Murderous antiabortion extremists might be able to gun down doctors, but this form of terrorism is only effective when the courage of those they seek to intimidate fails. The response to the slaying of Kansas abortion provider George Tiller shows it hasn't.
Tiller was shot to death in church last year by activist Scott Roeder, who was convicted of premeditated murder in January. Tiller's Wichita clinic was closed after his slaying, prompting a nationwide search by abortion rights advocates for doctors to carry on his work -- he was one of a very few in the United States who performed late-term abortions. Dr. Curtis Boyd of Albuquerque recently announced on his website that he would do the procedure, with the help of two California physicians, Susan Robinson and Shelley Sella, who used to work with Tiller.
The thing that makes the debate over abortion so wrenching is that activists on both sides believe they are guided by a higher moral purpose. Yet it's impossible to see anything moral about terrorizing doctors or the women who seek their services. Tiller was the fourth doctor and the eighth person to be slain by antiabortion fanatics since 1993; as long as there are fringe groups such as the Army of God that condone such murders, the "pro-life" stance of legitimate abortion opponents will be undermined.
Boyd's reasons for performing abortions, articulated in a 2008 speech, are worth repeating because they express much of the rationale for the abortion rights movement: "In my generation, many of the doctors of conscience who chose to provide abortions were moved by the horrors of botched illegal abortions. But that was not what drove me to risk my career and sometimes my life. I was moved by the certain knowledge that women's lives could be ruined when they could not abort a pregnancy."
Late-term abortion is a distasteful and fortunately very rare procedure, generally performed when the fetus has severe genetic anomalies or the mother's health is threatened. The laws governing it are muddled, thanks to a misguided decision by a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. In 2007, it upheld a federal ban on so-called partial-birth abortions, even though the law contained no exception to protect a woman's health. Meanwhile, it's still legal to perform late-term abortions using a different procedure. The only material difference between the legal and illegal methods is that in some cases partial-birth abortion is safer for the woman. Either way, the fetus is usually killed with a drug before extraction.
The makeup of the Supreme Court might shift with the political winds, but the courage of those committed to freedom of choice does not. When one falls, others rise.