When Extremism Becomes Terrorism : Nothing can justify the outrage that occurred in Pensacola


Not even the most vehement advocates of a woman’s right to end a pregnancy claim that the decision is an easy one. On the contrary, it is deeply personal and often painful; and thoughtful opponents of that right understand this. The issue of abortion is complex; there are strong and sincere feelings on all sides, and many people--men as well as women--have profoundly ambiguous emotions about it.

Of course, partisans at the extremes of the abortion debate claim to have no such ambivalence. It has been argued that extremism in defense of either side may be no vice, but only so long as the public display of such polar convictions remains within proper bounds.

Increasingly, some anti-abortion extremists--representing primarily their own personal, implacable volatility--go too far. The courts have recognized this by requiring protesters camping outside abortion clinics to keep their physical distance and allow clinic staff and patients the freedom of movement and the freedom to exercise their rights under the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision. But isn’t it regrettable that it had to take court intervention to compel anti-abortion protesters to permit those who disagree with them to exercise their rights?


To state it again: The vast majority of anti-abortion Americans do not support the extremists. And they certainly do not support the rabid, out-of-control anti-abortionists who shot and killed a doctor and an abortion clinic volunteer in Pensacola, Fla., on Friday.

This is not the first such political assassination by anti-abortion lunatics, of course. It was the nation’s third shooting at an abortion clinic since March, 1993, when a doctor at another Pensacola abortion clinic was also shot and killed by an extremist.

It is extremely paradoxical that those who oppose abortions on the ground that the procedure amounts, in effect, to the taking of a life would then take a life to register their opposition. And it is extremely corrosive of the respectable, serious-minded, morally based anti-abortion argument (often best articulated by those responsible religious leaders who argue their position out of the basic logic of the tenets of long-established religious belief) to have the anti-abortion message blurred if not marred by murderers.

But such is the perfervidly poisonous atmosphere of anti-abortion extremists that medical personnel who are willing to perform these procedures now have to wonder whether they are taking their lives in their hands by agreeing to serve such patients. Indeed, in the shooting Friday, the slain doctor entered the women’s clinic not only with a volunteer escort, who was also killed by shotgun blasts, but was wearing a bulletproof vest.

Many Americans who support a woman’s right to choose--in effect the Roe vs. Wade view--also take the position that both sides need to respect one another’s position, argue their views with responsibility and civility and remove the issue from the political arena, where it is inherently susceptible to politicization. This is obviously the direction America must go.

With the deaths of two more Americans at the hands of anti-abortion terrorists, the need to cool the rhetoric, respect thy neighbor and depoliticize the debate becomes all the more urgent.