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There have been several well publicized instances of violence against doctors who perform abortions. Doesn't the rhetoric of the pro-life movement--and even your rhetoric in The House of Atreus--promote violence against abortion clinic doctors and staff?

The "violence" argument is increasingly popular with certain "pro-choice" leaders and members of the media, but it doesn't really have any merit. We in the pro-life movement speak out about abortion, not because we want to encourage violence against our fellow human beings, but because we want to stop it. The overwhelming majority of pro-lifers deplore violence, and pro-life leaders have issued firm denunciations of it. It is evil, it violates the victim's right to life, it erodes support for the movement, and it doesn't prevent abortions. Pregnant women can always go elsewhere.

Since the pro-life movement does not actually encourage violence, those who make the violence argument tend to argue that the movement bears the blame because violence against abortion providers results from the rhetoric pro-lifers use to characterize abortion. For instance, Kate Michelman, the leader of NARAL, has argued that pro-lifers were responsible for an attack on an abortionist because they argue that abortion involves killing human beings. That may be the precise reason why many pro-lifers oppose abortion, but--in Michelman's mind--if they say so, they share the blame for any violence.

Similarly, in Florida the state legislature recently passed legislation which would authorize the state to sell specialized license plates saying "Choose life," with the proceeds going to fund adoption programs. However, "pro-choice" groups successfully lobbied the governor to veto the legislation, arguing among other things, that the license plates would promote violence against individuals who worked at abortion clinics. Using this logic, Pete Seeger's song "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" helped foment the anti-war bombings in the 1960s.

These views mark a fundamental shift in our ideas about principled dissent. I myself wince at the rhetoric used by some of my fellow pro-lifers. But there is a difference between what is tactless, tasteless, or unnecessarily offensive, and what foments violence. If we're going to be intellectually honest about it, the same rules that we apply to the pro-life movement should also apply in other situations. We don't hold the anti-war movement as a whole responsible for campus bombings perpetrated by certain zealots in the 1960s.

Or consider the abolitionists. They denounced slavery and slaveholders in terms every bit as impassioned and indignant as those used by the pro-life movement today. And more sympathy existed for John Brown among abolitionists than exists in the pro-life movement for those who perpetrate violence. Yet we do not hold rank-and-file abolitionists or their leaders morally responsible for the Pottawatomie Creek massacre or Harper's Ferry. I don't think we would have insisted that abolitionists refrain from calling slaves "human beings"--or referring to whippings or chains--lest they excite would-be John Browns.

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