[T]he religious extremist is most likely a right-wing Christian. And the shooter had help. He had help from an entire movement that has carelessly labeled abortion as "murder" and "baby-killing." Killing abortion providers flows logically from the moment you call abortion "murder" and this labeling has to stop. Now.There are actually a few more pesky factual matters here -- for example, there's no evidence in any of the recent interviews conducted with family and neighbors to indicate that this guy was a "religious extremist," or even "religious," let alone "right wing" or even a Christian. But we'll leave all that too.
Am I a Christian? You bet. Have I read the Bible? Many times, and carefully. Graduated from Yale Divinity School with a Masters in Divinity. Ordained in the ministry in 1982, in the United Church of Christ. Still an active member of the church. Jesus never said a word about abortion, and the only way anti-choice activists twist the Bible to their side is to take a few lines from a Psalm or a few words about "spilling seed" out of context. There are entire books debunking the pro-life movement as resting on shaky theological grounds, so I won't waste time recapping all the arguments here.
Jesus never said anything about abortion. However, the objection to abortion does not stand on any obscure theology or any strange passages about 'spilling seed.' It's about the killing of a human being.
The appellation "baby-killing" is not some sort of weird locution: it involves killing a human being at a stage of development that, were the child wanted by his or her mother, we would have no problem identifying as a baby. We would say, and do say, "When is the baby due?" or "Have you decided what to name the baby?" It's only when mother has decided to kill her baby that we are told that we can only describe it using clinical language designed to mask the humanity of the creature being killed.
You may object to murder, since murder is defined in different ways by different people. The law doesn't consider this murder as murder is defined by the law -- a rather circular argument made worse given that the law often did treat it as a kind of murder until the Supreme Court overturned the laws of all fifty states. So we might well say that it is not murder in the technical sense of the word given to us on stone tablets from that famous bench in Washington, D.C.
Still, a commonplace definition of the word murder as it might be used by any ordinary person is this: "the intentional killing of an innocent human being." Let's run through the steps.
1) Is it intentional? Yes.
2) Is it a killing? Yes.
3) Is it a living being? Obviously it is, or it couldn't be killed.
4) Is the being to be killed innocent in the usual sense of the word "innocent"? Yes.
5) Is it human? It either is or it isn't. If it isn't, what kind of being would you say it was?
A more extended argument on that last point: to be a thing of a certain kind is to be structured in a certain way. A table is a thing that is structured in such a way as to be capable of holding objects off the floor. Artifacts like tables are structured by makers, who put them into a given order for a given purpose. Living things are different: they structure themselves out of other things they find in the world. They are their own purpose.
Now a given living thing -- say a fox or a dog or a hawk -- is not the stuff of which it is made. All of us have had dogs, I presume, and all of those dogs have grown from puppies, taking on more and more stuff from the world and putting it into the order that is themselves. The physical parts of themselves -- proteins, water -- are all exchanged over the course of their lives, but we recognize that it is still our dog. It's the activity of the ordering principle that is the life of the dog, and it is the order that is the dog. As long as it continues, we say that our dog is alive. When our dog dies, the ordering stops: though it may look like our dog for a while, it is no longer actively being put in order as a living thing.
The living, growing being is ordering the world as it encounters it into itself. Of course it is a human being: it is putting the world into a human order. It will remain a human being as long as this continues, even if she should live to be a hundred and one.
That's what you are killing.
I am no absolutist on this point. I understand that there are cases when the life of the mother will be lost, when there is a sense in which the child is not "innocent" and the killing is therefore not murder -- indeed, it might almost be morally obligatory. But these are a tiny minority of cases, as any honest observer will confess.
The language being used to describe these acts is not careless. It is dangerous because it is accurate. It is the right way to describe what we are allowing to happen all across our nation, using ordinary language as we would ordinarily use it.