Magazine article The Christian Century

Slayings Mark Florida Abortion Protest

Magazine article The Christian Century

Slayings Mark Florida Abortion Protest

Article excerpt

Ethicists and scholars continue to wonder whether it is possible for those who call themselves pro-choice and those who call themselves pro-life to find any common ground, especially in the wake of the recent widely condemned killing of a Florida physician who performed abortions. Given the well-worn terrain of the abortion debate and the complex web of moral and ethical questions involved, that won't be easy.

Dr. John Britton, 69, and James Barrett, 74, Britton's clinic escort, were murdered by Paul Hill in a brutal July 29 shotgun slaying. Barrett's wife was also wounded in the attack. Britton had taken over the operation of several abortion clinics in northern Florida after the slaying of Dr. David Gunn in 1993.

Most abortion opponents were quick to disavow any connection with Paul Hill, 40, although the msot extreme factions of the pro-life movement continue to defend the killings on the grounds of "justifiable homicide." Hill has long upheld a theologically based theory that scripture sanctions the murder of those who perform abortions.

Hill is a former minister in two conservative Presbyterian denominations, the Presbyterian Church in America, in which he was ordained in 1986, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. In 1989 the PCA routinely allowed Hill to be dismissed to the OPA. In 1992, acting on a request by Hill, the OPA divested him of his ordination. He then became a member of the independent Trinity Presbyterian Church in Valparaiso, Florida, but last year was asked to leave the congregation due to his advocacy of violence against those who perform abortions. Hill found a natural home on television talk shows--such as Donahue, Nightline and Sonya Live--which gave him a forum for expressing his views.

Commenting on the current state of the abortion battle, Michele Dillon, an assistant professor of theology at Yale University who teaches religion and culture, maintains that "there has to be a new cultural and political option on this question." Expressing the need for "new parameters" to define the debate, Dillon said that "it would be courageous for people on both sides to acknowledge that the other side has reasonable concerns."

As a starting point for discussion, it would be good, Dillon contended, for pro-life and pro-choice activists to acknowledge that most Americans remain ambivalent about abortion. While recent polls have shown that 80 percent of Americans favor the legalized right to abortion, she said, the same polls also indicate that most Americans believe that abortion has become far too pervasive. …

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