No Resort to Violence

Posted on October 24, 2017 By

by Jim Kelly

Jim Kelly


Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in the series of blog posts based on presentations at our 30th Anniversary conference, held August 4-6, 2017. It’s also the third of three posts that come from Jim Kelly. This post is based on a presentation at the session of the Consistent Life Network’s research arm, The Institute for Integrated Social Analysis.

Already Inclusively Nonviolent

From the very start, after each murder of an abortion-performing doctor, the right-to-life social movement organizations and religious leaders unfailingly characterized their movement as inherently nonviolent.

For example, after the Eric Rudolph bombings in the mid-1990s, the executive director of the Georgia Right to Life said that violence “is never the solution to social problems.” Gary L. Bauer, then president of the Family Research Council, said “Violence is not the answer to violence.” David O’Steen, longtime executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, said “The goal of NRLC is to break the cycle of violence, which includes abortion, not perpetuate it.”

Movement spokespersons pointed out that none of those who killed or injured abortion clinic doctors and personnel had any connection with any right-to-life organization. Each was a “lone wolf.”

More than a decade later, after Scott Roeder murdered George Tiller in 2009, the remarks of leading pro-life organizations recycled their earlier avowals of nonviolence. Here are a few of the most immediate (all from editor, June 1, 2). Note that, once again, their disavowals explicitly claim adherence to an inclusive nonviolence:

“Kansans for Life deplores the murder of Dr. George Tiller, and we wish to express our deep and sincere sympathy to his family and friends,” KFL director Mary Kay Culp told immediately after the shooting. “Our organization has a board of directors, and a 35-year history of bringing citizens together to achieve thoughtful education and legislation on the life issues here in Kansas,” she explained. “We value life, completely deplore violence, and are shocked and very upset by what happened in Wichita today.”

Father Frank Pavone, the founder and director of Priests for Life, a prominent pro-life Catholic group, urged the media and those involved in the abortion debate “not to assign blame to the pro-life community that would never employ these kinds of tactics to oppose abortion . . .We at Priests for Life continue to insist on a culture in which violence is never seen as the solution to any problem. Every life has to be protected, without regard to their age or views or actions,” he said.

Thomas Glessner, a pro-life attorney who heads The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), a group that provides legal services to hundreds of pregnancy centers, said “The pro-life movement stands against violence and killing and this opposition is in our DNA,” he said. “Those who resort to violence against others act cowardly and should be prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

It’s evident that when challenged to respond to questions raised by movement lone-wolves who kill abortionists, pro-life leaders link their opposition to abortion to the nascent nonviolence movement, as embodied by, among others, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and countless others. The core of the movement opposing abortion rests on a principled nonviolence that has separated itself from just war theory.

Just War?

The prestigious neo-conservative monthly First Things, founded by the late Richard John Neuhaus, sponsored a December 1994 symposium entitled “Killing Abortionists.” The symposium, no surprise, morally condemned the use of violence by abortion opponents.

But, surprisingly, the majority of the subsequent letters to the editor (March 1995: pp. 2-4) criticized the symposium participants precisely because these abortion opponents had failed to defend the “justified” use of violence in defense of the innocent, a consideration that is explored in just war theory. The letter writers implied that if one applies that theory to the case of abortion, violence against abortion doctors can be justified.

Rev. Earle Fox wrote that Paul Hill’s stated principle was that “’Whatever force is legitimate in defending a born child is legitimate in defending an unborn child’ . . . It did not appear to me that anyone [in the symposium] successfully disproved his principle.” He offered the analogy, “If that abortionist had been on his way, Uzi in hand, to murder all the children in a given school building, all the parents in town would have surrounded that school armed with whatever weapon they could lay hands on…. [thus] Mr. Hill is not guilty of any crime punishable by law.”

Letter writer Eric A. Voellm challenged the moral consistency of the symposium members: “If we truly believe that the child in the womb is every bit as much a person as a child outside the womb, can there really be any legitimate excuse for not employing deadly force? …. Alas, the pro-life movement is faced with a conundrum. Either we insist upon the unborn child as a person with all the legal rights of an adult, including the right to expect assistance in the defense of its life, or we fold up our tents and concede that the child in the womb cannot expect the same legal and moral considerations as the child already born.”

Similarly, Tom Sheahen concluded that “The reasoning of many of the symposium participants is weak, and inadvertently strengthens Hill’s case … The chilling thing about this entire symposium is that, on the level of logic alone, Hill’s premise wins the argument. Not one of your commentators addressed this question, ‘What should I do to protect this particular child on this particular day?”

In short, some people applied Just War Theory to the situation. Yet these are clearly a very small minority. Most pro-lifer leaders responded instead with an appeal to the principles of nonviolence.

Not Just War, But Peacemaking

When social movement leaders are pushed by the pressing need to justify their position in its core essence, they grasp the moral fact that they must move beyond the more ordinary tactics of winning voting support and financial up-keep for their movement. So abortion opponents dig morally deep and pronounce that they are in effect active pacifists seeking the end of all violence.

The routine framing of abortion in the media is that it’s a conservative counter movement. Few understand the radicalism at the movement’s very core: a resort to violence in any form is a negation of the human good.


The rest of our series of blog posts from presentations at our 30th anniversary conference in August, 2017:

The History of Framing the Arguments (Jim Kelly)

The Vital Need for Diversity (Sarah Terzo)

Making the Case for Peace to Conservatives (John Whitehead)

My Difficulty in Voting: Identifying the Problem (Monica Sohler)

Common Ground (Jim Kelly)

The Mind’s Drive for Consistency (Rachel MacNair)


See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.







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