Killing for Life?

The killing of abortionist George Tiller led some people to believe that the pro-life movement is extreme and violent. The Register looks at the largely peaceful and prayerful aspect of the movement.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — In the wake of abortionist George Tiller’s May 31 killing, some have tried to paint the pro-life movement as extreme and violent.

Salon columnist Kate Harding called on political leaders to denounce “the thuggish campaigns of harassment dressed up as ‘peaceful protest.’”

Bonnie Erbe, writing for U.S. News and World Report, titled her recent article “Tiller Murder Is Terrorism, and All Pro-Life Extremists Are to Blame.”

“It is time for America’s pro-choice majority to stop standing idly by as extreme so-called pro-life advocates murder obstetrician-gynecologists who are providing women with the legal right to terminate pregnancies,” she wrote. Though she clarified that she did not refer to “mainstreamers who object to abortion due to religious beliefs, but who refrain from using inflammatory speech,” she called for a legal ban on “inflammatory rhetoric that incites the unbalanced to violence.”

Tiller, one of a handful of late-term abortionists in the country, was gunned down in the lobby of his Kansas Lutheran church. Scott Roeder, 51, reported to be a mentally ill, unemployed anti-abortion activist from Kansas City, Mo., was charged with with first-degree murder.

The U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation into the killing, specifically to determine whether Roeder had help from other anti-abortion crusaders.

Tiller’s family announced June 9 that it would permanently close the clinic Tiller ran in Wichita, Kan.

In spite of the violent end to Tiller’s life, the pro-life movement has been one of prayerful, peaceful protest for more than 30 years.

Organizations such as New York’s Helpers of God’s Precious Infants and St. Paul, Minn.’s ProLife Action Ministries have been peacefully praying outside of abortion businesses and counseling women on the sidewalk for decades without any violence on the part of the protesters.

Over the past two years, 40 Days for Life has conducted 245 campaigns in all 50 states, four Canadian provinces and seven countries.

“With more than 175,000 people participating in 117,600 hours of peaceful activism, we have never had any violence,” said Shawn Carney, campaign director for the College Station, Texas-based organization. “Everything is rooted in prayer and fasting. We have everyone who participates sign a statement of peace. Everyone signs in, and we keep a log.”

Msgr. Philip Reilly has been active in pro-life work for 42 years, 20 of those with the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants, which he founded. The ministry prays at more than 20 different abortion businesses in the U.S. alone. Msgr. Reilly prayerfully protests outside of abortion businesses several times each week. Over the past two decades, he said he’s never witnessed violence by the abortion protesters.

“We’re there to convert people to the truth,” said Msgr. Reilly. “The only way to do that is to be Christ-like.” The real violence, he said, is what’s taking place inside the abortion business: “Children are being torn apart.”

Media Bias

The perception that pro-life activists are engaged in violence is one that those in the movement say is fed by the secular media.

Brian Gibson, director of ProLife Action Ministries, noted the bias in the media’s recent usage of the term “pro-life” to describe Tiller’s murderer.

“In regular news stories, they always use the term ‘anti-abortion’,” said Gibson. “Now they start calling the person who did this ‘pro-life,’ when he’s not. They’re rubbing our noses in the term.”

The Associated Press Stylebook, used by journalists for word usage, tells news organizations and reporters to refrain from using the term “pro-life” in any circumstance.

“Use anti-abortion instead of pro-life and abortion rights instead of pro-abortion or pro-choice,” says the Stylebook.

Carney finds the bias frustrating. “They see pro-life as only abortion,” he said. “They don’t look at adoption, pregnancy counseling, and all the other things that pro-life activists do.”

“Violence tends to be a distraction against the reality of abortion,” said Carney. “It allows the focus to be taken off of the real victims.”

Violence Against Pro-Lifers

Ed Snell, of Harrisburg, Pa., knows a thing or two about the violence typically found at abortion businesses — violence directed not at abortion advocates, but at those opposing abortion. On Dec. 22, 2007, Snell, then 69 years old, was atop his car, attempting to sidewalk counsel over an 8-foot-high fence next to the Hillcrest Women’s Medical Center.

One young couple walked up, and Snell attempted to share information with them about the link between abortion and breast cancer.

“The young man became enraged,” said John McTernan, who witnessed what happened. “He leaped over the fence, landed on top of Ed’s car and violently pushed Ed off the car. Ed went headfirst off the car.”

Snell was knocked unconscious, sustained cracked vertebrae, broken ribs and collarbone, a cracked skull and bleeding on the brain. He spent the next two days in the hospital, a month at home in bed, and a year of doctor visits.

“When he hit the top of the car, he caught me under my jaw,” said Snell. “I landed eight feet from the car.”

Snell’s been active in the pro-life movement for 20 years.

“I’m used to intimidation,” said Snell. “If you breathe hard on someone or bump someone with your elbow, you’re going to jail. This was the most violent thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Undeterred, Snell continues to show up at the abortion business three days a week. Now, he speaks to clients through a crack in the fence.

“I won’t go up on top of my car again,” said Snell. “That was too traumatic for my family.”

Representatives from the various pro-life organizations told the Register that they have commonly encountered violence by those who support abortion.

“Cars have swerved to intimidate us,” said Carney. “People scream and yell obscenities.”

“On numerous occasions, abortion workers have threatened to assault us and run us over,” said McTernan.

Gibson agreed, saying that he’s been personally assaulted by Planned Parenthood workers who have pushed and shoved him, as well as been arrested on false charges.

In December, while trying to counsel a couple, Gibson was shoved by the male and later arrested. The case was later dropped.

“We’ve always been nonviolent in word and deed,” said Gibson. “I’ve never touched anyone, and I won’t. The thousands of hours we’ve been in front of abortion businesses — there has never been an instance of violence on our part. In the history of our organization, 2,500 babies have been saved.”

“The murder of abortionist George Tiller cannot be condoned,” said Jack Cashill, producer of the new documentary Thine Eyes: A Witness to the March for Life. “But neither can sweeping accusations of terrorism against the pro-life movement. Any thinking person will reject the notion that the pro-life movement is now a ‘terrorist’ organization as a result of one unaffiliated man’s crime.”

Tim Drake writes from

St. Joseph, Minnesota.