Oh, William Saletan, how I waited for you to enlighten me on the cultural meaning of the assassination of Dr. George Tiller. The wise sage of all that is unassailably reasonable tells us that Tiller's work "makes me want to puke," sort of like battlefield combat, where "guts" are spilled and people are simultaneously brave and murderous. (And, unlike Saletan's view of Tiller, morally justified.)

Funny how Saletan uses the battlefield analogy for Tiller, but not for not his alleged murderer, Scott Roeder, who admired the teachings of an anti-abortion group so engaged in the mentality of war that it calls itself the Army of God. After the murder, the group hailed Roeder as an "American hero."

Saletan breezes by the extremist groups like Army of God, to applaud the statements of some pro-life groups who condemned Tiller's murder. But then Saletan gives them a pass, in the service of promoting his centrist, reasonable position of reducing abortions. He says the groups condemning Tiller's murder must not really mean what they've been saying all along: that a fetus is a life deserving of all the civil rights of a human being. If they really meant that, he contends, it logically follows that murdering Tiller was A-OK. Since they didn't condemn the murder, they must not really believe that abortion is murder. Saletan thinks it's far more logical, then, for them to give up believing that abortion is murder, and downgrade it to a "tragedy," which "most of us" believe anyway.

It must be nice to divorce oneself from the realities of political gamesmanship. Of course organizations that try to influence Congress and state legislatures and public opinion in the name of God aren't going to become cheerleaders for gunning down people in church. But by applauding their supposed condemnations of Roeder, Saletan whitewashes the impact of their continued use of the term "murder" for abortion, "killer" attached to Tiller, and widespread analogies of abortion to the Holocaust and health care providers to Hitler.

The "tragedy" rhetoric, in Saletan's view, would bring everyone around to just "prevent abortions" without killing anyone. But he both misapprehends the zeal and commitment of the anti-choice movement to the abortion is murder frame, and the commitment of the majority of Americans who put women's autonomy and conscience first. That precludes, necessarily, calling abortion a "tragedy." As Ed Kilgore writes, "The idea that 'compromise' can end violence or even 'end the culture wars' over abortion is completely illusory and arguably immoral, if you believe that women should generally have first and final say over their own pregnancies. Sacrificing fundamental rights on the altar of phony 'compromises' is, by most standards, both immoral and ineffective."

--Sarah Posner

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