May 31, 2009
By Al Kresta
Years ago, I debated the defrocked and excommunicated Presbyterian pastor Paul Hill (1954-2003) over the question of whether or not killing abortionists was justifiable homicide. In short, I argued “Absolutely not.” He argued that he was obligated to protect the unborn by killing their murderers and thus preventing further abortions.
Paul Hill wasn’t insane or even “mean.” Rather he was in the grip of an abbreviated logic. He reasoned that since abortionists kill children then by killing abortionists we will save children.
As a moral theologian and pastor, Hill was wrong and convinced almost nobody. When it was clear that pro-life people dismissed his argument as grossly inconsistent with the moral law, he went out and killed an abortionist and his escort and wounded the abortionist’s wife. Paul Hill was arrested, convicted and, in September 2003, executed for their murder. He never publicly repented and perished in his folly imagining himself a martyr and leader: “While most Christians firmly profess the duty to defend born children with force…most of these professors have neglected the duty to similarly defend the unborn…I was certain that if I took my stand at this point, others would join with me, and the Lord would eventually bring about a great victory.” As an activist and prophet, he was also dead wrong.
He failed to see two obvious truths:
– There are many non-violent ways to stop abortions.
– Every act of abortion has multiple accomplices. Each accomplice bears differing degrees of culpability. Why should Hill’s logic stop at the abortionist and not with others who make his work possible including local law enforcement that protects clinics?
How about the one person most obviously standing between the abortionist and the preborn: the mother. Mothers call for abortions. Tiller provided them a service for a fee. As long as mothers want to get rid of a pregnancy, there will be abortions. As long as men want sex without relationships, there will be prostitutes. Both advocates for abortion and prostitution are willing to take the cash and call it empowerment for women. This doesn’t mean the law should permit either abortion or prostitution. It does recognize that we won’t get rid of depersonalized sex by killing prostitutes and we won’t end abortion by eliminating abortionists.
Absurdity as well as tragedy stain his position. Yes, abortion is a form of child-murder. But it is murder carried out with the consent of the mother uninformed as she may be. Hill, to be consistent, should have advocated the use of proportionate force to stop abortions. Following his twisted logic, he should have forcibly stopped mothers from entering clinics and, when persuasion finally failed, anesthetized her and removed the innocent child by C-section. After all, isn’t this a more justifiable use of force? Nobody gets killed. Of course, this is morally repulsive.
Killing abortionists doesn’t save lives. It takes lives. It is murder. It usurps the authority of the state by pretending to mete out justice to evildoers. It is vigilantism and diminishes respect for the rule of law.
If the moral arguments aren’t clear then the public relations argument should be. While the law needn’t permit mothers to kill their children, neither is the law enough to make mothers want to avoid abortion. For that, it is necessary to turn the heart of the mother toward her child. Paul Hill turned hearts in the wrong direction. He created unnecessary sympathy for the pro-abortion regime.
In all likelihood Tiller’s killer has not prevented the death of children. More likely, he has further hardened America’s heart against the unborn (who people can’t see) by generating sympathy for abortionists (who people can see). His act distorts the truth because it shows blood on the wrong hands. Good heavens, he was shot to death ushering in his church. Absurd.
As Fr. Pavone has written: “At this point, we do not know the motives of this act, or who is behind it, whether an angry post- abortive man or woman, or a misguided activist, or an enemy within the abortion industry, or a political enemy frustrated with the way Tiller has escaped prosecution. We should not jump to conclusions or rush to judgment.” I agree. Regardless of motive, however, Tiller’s death is an unjustifiable act of murder. His widow is bereft. His soul needs our prayers for the mercy he thought he was showing mothers but denying to their children. Tiller had mugs inscribed with the motto: “Trust women.” As an active churchgoer, it should have been “Trust God.”
Al Kresta is President and CEO of Ave Maria Communications.
His afternoon radio program is heard on over 200 stations as well as Sirius satellite radio.