This Is Terrorism

Ken AshfordCrime, Women's IssuesLeave a Comment

Ann Friedman:

Dr. George Tiller, an outspoken advocate for abortion rights and one of the few late-term abortion providers in the country, was shot dead in church this morning.
Cara Kulwicki writes at Feministe:

This is the first time an abortion provider has been murdered in over a decade. I have friends who work in abortion clinics. This is terrorism. And right now, I just don't have the words.

The loss of Dr. Tiller is deeply upsetting, and Cara rightly identifies this as a terrorist act. It is the culmination of an ongoing campaign of intimidation and harassment against someone who was providing completely legal health-care services. I've been paying attention to the more militant strains of the anti-choice movement, so this news shouldn't have shocked me as much as it did. But, like Cara, I have friends who work and volunteer in abortion clinics. When violence against abortion providers was hitting a fever pitch 10 years ago, I was not strongly pro-choice identified. I remember reading about the murder of an abortion provider, but it certainly did not affect me the way this news has. Whether it's rational or not, today I'm afraid for everyone who works in a reproductive health clinic. And not only those who provide abortion.

I am also worried about what Tiller's murder means for women in Kansas and elsewhere in the country who need the services that he provided. The simple fact is there are almost no doctors who provide late-term abortions, especially in rural parts of the country. I was in Nebraska several years ago to interview Dr. Leroy Carhart (whose challenges to abortion-restricting laws went all the way to the Supreme Court), and Carhart and Tiller were the only two late-term providers in their region. If one wanted to go on vacation or got sick, the other had to fill in. There was no one else. Perhaps it would be a fitting memorial to Dr. Tiller to contribute to Medical Students for Choice, and encourage more doctors with a deep commitment to reproductive rights to become abortion providers.

Publius has some thoughts:

This violent act also bears quite directly on the whole "empathy" debate.  What's interesting about Obama's comments is that the empathy argument doubles as both a populist argument and a high-level theoretical assault on conservative jurisprudence. 

One tenet of both originalism and textualism is that consequences of constitutional interpretation should be irrelevant.  If you take both theories seriously, then you can't really allow consequences to affect your reasoning.  What matters — the only thing that matters — is what the text says, or what the text was originally understood to mean.  And for now, let's assume that conservatives take these theories seriously (rather than merely using them as window-dressing for political preferences).

The Kansas terrorism illustrates why it's important to look at the real world when interpreting the constitution.  For instance, there's a First Amendment dispute about whether and to what extent the government can limit abortion protests outside of clinics. 

The argument for aggressive protection (and thus a relaxing of First Amendment scrutiny) is that abortion protests have proven to be historically dangerous.  Doctors and staffers and patients face truly dangerous risks — risks that were tragically reaffirmed today.  The law should recognize these concrete dangers and not pretend like these protests come straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting of a townhall meeting.  It's fun to argue about free speech in the abstract — but we don't really have that luxury.

The real world matters.  It should be relevant.  It's somewhat amazing to have to argue this.  But that's where we are.