Should violence be used to stop abortion?

Over the years a number of abortionists and abortion clinic workers, almost exclusively in the United States, have been deliberately shot. Several have died from their injuries. As well, again virtually only in the USA, there have been quite a few arson attacks against abortion “clinics”.

In most cases the shootings and arson were carried out by individuals who said that they were strongly opposed to abortion and believed that their actions would help bring it to an end.

Now, in May 2009, after quite some years without any shootings, notorious late-term abortion specialist, George Tiller from Wichita, Kansas, has been gunned down. His death has renewed discussion as to whether violence, of any degree, is morally permissible as a means to try and prevent abortions from being done.

The group Protect Life has been engaging in non-violent sit-ins in front of the doors of Brisbane abortion “clinics” in recent years. This has resulted in participants being arrested, fined and jailed. Perhaps not surprisingly some people have wondered, if this group is prepared to go that far to try to stop abortions, what is to stop them from going further and resorting to violent actions?

This article is intended to address that reasonable concern and will argue that Christians should act only in a non-violent way when trying to stop abortion; indeed when confronting any evil.

A considerable body of useful literature has been written on the subject of whether Christians should engage in violent conduct and this short article will not attempt to canvass all of that material. Consider though these words from I Peter 2:19(b) – 23.

“... if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’

When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered he made no threats. Instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

Here the Christian is clearly told to follow the example of Christ. Jesus did not strike out physically at his enemies* but rather he loved them, even to the extent of dying for them (Romans 5:10). And his followers, having been explicitly told to love their enemies (Matthew 5: 43-48, Luke 6: 27-36) are required to follow in his steps.

So, far from killing abortionists, Christian pro-lifers are to love them; are to die for them.

But what can this mean in practice? When Christians sit in front of the doors of abortion “clinics” they are not coming to the aid of only the preborn children who are about to be killed by abortion: they are also aiding, albeit perhaps less directly, the mothers/parents of these children and the abortionists and their staff. Of course those taking the children to the abortion “clinic’ and those working there do not (usually) see it that way.

Yet it is so. No matter how much a mother/parent may want to get an abortion, no matter how legitimate they may think their particular case is for getting an abortion, they are mistaken. Equally, no matter how justified an abortionist and his/her staff may feel they are in carrying out abortions, they are wrong. Whether the killing of an innocent human is carried out on the basis that it is done to solve a problem, or on the basis that there is an alleged “right” to be able to do so, it is always a very serious moral error with concomitant very serious moral consequences.

The act of non-violently preventing an abortionist from carrying out an abortion is an act of love for that abortionist. It is certainly better for them that they be prevented from killing, even though they want to be allowed to do so, than that they be allowed to kill. (Surely this is true of all instances of murder – the one who wants to commit murder is always better off if their intended act is thwarted.)

It may also be the case that because people are prepared to engage in non-violent direct action to prevent the abortionists carrying out the deed, and pay a high price for doing so, that this may play a role in helping the abortionists recognise the wrongness of their behaviour and ultimately lead to their repentance. Of course it may also be the case that the abortionists may instead harden their resolve to continue to do abortions because of the actions. But whichever way it might go, and we could never determine that in advance, one thing is for certain and that is that should the abortionist be killed in an unrepentant state, it is then too late for him/her to change.

It will be argued in response that refusing to use violence against abortionists seems to show a greater love for these killers than for the unborn children. Those who advocate the use of lethal violence against abortionists point out that the abortionists already have much innocent blood on their hands and they should not be allowed to add to that. In contrast, the unborn children are innocent and everything must be done to stop any more of them from being killed. They liken the shooting of an abortionist to the attempts to kill Hitler: if the latter can be regarded as legitimate then so should the former, their argument goes.

It is correct that everything that is morally permissible should be done now to stop any more lives being lost. But is the killing of some to (possibly) stop the killing of others, morally permissible? No, not at all, at least for the Christian. Killing others is a relatively easy solution. As was noted above, Jesus calls his followers to the much, much, more challenging task of dying for others.

The reality is that, if in the Christian community there was sufficient love – Christlike love – for the unborn children, for their parents, and for the abortionists and their staff, and if there was a willingness to pay the very high price that such love would demand (see ‘But the cost is just too high!), then abortion could be stopped without anyone, at least anyone outside the Christian community, being killed.

If the Christian community were truly to say with one voice, ‘We are all prepared to die before we will allow any more children to be killed,’ then abortion may be ended, and ended without any abortionists being shot.

Those who would kill abortionists then are both right and wrong. They are right to have a very strong passion to see abortion stopped now. They are wrong though in arguing that that should be achieved by killing abortionists. Jesus loves even abortionists – after all they were once unborn babies too! It is easy to be critical of those who shoot abortionists but, while rejecting their tactics, we would do well to hold a similar very high level of concern about what is going on.

Here then lies the challenge for the Christian pro-life community – do we only get angry with those who, by resorting to shooting, make the rest of the movement look bad, or do we allow such terrible events to show us that there may also be inadequacies in our own response?

No one wants to die, but Jesus says it is a necessary part of following him. (John 12: 24-26) Losing what we have worked hard for, forsaking our comforts, abandoning our future plans, being denied our freedom, and perhaps having our very lives taken, are all very, very tough prospects. So what should the Christian say then – “Jesus, you need to be more reasonable,” or “Jesus, help us to see anew just how much you value every human life” ?

We don’t need to shoot: we need to die.

*In John 2:13-16 it is recorded that Jesus made a whip and ‘... drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle”. Clearly Jesus used force here, at least with the livestock, but can this incident, contra all he taught at the Sermon on the Mount, be used to justify killing?