“Abortion is murder, and because it is murder, I believe deadly force is needed to stop it.”
—Convicted abortion center bomber Eric Rudolph
Last week, an unremorseful Eric Rudolph was sentenced to two life terms without parole for the 1998 Birmingham abortion center bombing that killed an off-duty police officer and critically injured a nurse. Rudolph, who next month will receive two more life terms for the deadly 1996 Olympic Park bombing and other attacks in Atlanta, issued a statement prior to his sentencing that offers insight into the mindset that spurred him to commit the attacks.
“There is no more fundamental duty for a moral citizen than to protect the innocent from assault…. You have the right, the responsibility and the duty to come to the defense of the innocent when the innocent are under assault.”
While Rudolph’s abhorrence of abortion is justified and his assertion that people have a moral obligation to defend the innocent is reasonable, his deadly response was not.
Yet, the notion that deadly reprisal is required to combat what Rudolph calls the “abortion holocaust” was met with some sympathy. Living in the mountains of North Carolina as he eluded the FBI for 5 years, Rudolph was occasionally provided food and aid by those sympathetic to what he had done. Some residents in the area Rudolph was thought to be hiding, proudly told reporters that they would not turn Rudolph in if they found him but, instead, would help him if he asked. Bumper stickers in his community read, "Run, Eric, Run.”
In fact, in his statement, Rudolph insisted that the federal government offered him a plea deal (which precluded the death penalty) because, “a significant minority of the population, especially here in Northern Alabama, regarded what happened there at the abortion facility…as morally justified. It is my opinion some of these people were likely to vote not guilty no matter what evidence was presented to them.”
After all, Rudolph argued, “…if you do recognize abortion is murder and that unborn children should be protected and you still insist that force is unjustified to stop abortion, then you can be none other than cowards standing idly by in the face of the worst massacre in human history.”
Regrettably, Rudolph’s flawed reasoning dismisses the plain truth of the matter: that assassinating abortionists is not only ineffective and immoral, but it also only serves to perpetuate the “abortion mentality” – a mindset that considers some lives as being unworthy of life.
The use of deadly force to stop the killing of unborn children may seem an effective means of putting a stop to abortion. By closing down abortion facilities or scaring women out of entering them, the lives of some unborn children scheduled for death may be saved.
The long-term effects, however, indicate just how counterproductive the use of deadly force is. Not only do violent attacks allow the media to perpetuate the notion that pro-lifers are violent hypocrites without any genuine regard for human life, but they impel the government to enact laws, such as the Freedom to Access Clinic Entrances (FACE) law or “bubble zone” legislation, which thwart free speech and undermine real pro-lifers’ ability to minister to pregnant women seeking abortion.
Second, an act can only be considered morally good if both the ends and the means are good. We can tolerate an evil consequence of an act whose objective is good or indifferent; but we cannot tolerate choosing evil means even if the end is good. We know that abortion is immoral because even if the ends may seem desirable (such as avoiding a financial crisis), the means – the murder of an unborn child – is wrong. So it is with violence against abortion providers. Even though the end of preventing the murder of innocents is good, the means – the killing of an abortionist – is wrong. Thus, the act is immoral.
Finally, and here’s the irony of Rudolph’s actions, in today’s disordered social situation, violence against abortion practitioners only teaches the public that yet more life has no value and yet more life can be destroyed. The consequence of this unintended reaffirmation of the abortion mentality is that disrespect for life becomes even more deeply rooted into the public consciousness.
So what recourse do pro-lifers have?
Most pro-lifers understand that prayer, sidewalk counseling, volunteering in pregnancy centers, participating in protests and marches, etc. are all effective and moral means by which to produce the good end of fewer abortions.
Pro-lifers do not need violence to fight abortion. We have something infinitely more powerful than any weapon. We have truth and love – the truth that reveals the dignity of human life and the evil of abortion, and the love that offers life-giving alternatives to mothers convinced that abortion is their only option.
It is upon these self-evident truths that pro-lifers lean, even as the reality of over 40 million global abortions a year tempts us to contemplate defeat. For, as one heroic defender of human dignity, Martin Luther King Jr., once said: “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”