Killing Abortionists

Author Greg Koukl Published on 03/07/2013

Some ask “if you consider abortion murder, doesn’t that incite the killing of abortionists?”

Now yesterday I had the opportunity of catching a new show here in the Los Angeles area for the first time. At 11 o’clock on Fox 11 Dennis Prager, a local talk show host and a fine thinker and a friend and a person who has helped me tremendously in the last number of years that I’ve been acquainted with him both professionally and personally, is the host of that show. It’s a half hour format. He starts out with some opening comments like I do here, and, like he does on his own radio show, then he has a guest for about 15 or 20 minutes. Then they have a couple of comments from the audience. It’s different from most talk shows in that it’s very intelligent. It’s fair-minded, in my view. I know that not from watching it a lot because I saw it only once, but from knowing the host himself.

Yesterday, Dennis asked a question that he’s asked many times before. The question was, “How is it possible that pro-lifers can call abortion a holocaust and, at the same time, can object to the killing of the executioner of little children?” To follow the reasoning, this is what they say. The abortionist is executing the little children so how can one object to such a thing? In order to respond to that he had a guest on from Operation Rescue. It wasn’t Randall Terry, it was someone else. At first I thought, we’re going to have a sound and sensible conversation about this issue, and I hope that this gentleman is prepared to give an even-handed defense for his view because he certainly has a clear-headed and willing listener in the host that day. Dennis is not somebody who is there looking to shoot you down, but to find out what is right so it doesn’t need to be a harsh and strident environment. Dennis wants to just talk out the issues clearly and come to some conclusions. Of course I’ve thought about this issue quite a bit myself and so I was looking forward to hearing a well-reasoned response and one that I might gain from. Maybe there’s some new elements here that I haven’t considered and that I could be helped by.

I was deeply disappointed in the response, though. I think the guest was unpleasant. I think he was unfair. I think he was unnecessarily strident. Especially considering the graciousness and even-tempered manner of the host. He brought in religious issues and religious challenges that were totally unrelated to the issue. For example, when his logic was challenged, which is the issue here, the question is a fair one. The guest simply said that Mr. Prager would never understand because he has rejected Jesus as the Messiah and, since he has nothing to do with Jesus, he will never understand this line of reasoning.

Well, I haven’t rejected Jesus as Messiah and I didn’t understand this gentleman’s reasoning either. It was almost like a religious ad hominem. When the logic of the point of view is challenged, it’s like saying, “Well, what do you know? You’re a heathen, so you’ll never understand my answer anyway.” It was very poorly done and I think everyone in the audience understood that, and I don’t think any points at all were made—either on the thinking side for the cause of Jesus Christ, whose name was mentioned many times in this discussion, or for the cause of pro-life. But not only that, I think there was some ground lost because of the attitude which was demonstrated here.

In one sense, I acknowledge that this issue is a difficult one because we automatically are repulsed by the idea of the cold-blooded killing of a David Gunn by a Michael Griffith, for example. Or the more recent killing in Pensacola, Florida, or any killing on those grounds. We are repulsed by it. Yet at the same time, it seems a fair question to be raised against us, given our position on the nature of the unborn child. How is it that we are repulsed, and how is it that we can call such an act immoral? This is the question that is raised, and this will come up more and more. I hope this is the last killing, but I doubt that it will be. And if there is another one, then Christians who are pro-life will object to the killing and will again be asked the same question. I have dealt with this issue in more detail at other times, giving a lot more reasons and some more background.

Now I will give you what I consider the most encapsulated, or abbreviated, or to the point argument on this issue. I want you to be able to understand this because you are going to need to be able to make the response; and if you can’t make a response to this question then it’s not going to be possible for you to make your claim to the full humanity and personhood of the unborn child and the wrongness of the killings, of late in Pensacola. It’s going to be almost impossible for you to make those stands coherent. Maybe you don’t even know why they’re coherent. You hold to both: that it’s wrong to kill the children and it’s wrong to kill the doctor, but you’re not sure why they’re both wrong and how they both make sense. I will give you a way in which to explain that, and it’s quite simple, actually.

Here’s the objection. Pro-lifers say that abortion is murder and that the 1.5 million children who lose their lives every year in this country constitute an American holocaust. Yet these same people condemn the murder of abortionists.

Assuming you’re not a strict pacifist in which there would be no contradiction because no violence could be recommended in any situation, how does it make sense to assert that abortion is the wanton snuffing out of a helpless child’s life and then condemn those who would protect these children by killing their would-be executioners? In the Nazi holocaust you would have morally accepted the assassination of Nazi executioners and this seems to be a parallel situation by your reckoning, pro-lifer. But you condemn the killing of abortionists and not the killing of Nazis. This is a contradiction, therefore your view is false.

That’s the argument as I understand it. Now, my first observation is that if this objection is valid—and I’m going to argue in a moment that it isn’t—but if it is valid, then all one has established is that the pro-lifer is inconsistent which proves nothing about the rightness of abortion or the wrongness of shooting doctors who perform abortions. But the argument is really asserting more than just that pro-lifers are inconsistent. The inconsistency here is taken as a prima facie indication, like an obvious indication, that we don’t really believe what we say about the unborn child, that it is fully human and that it deserves the same protection of the law that all human beings deserve. When we say that and then in the next breath condemn the killer of abortion doctors, it invites the fair rejoinder that we’re saying two things that are contradictory. They can’t both be true at the same time. One has got to go and I suspect that you really believe the latter, not the former. In other words, the reason you’re convinced it’s wrong to kill the abortionist is that you know deep down inside that abortion isn’t really murder, therefore you should abandon your inappropriate and ultimately dangerous rhetoric about holocausts.

This question needs to be answered clearly and directly and here is the answer. It simply does not follow that if one believes that abortion is murder then he would advocate killing individual abortionists. What follows is this: He would work to end the wholesale killing as expediently as possible. It doesn’t follow he would kill abortionists. It follows that he would do whatever he can to stop the killing as quickly as possible. Now, that may or may not entail the shooting of individual abortionists. The answer to that question would depend on other considerations.

How can that be? Well, anyone familiar with military tactics knows how such a thing can be the case. Life is lost on its largest scale during warfare and the objective in war is to accomplish the goals of the war as expediently as possible to end the large scale loss of life, right? Now, if the military objective is to end the war by—watch this—taking out the machinery of destruction, as a saboteur would do, and killing any individual soldier would put the larger plan in jeopardy, then the individual killer is bypassed rather than run the risk of sabotaging the entire mission.

Imagine for just a minute commandos in the Second World War impersonating Nazi officers, dropped behind Nazi lines to infiltrate concentration camps. Their mission? Destroy the gas chambers. Now mingling incognito with the rest of the camp cadre, they have many opportunities to kill other soldiers, even officers. Even the Commandant. But do you kill the individual executioner or do you go after the gas chamber? In this case, it seems that killing the individual would be wrong even though he was truly murderous, because it would keep the commandos from fulfilling their larger mission. And their failure would mean more lives lost in the long run. The short term gain would be no victory because the machinery of destruction would still be in place. Do you see that?

What this illustration shows is that there is no necessary contradiction in the view that abortion is a holocaust, yet the killing of individual abortionists is properly condemned. In fact, it is precisely because we hold to the innocent humanity of the unborn that we insist on an approach to this solution that is directed at the machinery of the killing—the laws, the economics and the deep human need that makes the alternative appealing. That’s our focus.

Now, there are other considerations to this question, other things that I could say to show that these killings ought not continue. The response I just gave you answers the particular objection in view here very directly, and the answer is that the logical construction is faulty. But you know that is not the real issue.

In one sense, the question that is raised approaches the problem in reverse. The real issue is this: What is the ontological nature of the unborn child (forgive the fancy word)? This is the most important question in the entire debate and, until it’s answered, no moral recommendation whatsoever can be made, either about the morality of abortion or the moral consequences of any protest against it. In other words, you must answer the question: What is the unborn child? Before you can answer any other questions you must deal with that one. You can’t even answer the question, how should we treat the fetus? You can’t answer the questions whether abortion is murder or what we ought to do to abortionists who murder other human beings if, in fact, that’s what they’re doing, unless you answer this first question. What is the unborn child?

Now, listen, folks, if it is possible to determine that an unborn child is fully human and as fully a person in it essential nature as you and I, then it deserves the same legal protections and legal sanctions against its abuse as you and I do. Now that’s logical. That is not a non sequitur. Human beings ought to be protected equally. In fact, it’s in the Constitution; it’s called the Fourteenth Amendment. So, our question is, is the essential nature of an unborn child the same as the essential nature that you and I both share? That’s the question and the hard truth is, if it is then it ought to be treated equally with us. That’s the hard truth and that’s why the hard thinking ought to be addressed to this question. Unfortunately, it’s almost never discussed.

But not only is it the most important question, it’s also the one most easily answered, and that is why it’s never discussed. Every argument against the full humanity and the full personhood of the unborn child at any stage of its development has failed miserably and that’s why it’s never brought up.

That most critical question is answerable and once it’s answered, all these other questions answer themselves.