A response to William Saletan on killing abortionists

Slate columnist William Saletan’s latest piece completely mischaracterizes pro-lifers:

If abortion is murder, the most efficient thing you could have done to prevent such murders this month was to kill George Tiller.

Is it wrong to defend the life of an unborn child as you would defend the life of a born child? Because that’s the question this murder poses. Peaceful pro-lifers have already tried to prosecute Tiller for doing late-term abortions they claimed were against the law. They failed to convict him. If unborn children are morally equal to born children, then Tiller’s assassin has just succeeded where the legal system failed: He has stopped a mass murderer from killing again.

[Pro-lifers’ condemnations of Tiller’s murder] don’t square with what these organizations purport to espouse: a strict moral equation between the unborn and the born. If a doctor in Kansas were butchering hundreds of old or disabled people, and legal authorities failed to intervene, I doubt most members of the National Right to Life Committee would stand by waiting for “educational and legislative activities” to stop him. Somebody would use force.

If you don’t accept what [Tiller’s murderer] did, then maybe it’s time to ask yourself what you really believe. Is abortion murder? Or is it something less, a tragedy that would be better avoided? Most of us think it’s the latter.

Saletan pretends that there are only two choices available to a pro-life private citizen like me: kill the abortionist myself, or agree that the unborn are not people. That’s a false dilemma, and it’s a cute but cheap little rhetorical trick.
I’ll make this simple, so that even the oh-so-nuanced Saletan can understand. When we’re talking about individuals acting as individuals (not military members, police, or other government officials acting in their official capacity), the pro-life argument goes like this:

  1. Killing people is wrong.
  2. The unborn are people.
  3. Abortion kills the unborn.
  4. Therefore, abortion is wrong.

To apply that same reasoning to George Tiller, we’d argue:

  1. Killing people is wrong.
  2. George Tiller was a person.
  3. Therefore, killing George Tiller was wrong.

There are exceptions to the moral principle laid out in this argument, two of which are self defense and defense of others. When one person is about to kill another, and there’s no way to stop it short of using force, then it’s morally acceptable for the victim (or a third party) to use the necessary amount of force to stop the attack, up to and including deadly force.
Determining how much force is morally justified depends on the specifics of the situation, of course. What kind of attacker are we talking about? What kind of victim? Can we be reasonably sure that the victim’s death is imminent? Can the attack be stopped by less than lethal means? Is a government official better situated to stop the attack? If a meth-crazed powerlifter pulls a pistol and charges an elderly man sleeping in his wheelchair, using deadly force to stop him would probably be justified. If a preteen girl pulls a baseball bat and charges an alert and fully armed Navy SEAL, using deadly force to stop her would probably be excessive.
We must engage in the same kind of reasoning when determining how much force is appropriate for a private citizen to use to stop an abortionist from killing the unborn. Since that’s the situation Saletan wants us to address, I invite him to consider several pro-life arguments against killing abortionists.
The pro-life stance on deadly force is neither simplistic, unthinking, nor illogical. Abortion rights advocates like William Saletan who say otherwise are either dishonest, ignorant, or stupid. You can decide which one applies here.

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