A few weeks ago, a reader asked me to delve a little more into the group of anti-abortion folks who claim that it is “justifiable homicide” to kill a doctor who performs abortions. The theory suggests that if you believe that it is a “baby” or “person” in the uterus and someone is going to terminate it, then you are justified in stopping the “killer,” just like you would stop someone from killing a real, already-born person.
Let me first say that this group is clearly a fringe group of the pro-life movement. I have participated in a lot of discussions with those who oppose abortion and the vast, vast majority of them believe these folks are a bunch of kooks. But then there are a few out there…
The first time I heard about this theory was after the murder of Doctor David Gunn in March, 1993. The murder was front page news everywhere as it was the first time an abortion doctor had been killed. Things became extremely tense all across the country, abortion providers were on high alert and we were all waiting for someone else to blast away. Then, out of the blue comes a soft spoken minister from Pensacola named Paul Hill. I later learned that right after the murder, perhaps sensing an opportunity to get some exposure, he called a producer at “The Donohue Show” (the pioneer of talk shows) and told her that he actually believed that Michael Griffin, Doctor Gunn’s assassin, was “justified” in doing what he did. Of course, the producer, always looking for something sensational, immediately booked him on the show. Paul Hill sat right next to me on the show that day and told the crowd point blank that it was okay to kill Doctor Gunn and other abortion doctors.
Soon thereafter, Paul and a few others saw an opportunity to scare the crap out of abortion providers, no doubt hoping that many of them would leave the field. So, they formed a loose knit group called “Defensive Action.” They gathered about 30 names on a petition from people who believed in the “justifiable homicide” defense. But they were careful. They never said “I will kill a doctor” because that would have landed them in jail. Instead, they just said it was “okay” to kill an abortion doctor, no doubt hoping that they would inspire some less-than-stable person to take up the cause.
Right after the first murder, a number of abortion doctors left the field and when word got out about this group, others fled. They were the ones who had always been on the edge anyway, so they were ripe to leave. Others, however, bought guns, bullet proof vests and other defensive devices. They were ready to do battle. One doctor out west walked me through his clinic and showed me how he had hidden a Magnum 357 in EVERY room in his clinic. “If they come in here shooting, I’m taking them all with me,” he vowed. Of course, the Defensive Action crowd got a lot of publicity. After all, fear sells newspapers, right? And Paul Hill and his crowd fed off of the hysteria.
But, while I cannot prove it, I believe to this day that they never all got together in one room and plotted murders. They were too smart for that, they knew they were being watched. Meanwhile, I had an interesting reaction to this theory. I was talking to Paul Hill one day in a hotel and told him “you know, Paul, in some weird way I think your theory is consistent with your belief. If you firmly believe that the woman is carrying a ‘baby’ or a ‘person’, then I can see how you believe you should defend it from its impending death.” I added that it was a ridiculous notion in real life, of course, but “if we’re just talking about a non-actionable idea, then I hear what you are saying.” The next day, Paul held a press conference to let the world know that I, a staffer at the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, “supported the ‘justifiable homicide’ theory.” So much for a casual discussion about a ridiculous theory.
Of course, months later Paul picked up a gun and killed Doctor Baird Britton and he attempted to make his defense the “justifiable homicide” theory. The judge did not allow him to offer it. The movement, and that’s a stretch to call it that, quickly died down when their leader was executed in the chair a short while later.
- SD Rep. on Justifiable Homicide Bill: “This Has Got Nothing to Do With Abortion” (alternet.org)
- South Dakota’s Anti-Abortionists Attempting to Justify ‘Justifiable Homicide’ (craigconsidine.wordpress.com)
- Defending Unborn Kids: ‘Justifiable Homicide’? (abcnews.go.com)
- Lawmaker Behind South Dakota’s ‘Justifiable Homicide’ Bill Defends Measure, Makes Changes (huffingtonpost.com)
- South Dakota Bill Would Make Killing To Stop Harm To A Fetus Justifiable Homicide (alan.com)
- South Dakota GOP Propose Killing Abortion Doctors is &Ldquo;justifiable Homicide” (socyberty.com)
- The Battle Over South Dakota’s Justified Homicide Bill (omnipotentpoobah.com)
- S. Dakota Republicans Want to Legalize Killing Abortion Providers (littlegreenfootballs.com)
- South Dakota legislator backs down from ‘pro-life’ bill to legalize murder (alternet.org)
- SD bill ‘license to kill’ abortion providers? (seattletimes.nwsource.com)