Friday, June 05, 2009

Note on the Republican Party and the anti-abortion movement

This story, Kline spokesman says timing of letter was ‘unfortunate’ in light of Tiller’s death by Steve Kraske Kansas City Star 06/04/09, is about a former Kansas state attorney general, Republican Phill Kline, who sent out a fundraising letter late last week that mentioned Dr. George Tiller, who was murdered by an anti-abortion Christian terrorist last Sunday. The story is framed as how the coincidence made that seem like exceptionally bad taste.

But I was more struck by the content of Kline's fundraising appeal:

In the letter, Kline, a long-standing abortion opponent, said he is seeking donations to offset $200,000 of attorneys’ fees “billed to me personally” that stemmed from a December 2007 trial ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court. ...

The letter cites Kline’s long-running legal battles against Tiller and Planned Parenthood.

Kline, a Republican, also noted that he likely faces charges that he violated legal ethics. That complaint may be tied to his conduct in the investigation of Tiller and Planned Parenthood.

“This (disciplinary) board has already investigated me for five years due to frivolous and continued complaints by the abortion industry,” Kline said. [my emphasis]
A lot of attention has been focused on how the rhetoric of Republican media figures like Rush the OxyContin Man contributed to a climate of violence against Tiller in particular. I've written here about how the framing of the issue by the "mainstream" anti-abortion movement - abortion being seen as the murder of innocent babies in the clear understanding of God Himself - will inevitably continue to encourage those activists of a more violent inclination to commit acts of violence against abortion providers.

But Kline's letter highlights another aspect of the problem: the ways in which overzealous Republican officials pander to the anti-abortionists by pushing sometimes frivolous legal actions. (I'm not making any judgment here on the nature of the possible complaints that might be filed to which Kline's fundraising letter refers.) On the one hand, it's important to recognize that the anti-abortion movement in the US has plenty of legally legitimate methods to press their cause, including the legal right to advocate positions that have the effect of indirectly encouraging violence. But when prosecutors bring charges against abortion providers, it adds a legitimacy to the notion that the providers are doing something that requires punishment. And, when an ill-founded prosecution then loses, it gives hardline activists that the legal system is actually incapable of protecting "innocent babies" being "murdered" by the thousands.

For instance, this news article about charges filed against Dr. Tiller appeared in the Christian Post on 06/29/07, Notorious Late-Term Abortionist Faces 19 Criminal Charges by Ethan Cole:

The infamous late-term abortionist who revels in his notoriety for providing women easy abortions had 19 misdemeanor charges filed against him on Thursday.

Kansas Attorney General Paul Morrison announced that he has dismissed 30 previous criminal charges against abortionist George Tiller, and in their place filed charges against Tiller for failing to obtain a second opinion for late-term abortions from a doctor financially separate from his practice. ...

“While we are happy that charges are being filed against Tiller, we are guarded about this because we believe that these charges are the weakest against Tiller,” said Troy Newman, president of the Christian pro-life activist organization Operation Rescue.

The 30 original criminal charges were filed by former pro-life Attorney General Phill Kline before leaving office. The allegations accused Tiller of performing illegal late-term abortions outside the boundaries set by Kansas laws. [my emphasis]
The same conservative evangelical site reported on the outcome earlier this year, Tiller Acquitted; Faces More Charges by Audrey Barrick 03/28/09:

Late-term abortionist George Tiller was acquitted on 19 charges of illegal abortions.

A jury of three men and three women reached the not guilty verdict on Friday in less than an hour, disappointing pro-life groups that were closely watching the trial of one of the nation's few late-term abortion practitioners. ...

Operation Rescue president Troy Newman noted that the 19 charges Tiller faced this week were "only a small fraction of the illegal activity" that believe occurs at Tiller's Wichita abortion clinic. Moreover, those 19 were "the weakest charges that could have been brought by the state."

"On behalf of the pre-born children wrongly killed by Tiller and his associates, we vow to press on until Tiller is finally held accountable to the law and his late-term abortion mill is permanently closed," said Newman, who attended the trial. [my emphasis]
The Christian Post is not a fringe outlet within the evangelical world. Al Mohler, the leading Southern Baptist theologian, publishes a regular column there. Jimmy Carter has published at least one op-ed piece there.

But this "respectable" evangelical news service quotes the president of the far-right Operation Rescue, which played a leading role in highlighting Tiller as a target of the anti-abortion movement using extreme rhetoric like "Tiller the Killer". Amanda Terkel looks at that group's dubious record in Operation Rescue Tries To Distance Itself From Roeder’s Activities On Behalf Of The Group Think Progress 06/01/09. Operation Rescue has so far managed to avoid legal culpability in violent attacks, as Dave Neiwert reported in Attacking the providers Orincus blog 06/03/04. But it's clear that other violent anti-abortionists besides Scott Roehmer, the accused in Tiller's murder, have found Operation Rescue's ideology and militancy appealing. One might think an evangelical Christian news service like The Christian Post would give its readers a bit more information when highlighting Operation Rescue as a legitimate representative of the anti-abortion movement.

But it's yet another example of the real existing anti-abortion movement. Because of the way in which the movement defines abortion, and because much of the organizational background and donations for anti-abortion groups come from people who have hard-right views across the board, not just on abortion, in actual practice it's nearly impossible for the "mainstream" of the movement to unambiguously distance itself from the violent terrorist fringe. They have to fear that clearly labeling murderers of abortion providers as terrorists, or even condemning the murder of George Tiller straightforwardly without stating at the same time their view of Tiller as a mass murderer, would suggest to anti-abortionist activists a lack of true Christian commitment to the cause of stopping the "murder" of "innocent babies".

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