It's getting harder and harder to read the coverage of the George Tiller murder, in large part because the Associated Press Stylebook doesn't have separate references for "pro-life" and "anti-abortion." I'm not saying that this journalistic bible should contain two references. Honest. I'm just saying that -- as an Eastern Orthodox pro-lifer -- I am really yearning for one right now. Why is that? Let me show you, using this bite of a Washington Post report that makes me want to be sick:
Supporters of the right to legal abortion worried Monday that the killing of George Tiller in his Wichita church could foretell fresh protests and violence even as many abortion opponents fretted that his death could hurt their image and cause.
Although mainstream antiabortion groups largely condemned Sunday's shooting, Operation Rescue founder Randall A. Terry called Tiller a mass murderer who "reaped what he sowed." Terry said the antiabortion movement is facing irrelevance and must use "confrontational" tactics and "highly charged rhetoric."
It's all there in that deliciously chosen verb -- "fretted."
Also note, once again, that the reaction quote featured is from Operation Rescue, a group that -- while condemning the Tiller murder -- is going to do everything it can to pour gasoline on the flames, including adding, in that second paragraph, what is clearly a shot at the nation's real, mainstream pro-life leaders for their lack of radical tactics.
So who are the people who are "fretting" about this murder, the people you don't get to read about in many mainstream reports? Here's a list from Baptist Press:
The country's major pro-life organizations denounced Tiller's murder. Among those making statements decrying the killing were representatives of the National Right to Life Committee, Americans United for Life, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, Care Net, Susan B. Anthony List, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, American Life League, Operation Rescue, Christian Defense Coalition, 40 Days for Life, Stand True, Priests for Life and Pro-life Action League.
I don't know about you, but I'm raising my eyebrows right now at mainstream coverage that seems to make alleged gunman Scott Roeder part of a movement that includes the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference, the Southern Baptist Convention and National Right to Life Committee.
The key words, right now, appear to be "Prayer and Action News," as in the publication (Question: Does it still exist?) that has attempted to argue, from a Christian perspective, that it is morally acceptable to kill abortionists, because of their actions to kill the unborn. You know, eye for an eye stuff.
It seems that Roeder was a subscriber and that he shared this point of view. I think this is where the press needs to search for links, although I predict that reporters will even find that the alleged gunman was on the right fringe of that totally right fringe camp.
This leads to the Los Angeles Times report for day 2, which I think manages to cut to the chase at the very top:
The 51-year-old man held on suspicion of killing prominent abortion provider Dr. George Tiller belonged to anti-government militia groups, had been convicted of carrying explosives in his car and was outraged by the doctor's speedy acquittal on abortion-related charges, authorities and antiabortion activists said Monday.
Scott Roeder had attended a demonstration outside a Kansas City, Kan., abortion clinic two weeks ago and spoke of traveling to Wichita for Tiller's trial, said longtime antiabortion activist Eugene Frye. Authorities and friends described Roeder as a soft-spoken but intense man who held low-paying jobs and normally spent his time chatting about the illegality of the federal income tax or esoteric interpretations of the Old Testament.
But Frye said he noticed a difference on May 16.
"He said he'd been down to Wichita for George Tiller's trial, and he said it was an absolute sham," Frye said. "He seemed agitated -- but agitation for Scott, for a lot of people would be normal."
OF course, there are also reports of mental illness. But here is my point for journalists who want to be accurate and balanced on this story: It's all about the arguments between a tiny number of anti-abortion activists who have tried, tried, tried to justify violence against the government and abortion facilities. That is an old story, but it's still the story that matters. And there is no question where the mainstream pro-life movement comes down on that issue.
You know what the Catholic bishops are going to say, in defense of a consistent ethic of life. But how about the Southern Baptists?
Journalists, please click right here and flash back to a 1994 document called the Nashville Declaration of Conscience. In one key passage it states:
... (We) reject the argument that killing an abortion doctor is an act of violent civil disobedience made necessary by the gravity of the moral evil of abortion on demand. It is our conviction that no act of lethal force can be properly ascribed to the rubric of civil disobedience. Moreover, the contradiction between the use of lethal force and civil disobedience is especially glaring in a democracy, in which so many alternative forms of activism for social and legal change are permitted. We contend that such an act is better described as an act of revolution rather than an act of civil disobedience intended to accomplish reform.
Note that this stance disagrees with the government, but does not oppose the government. That appears to be the dividing line. If you want to see how a very conservative religious leader puts this type of language into use, please check out this Baptist Press commentary from Richard Land: "Tiller's murder a human tragedy."
I also have to admit that I appreciated the following image from the Los Angeles Times report. While it quoted reports that Roeder's minivan had a single rose in the rear window, the newspaper also offered this information about the protesters who regularly marched and prayed outside the abortionist's office:
Tiller's clinic sits along a frontage road of a state highway and is normally the site of daily protests. It was closed Monday, and bouquets of flowers lay against its fence, along with a sign from one of the groups that leads demonstrations there, Kansans For Life: "We prayed for his conversion to the prolife viewpoint, not for his murder."