Pro-Life Verdict: Murder Unjustified

Article excerpt

The sentence is in for Paul Hill, the former minister convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting death of an abortion doctor and his escort in Pensacola, Fla.: death.

The justice of this verdict is not apparent to everyone. There are some in the pro-life movement who agree with Hill that "whatever force is legitimate in defending a born child is legitimate in defending an unborn child." If abortion is murder, as many believe, then killing an abortionist can "save" the lives of hundreds or thousands of unborn children. One life is lost, but many are saved. A good moral calculus, right?

Wrong, comes the answer from a symposium of pro-life activists asked to reflect on Hill's act of murder for the religion journal "First Things."

Several of the scholars and activists who contributed to the discussion made the practical point that killing abortionists brings the pro-life movement into disrepute. But then they went further, examining the moral dimensions of the question with care.

Jean Garton, president of Lutherans for Life, dismisses Hill's rationale. "The argument used by Paul Hill rationalizes the exchange of force for persuasion. What he cannot achieve by reason, he feels entitled to take by force and in so doing demonstrates that it is possible to be anti-abortion but not pro-life."

Most of the respondents drew upon the "just war" tradition, asking whether Hill's resort to lethal violence met the criteria established by the Catholic Church. Frederica Mathewes-Green noted that a just war demands more than a just cause, "It demands that there be a reasonable hope of success, that non-combatants be protected and that violence be the last resort."

Ann Scheidler amplified on this theme, noting that in the Christian tradition, the first criterion for the use of force is that it be the least amount of force necessary to protect oneself or another. Shooting an abortionist clearly fails this test. Second, Scheidler wrote, "Stopping an act of aggression in defense of oneself or another must be with the moral certitude that harm will be inflicted . . . if force is not used. …