate each woman’s arrival with walkie-talkies. They shielded the patient by forming a flying wedge of bodies that rushed through the crowd to escort her into the building.
“I watched one woman sobbing as she and her husband were helped into the clinic. Her tears went unnoticed by the hundreds of protestors surrounding her who shrieked and wailed and tried to trip the people escorting her to the door.”
I wonder how many of the protesters had suffered through such a tragedy of their own. A good guess would be “zero.” Lots of empathy for a developing life — even those that had no chance of developing, or or surviving — but none for the women and families that were actually dealing with the deepest kind of tragedy. It’s only that kind of skewed view that might have led Tiller’s murderer to have shot him in church, with his wife in attendance and singing in the choir. Left behind: four kids and a host grandchildren, in addition to his grieving wife.
As is its custom when such tragedies occur, Operation Rescue is expressing its obligatory and wholly insincere regret. But don’t expect the incendiary rhetoric to stop. Worse, expect the violence to continue. This just in from one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers, a former protester:
“Email newsletters from these people — not just the higher ups — spoke of Tiller being guilty of ‘blood libel’, aborted fetuses’ ‘blood crying out for vengeance’, “death mills”, etc. These people not only spoke the language of the Old Testament but saw themselves as part of its narrative. They are Jonah warning Ninevah (Wichita) prophesizing about its wickedness (Tiller’s clinic). They are David up against Goliath (Tiller). There were endless calls for this ‘atrocity to end’ and that ‘abortion in Wichita will end when the Church of Jesus Christ decides it will end’. The radicalism seemed to endlessly feed back on itself.
“This had been going on for years now. When these people said that Tiller’s practices must be ‘brought to an end’ or whatever, I truly believe that the vast, vast, vast majority of them (including the OR president, whom I’ve talked to about this before) do not have homicide on their minds. However, it doesn’t matter. Operation Rescue or Bill O’Reilly do not qualify every statement about Tiller with a parenthetical stating ‘oh, by the way, killing him is not the way to stop him’ for obvious reasons. But even if they did, they can’t stop someone from thinking that more drastic measures are ‘necessary’.”
There’s a further, terrible irony in all of this. Christina Page offers some compelling facts: As abortion rates declined during the Clinton years, violence against those provide or are associated with abortion services spiked. During the comforting years of the Bush Administration (in this one limited sense only!), violence basically disappeared. Now, it’s back. The rise in violence during Democratic administrations can’t be linked to increases or decreases in the number of abortions. Indeed, the relationship looks to be quite the inverse. No, the incidence of violence can be explained only by the ability of nutcase organizations to fire up their supporters by attacking the pro-choice views of Clinton and Obama. In short, the number of abortions isn’t what drives the violence, it’s the politics.
Operation Rescue and similar organizations have much to answer for. But don’t expect them to.