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Abortion-Related Violence Is Not the Pro-Life Movement’s Fault

Trent Horn

By now you’ve probably heard about the tragic shooting of two civilians and a police officer outside of a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado on Friday. The motive behind the shooting is still under investigation, but it’s possible that the shooter was motivated in some way by a personal opposition to abortion.

Even though mainstream pro-life organizations (as well as myself) have publicly condemned this act of violence, that hasn’t stopped pro-choice advocates from trying to blame pro-lifers for what happened. But their arguments for the idea that pro-lifers have “blood on their hands” (a charge someone actually leveled against me on social media) are not convincing.

Claim #1: You pro-lifers want these shootings to happen!

This is perhaps the gravest and yet most easily debunked accusation. Mainstream pro-life organizations condemn abortion-related violence, so what evidence is there that “pro-lifers” want shootings like this to occur?

The best the other side has come up with are a handful of tweets made by a dozen people online. These people either called the shooter “brave” or lamented the fact that the media focuses on this killing but ignores the 1.06 million unborn humans in the U.S. who die from abortion every year.

Of course, it is disingenuous to claim, as blogger Dan Arel over at the Patheos Atheist channel does, that “This is the ‘pro-life’ movement.” That would be like saying the handful of Black Lives Matter protestors who have made tweets that celebrated the murder of police officers or insinuated that a cop might deserve to be killed are “the face of the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Just as it would be absurd to impugn peaceful protestors who denounce police brutality by citing the rants of a few unhinged zealots, it is absurd to impugn the peaceful nature of the pro-life movement by citing the rants of a few random people on Twitter.

Claim #2: Your rhetoric encourages people to commit these acts of violence!

This argument is a bit more sophisticated than the previous one. It admits that pro-lifers don’t explicitly call for violence, but they know their rhetoric about “baby-killing” will result in someone violently retaliating against the “baby killers.” While pro-lifers may not have pulled the trigger, they are still responsible for the violence because their words motivated the perpetrator’s actions. 

For example, the president of the National Abortion Federation (NAF) said, “Anti-choice extremists know that their rhetoric incites others to commit these violent acts.” Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-choice America, told David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress, whose videos have brought world-wide attention to Planned Parenthood’s policy of harvesting baby body parts,

You don’t get to create fake videos and accuse abortion providers of “barbaric atrocities against humanity” one day and act shocked when someone shoots to kill in those same facilities the next.

First, the videos aren’t fake. Second, even if they were, it would still be true that abortion providers commit “barbaric atrocities against humanity.’” That’s because it is barbaric to dismember a baby, even if you don’t sell the baby’s parts for medical research. Therefore, it would not be wrong to accuse abortion providers of such barbarism, even if some people use this accusation as an excuse to commit violence.

Third, if every social movement chose to never say anything that could become a catalyst for violence, then there would hardly be any successful social justice movements in the history of our country. For example:

  • In 1859 abolitionist John Brown led a raid on a federal armory in West Virginia in order to arm a slave rebellion (three years earlier Brown had killed five slavery supporters in Kansas). Defenders of slavery argued that because Republican abolitionists endorsed the anti-slavery book The Impending Crisis of the South, and because the book was published before Brown’s raid and was associated with violence against slaveholders, it followed that abolitionists were responsible for violence against slaveholders (Michael Kent Curits, Free Speech, 274).
  • In 1963 defenders of racial segregation accused Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. of being responsible for violence that accompanied the Civil Rights Movement. Of course, King was one of the movement’s most vocal proponents of non-violent protest, which isn’t easy when one is facing violent opposition. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail King responded to his critics by saying, “it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence.”

Abolitionists and critics of segregation should not have censored their descriptions of the barbarisms of slavery or racism anymore than abortion abolitionists should censor their descriptions of the barbarism of abortion. The fact that some people resort to violent action against these evils does not make these things any less evil or less worthy of fighting in a nonviolent way.

Fighting violence, not promoting it

The lessons learned in fighting slavery and racial segregation still hold true today. Legitimate social movements have always dealt with people who use accurate rhetoric as an excuse to commit violence.

In fact, the rhetoric that the NAF and other abortion providers denounce as being “extreme” can be easily found in abortion provider textbooks (“A long curved Mayo scissors may be necessary to decapitate and dismember the fetus” — Abortion Practice, 142) and in U.S. Supreme Court decisions (“A leg might be ripped off the fetus as it is pulled through the cervix and out of the woman” — Gonzales v. Carhart). 

Of course, no one would say that these authors were promoting violence through their descriptions of abortion. They were merely describing reality, which is the goal of the pro-life movement when it comes to communicating to our culture what abortion actually is.

Moreover, the pro-life movement has uniformly rejected violence as a means to achieve its goals. Instead, the pro-life movement continues in nonviolent pursuits even when, just like social movements of the past, it is unjustly blamed for causing violence.

And, unlike pro-choice advocates, pro-lifers condemn unjust violence against all human beings, born and unborn. If only those who protest violence committed against abortion providers would be equally willing to condemn the violence that takes place against children within abortion facilities.

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