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Manslaughter does not mean what he thinks it does.
January 11, 2010 10:00 AM   Subscribe

The man on trial for the murder of Dr. George Tiller can be convicted of manslaughter. A judge in Wichita, Kansas ruled on January 8, 2010, that the jury in the trial of Scott Roeder can choose to convict him on the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, rather than first-degree murder.

The judge had previously prohibited the use of the "necessity" defense - that is, the defense that Roeder had to shoot Dr. Tiller to save unborn children. Such a defense would allow Roeder's defense team to pursue a full acquittal.

Voluntary manslaughter, under Kansas state law, is the intentional killing of a human being committed a) upon sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion; or
b) upon an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force. Compared to the life sentence that first-degree murder carries, if convicted on the lesser charge, Roeder would serve around five years, depending on his previous criminal record.

Previously.
posted by honeybee413 (116 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Pro-life, my ass.

Also:

upon an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force

Wouldn't that mean you could argue MOST murders were actually voluntary manslaughter? Most murders have the unreasonable but honest belief that "he/she needed killin'".
posted by availablelight at 10:05 AM on January 11, 2010 [25 favorites]


Wow, that manslaughter law seems to pretty well encompass every murder.
posted by graventy at 10:08 AM on January 11, 2010


So, Kansas is a good place to commit acts of (politically popular) terrorism... good to know.
posted by flamk at 10:08 AM on January 11, 2010 [11 favorites]


Does that mean that one can unreasonably (but honestly) kill politicians/businessmen/people in power whose net actions kill more people than they save? One could honestly believe that justifies deadly force, especially if there were no other options to stop them killing people.
posted by lalochezia at 10:08 AM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Interesting. What if someone had the reasonable and honest belief that this guy might kill another doctor?
posted by empath at 10:09 AM on January 11, 2010 [58 favorites]


Maybe the law is a holdover from the Bleeding Kansas days?
posted by Bromius at 10:12 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]



In Kansas? No shit?

Oh, and the doc was outside of a church when he was shot. Must be the church had only gotten to the first 5 commandments, at the time. Honest mistake on the defendant's part.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 10:13 AM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, and the doc was outside of a church when he was shot.

Inside, not outside.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:20 AM on January 11, 2010


Oh, and the doc was outside of a church when he was shot. Must be the church had only gotten to the first 5 commandments, at the time. Honest mistake on the defendant's part.

Don't worry, they'll be on the courthouse walls to remind him this is God's country and he done right!
posted by jmd82 at 10:25 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Voluntary manslaughter is defined in Kansas law as "an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force."

Huh, that also sort of describes my occasional feelings on capital punishment and could probably be applied to this case as well.
posted by quin at 10:25 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


This makes me feel physically ill.
posted by mayhap at 10:27 AM on January 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me that, logically, this sort of manslaughter justification is useful primarily for self-defense - I saw the person pointing a gun at me, but it turned out to be a flashlight.

To use it to justify murdering someone to prevent him from performing a legal action is quite silly, and therefore will probably be about as successful as the Twinkie Defense (ie, pretty damned successful).
posted by muddgirl at 10:28 AM on January 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


The quote from the statute leaves out somethings:

21-3403. Voluntary manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter is the intentional killing of a human being committed:

(a) Upon a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion; or

(b) upon an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force under K.S.A. 21-3211
[That the 3rd party is in iminent danger to their life], 21-3212 [In defense of your own home] or 21-3213 [In defense of their business or other property] and amendments thereto.

Voluntary manslaughter is a severity level 3, person felony.


So, if he can prove that the doctor was performing an illegal abortion right there in the church pew, then he's got a defense!
posted by Pollomacho at 10:29 AM on January 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


the defense that Roeder had to shoot Dr. Tiller to save unborn children.

Can Roeder be prosecuted for murdering the women who can't get a late-term abortion when the pregnancy might kill them?
posted by logicpunk at 10:29 AM on January 11, 2010 [15 favorites]


Pollomacho - so yes, not just self-defense, but "imminent danger" is part of the wording.
posted by muddgirl at 10:33 AM on January 11, 2010


Oh, Christ.
posted by rtha at 10:36 AM on January 11, 2010


The prosecution filed a motion this morning to prohibit Roeder from arguing imperfect self-defense in order to secure a voluntary manslaughter finding. The hearing on that motion has been set for tomorrow, so this is a little premature. I'll give a little background on these issues in order to help exlain why imperfect self-defense is a particularly bad fit for Roeder and how the Kansas law ought to be interpreted.

Here's a good hypothetical that illustrates what motivates the law: If I see Person A about to shoot Person B and I shoot Person A myself, in order to save Person B's life, I've acted in the defense of another, insofar that Person B had the legal right to self-defense. If it turns out that A and B were both actors in a movie being filmed by Person C, who I did not see, then I cannot argue that I was acting in defense of another. I can argue that what I did was not murder but voluntary manslaughter on an imperfect self-defense theory, as I subjectively believed I was stopping a crime, despite my belief being unreasonable. The law allows for a lesser sentence to be given to someone who thought he/she was acting in self-defense, despite being objectively wrong about the facts of the circumstances.

Here's what Roeder is arguing: If Person R is a vegetarian and believes that meat is murder, Person R can shoot Grocery Store owner G because G sells meat.

Imperfect self-defense is not appropriate in the second situation. Person R is not subjectively impassioned but objectively wrong about the facts of the circumstances, but the law itself. If an individual could argue that he/she honestly believed that they were acting to uphold their own moral code in killing another, there would be no findings of murder in Kansas. I could decide that every blade of grass is a life and shoot anyone I thought was about to take a step on an open field. Voila, imperfect self-defense.

That's not the law's design and the judge will hopefully see this. Imperfect self-defense ought to be limited to those who subjectively believed that they were preventing a legally cognizable crime.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:37 AM on January 11, 2010 [43 favorites]


And that explanation is why the defense ought to be barred from using the argument. The elephant in the room is that there was no imminence, so there is no way the argument could succeed if they were even able to proceed. As far as I can tell, in Kansas that would be treated as a matter of fact, not law, which means it would be up to the jury to decide, not the judge.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:39 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Uh, you guys need to relax.

The judge isn't saying that what happened was manslaughter, just that the defense will be allowed make that argument. At this point Roeder is still technically innocent and deserves his day in court.
posted by delmoi at 10:41 AM on January 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'd rather see him convicted of voluntary manslaughter than acquitted of first-degree murder.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:42 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pollomacho - so yes, not just self-defense, but "imminent danger" is part of the wording.

In Roeder's defense, it is a mystery why Tiller scrubbed in for communion. He was also sitting with this mystery woman in the pew.

Tasteless, yes, but I have to laught at the rediculousness to keep from screaming.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:42 AM on January 11, 2010


Are we still using the phrase "activist judges"?
posted by Navelgazer at 10:46 AM on January 11, 2010


Maybe the law is a holdover from the Bleeding Kansas days?

No, imperfect self-defense is a relatively recent innovation.

To add to what allan.spaulding said, there's another problem with this argument: Is an unborn fetus 'another' for purposes of defense of another? My feeling is no, but I can see the Kansas Supreme Court disagreeing. I wonder if it's one of the states that recognizes double homicide for killing a pregnant woman.

I would take issue with this, though: "If an individual could argue that he/she honestly believed that they were acting to uphold their own moral code in killing another, there would be no findings of murder in Kansas." That's overselling it. Certainly some people are simply cold-blooded killers who kill knowing that it is wrong. And beyond that, an argument that you acted in imperfect self-defense or in imperfect defense of another does not mean that the jury has to buy it. On the whole I agree with your take, though.
posted by jedicus at 10:46 AM on January 11, 2010


Are we still using the phrase "activist judges"?

We are not the we who use the phrase "activist judges."
posted by jefficator at 10:54 AM on January 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


Jedicus: According to this, Kansas is one of the 37 states that does have some sort of fetal homicide laws. "Kan. Stat. Ann. § 21-3452 "Alexa's Law" makes it possible to charge someone with murder, manslaughter, vehicular homicide or battery for killing or harming a fetus. It provides the definition of “person” for those specific crimes, including the definition of an unborn child that includes any stage of gestation from fertilization to birth."

Since a fetus is considered a person at any stage, I could see someone arguing that Roeder was acting in defense of "another."

Hopefully a lawyer could weigh in, though. I need some reassurance that this man will be held accountable for the murder.
posted by pecknpah at 10:56 AM on January 11, 2010


The judge warned defense attorneys they faced "a substantial uphill battle" in showing Roeder had a sincere belief that the use of deadly force was necessary in the defense of others.

It doesn't sound to me like the judge is wholly buying into this just yet. He's gonna let the defense make this case, and give the jury the option to buy into it.
posted by Shohn at 11:00 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wish people would not use the oxymoron "unborn children." It makes as much sense as calling an old person an "undead corpse."
posted by binturong at 11:06 AM on January 11, 2010 [38 favorites]


pecknpah: That does complicate things, but there are still lots of problems with the defense. allan.spaulding made a good argument for why the defense shouldn't apply at all and there's basically no way the defense can prove an imminent threat (the doctor was at church and I'll bet his clinic wasn't even open on Sundays). With no imminent threat, the proper response is to call the police, not engage in self-help.

Juror selection in the case is going to be pretty drawn out, but I expect the prosecution to strike anyone who so much as hints that they believe lawful abortion is murder. Without jurors that believe abortion is murder the defense will never be able to get the defense of others argument off the ground even if the judge allows it. I expect Roeder will go down for first degree murder.
posted by jedicus at 11:06 AM on January 11, 2010


It makes as much sense as calling an old person an "undead corpse."

Why'd you have to go and drag zombies into this discussion?
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:07 AM on January 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wow, even in jail this fucker finds a way to dehumanize people.

Roeder's team is setting up a premise for jury nullification. There's no way this monstrous manslaughter defense will fly, but it means a period of time pleading in front of a jury that he's a hero for saving theoretical babies and trying to go for a flat-out not guilty verdict.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:08 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interestingly, Operation Rescue's website helpfully lists "late-term" abortion doctors. Tiller is scratched off at the top, and is listed as "passed away".

I wonder what that list is for.
posted by four panels at 11:08 AM on January 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


It seems, just from this layman's perspective, that in order for manslaughter to work, legally (setting aside that the jury might just ignore the law and find it anyway because they find the defendant sympathetic and the victim less so, which is one of the risks of jury trials, and we can only hope won't happen), the defense would have to demonstrate a number of things:

First, that the defendant "honestly believed" that the circumstances existed justifying the use of force.

Second is what Pollomacho is referring to in KSA 21-3211, which are the "circumstances":
(a) A person is justified in the use of force against another when and to the extent it appears to such person and such person reasonably believes that such force is necessary to defend such person or a third person against such other's imminent use of unlawful force.
(b) A person is justified in the use of deadly force under circumstances described in subsection (a) if such person reasonably believes deadly force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to such person or a third person.
(c) Nothing in this section shall require a person to retreat if such person is using force to protect such person or a third person.
What I find interesting here is that, in (a), the "circumstances" have to include the defense of a "person" against "unlawful force."

This raises three questions in my mind: First is the "person" issue: if fetuses aren't people, legally, than it ought not to be a defense at all. You can't use deadly force to defend someone else's dog, or other property, so if a fetus is a non-person then you can't defend it. I guess that would all depend on how Kansas law and precedent has defined the personhood of fetuses. The whole Alexa's Law stupidity might complicate this. I could imagine someone successfully arguing that a reasonable belief existed that fetuses were people, unfortunately.

Second, there's the "unlawful force" issue. What Tiller was doing was (I assume) legal in Kansas, so -- even if we allow the fetuses personhood -- he was more akin to the role of a police officer, using lawful force, than someone acting outside the law. Or for a more hypothetical example, if you broke up a state-sanctioned execution by shooting the executioner just as he was about to pull the lever, that wouldn't be a defensible shooting: the executioner did represent an imminent danger to another, but it wasn't unlawful.

But then again, it's all about "reasonable belief" ... so if the killer reasonably believed that Tiller was acting outside the law by performing abortions, then there might be an opening. I don't see how such a belief could possibly be reasonable, given that the guy was operating legitimately and not in a back alley somewhere, but I guess that's where the lawyering comes in.

Then, third, is "imminent danger." The way this concept has always been explained to me, just in general terms, is that it has to be a danger that can be stopped in no other way than through your action at the time; i.e. if you hadn't acted at that moment, than there is no way the danger would have been averted. However, I suspect it varies from state to state ... it doesn't seem to be defined in the KSA. Tiller's (IMO obviously premeditated) murder wouldn't seem to be removing anyone from imminent danger, but I guess it's open to argument as well.

Anyway, I'm now curious, in a morbid legal/technical sense, to see how it plays out; I think a lot will come down to whether the jury can set aside whatever biases they have and do their job, or if there are pro-lifers who think that taking out one fetus-destroyer is worth subverting the justice system over.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:12 AM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why do I have the suspicion that any law which is known as ________'s Law (fill in a name) isn't usually great lawmaking?

Jury selection is going to be a doozy.
posted by maxwelton at 11:32 AM on January 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Juror selection in the case is going to be pretty drawn out, but I expect the prosecution to strike anyone who so much as hints that they believe lawful abortion is murder. Without jurors that believe abortion is murder the defense will never be able to get the defense of others argument off the ground even if the judge allows it. I expect Roeder will go down for first degree murder.

This is a pretty interesting notion that hadn't occurred to me until just now-- the difficulty of this abortion-related case is in finding twelve people in Kansas who believe that federal law is valid.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:36 AM on January 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


So, Kansas is a good place to commit acts of (politically popular) terrorism... good to know.

John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
But his soul goes marching on.

He's gone to be a soldier in the Army of the Lord,
He's gone to be a soldier in the Army of the Lord,
His soul goes marching on.
posted by orthogonality at 11:43 AM on January 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


So killing the jurors would be manslaughter, since if they found him guilty of manslaughter this would essentially set a precedent for lax punishment for people who murder abortion providers and thereby potentially increase murders?
posted by emilyd22222 at 11:44 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Man, fuck Kansas. Let them and their ilk secede.
posted by Scoo at 11:45 AM on January 11, 2010


> I'd rather see him convicted of voluntary manslaughter than acquitted of first-degree murder.

I'm actually not sure I agree, because of the message it sends. I think trying him for the lesser sentence, whether he's convicted or not, sends a message that carrying out a premeditated murder on an abortion doctor isn't really a big deal, compared to the premeditated murder of anyone else. It will just encourage more of the same behavior, as if these nutjobs need any further encouragement.

Roeder committed a heinous, despicable act. He should be tried as such, with the intent of punishment to the full extent of the law. If the prosecution can't convict for first degree murder in this case, we have bigger problems than this guy walking away scott free.
posted by Brak at 11:48 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not allowing the jury to consider a lesser included offense could be reversible error if the facts reasonably suggest that a jury might have bought the argument. I don't know what the rules in Kansas are, but there are some basic due process rights that are in play here. I don't think there's any indication that this judge is bending over backwards to get this guy off (lol) or to find him a lighter sentence. I think he wants any conviction obtained in his court to stand up on appeal, and I think he's right to do this. The ideal situation is that we get this right the first time around.

It's going to be hard as hell for the defense to convince the jury that the facts of this case are simply voluntary manslaughter. However, it's a lot better to let the defense try it the first time around than risk having the appellate court decide that the trial court fucked up and now we have to have a whole new trial all over again. If you want a decent justice system you've got to take some risks that defendants will do things you don't like.

Also, yes, jury selection is going to be a hell of a thing.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 11:56 AM on January 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Maybe I'm in the minority, but I have a real problem with a judge simply prohibiting a line of defense. He (and I and you) should be able to pursue any line of defense we damn well please, however ludicrous or irrelevant.

Let his argument go down in flames on its demerits.
posted by clarknova at 12:19 PM on January 11, 2010


He's gonna let the defense make this case, and give the jury the option to buy into it.

Not quite correct. This is more of an evidentiary ruling than a decision on what charges the jury will consider.

He said he will consider everything Roeder's lawyers present at trial before deciding whether to tell jurors if they can consider a conviction on a lesser offense.

As judges often do, he is hedging his bets by permitting the evidence to be introduced. That way, there is no evidentiary basis for an appeal after convidtion.

At the conclusion of the evidence he'll decide how to charge the jury, providing a curative instruction to disregard the manslaughter evidence if he determines that the lesser offense does not get submitted.
posted by minimii at 12:26 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm in the minority, but I have a real problem with a judge simply prohibiting a line of defense. He (and I and you) should be able to pursue any line of defense we damn well please, however ludicrous or irrelevant.

Let his argument go down in flames on its demerits.


I, on the other hand, would prefer to live in a world where defense attorneys couldn't, for example, rest their entire defense in a rape trial on the allegation that "that slut was begging for it." But maybe that's because I'm a secret fascist.
posted by muddgirl at 12:29 PM on January 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


You're right minimii that's a much better way of putting it. Look at me being all lazy with procedure and stuff, for shame.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 12:33 PM on January 11, 2010


The judge isn't saying that what happened was manslaughter, just that the defense will be allowed make that argument.

Right. The issue here is not that Roeder "could be convicted of manslaughter." In my state, and I'm pretty sure many others, a judge in a first-degree murder trial is required to include a jury instruction on voluntary manslaughter in the jury charge, because voluntary manslaughter is a lesser included offense of first degree murder. Not sure what Kansas law is on this point, but the first sentence of this post seems like a breathless reporting of a rather unremarkable fact.
posted by jayder at 12:38 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


While the judge has not ruled on the most recent motion, this is not a minor issue nor is this limited to what occurs in this courtroom. Each time a provider is killed we see a concerted effort to advance this argument by the same group of people. It's worth explicitly stating that those who advocate the "justifiable homicide" defense in the context of the murder of abortion providers have a tendency to go off and try and kill abortion providers themselves and encourage others to do so.

The most prominent example of this is Paul Hill. Paul Hill was one of the signers of the petition arguing that Michael Griffin's murder of Dr. David Gunn in 1993 was justifiable. Paul Hill would then go on to kill Dr. John Britton and his bodyguard James Barrett in 1994. Another petition was circulated arguing that Britton's murder was justified. Singing both was Michael Bray, who had bombed 10 abortion clinics and advocacy groups (including my own). This is just the tip of the iceberg. That eBay auction that was proposed this fall to raise money for Roeder's defense? It included a cookbook by Army of God member Shelly Shannon, who shot Dr. Tiller in 1993. I recommend people read up on who is making this claim and its history here.

Those who promote this idea are part of a political movement to legitimize this violence with the hope of increasing the number of attacks on providers and clinics. The clear hope is that by getting a judge to consider the argument, more individuals will be spurred into taking the law into their own hands.

The Army of God, Operation Rescue, and their ilk don't care about Scott Roeder or his legal future. They want a judge to rule that this is a permissible defense with the hope that the next unhinged pro-lifer will take that as a sign to attack a doctor. They'd be happy if a judge said this is a permissible defense and then it lost - it'd still vindicate their viewpoint that politically motivated assassination is a fine way to make your point - and it would potential further their cause by inspiring more violence. Of course, there is absolutely no legal basis for allowing this argument, but that hasn't stopped people like Michael Hirsch for trumpeting it around for years. It's as crazy as the type of nonsense you get from Tax Protester and Bircher types but way more deadly.

That's why this matters.
posted by allen.spaulding at 1:07 PM on January 11, 2010 [34 favorites]


Wow? Serious? For fucks sake.
posted by Artw at 1:19 PM on January 11, 2010


I, on the other hand, would prefer to live in a world where defense attorneys couldn't, for example, rest their entire defense in a rape trial on the allegation that "that slut was begging for it." But maybe that's because I'm a secret fascist.

There's nothing wrong with being a secret facist. We all are. I'm just saying, if you walk into a courtroom wearing a defense that skimpy, you gotta expect what's coming to you. AMIRITE??
posted by clarknova at 1:28 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Judge Warren Wilbert is an elected judge. I would guess that allowing a manslaughter conviction would go a long way in making him popular with a particular group of electors in his state of Kansas.

He just barely held onto his seat in the last election ("Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert finished with a 471-vote margin out of 165,881 ballots cast.", from the Topeka-Capital Journal article of November 27, 2008).
posted by the Real Dan at 1:31 PM on January 11, 2010


Judge Warren Wilbert is an elected judge. I would guess that allowing a manslaughter conviction would go a long way in making him popular with a particular group of electors in his state of Kansas.

That would be absurdly, grossly corrupt. But I suppose no more so than electing judges is, in the first place.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:35 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Relevant: Why I Provide.

How a Late-Term Abortion Saved My Life.


I often wish that I was a med student, because we need more Dr. Tillers.
posted by emjaybee at 1:37 PM on January 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


So, am I mistaken in thinking that there is no question as to whether the defendant killed Dr. Tiller, but that rather this trial is going to be about motive? I mean, there are many witnesses who watched this man shoot the doctor inside his church, aren't there? So it's all about the circumstances and mindset behind the killing, not about the killing itself?

Or am I completely off base there?
posted by hippybear at 1:45 PM on January 11, 2010


Thanks, allen.spaulding. That's a much better explanation of the point I wanted to make.
posted by Brak at 1:48 PM on January 11, 2010


hippybear - Roeder has already confessed to the shooting.
posted by muddgirl at 1:53 PM on January 11, 2010


Hippybear, most crimes in the US require both a bad act and a bad mind (actus reus and mens rea, if you want to get nerdy about it). Let's say I committed a bad act by intentionally shooting someone in the head. The actus reus is set. My criminal liability, if any, will depend on my mental state. If I just killed the guy in cold blood because I didn't like his face, that's 1st degree murder. Big penalty. If I kill him because I think he's pulling a gun on me, but it turns out that he's pulling out a flashlight, that's manslaughter, under the kansas statute above. If I kill him because he WAS pulling a gun on me and was going to murder me without provocation, that's a total self-defense defense and I'm not criminally liable.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:05 PM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


binturong I wish people would not use the oxymoron "unborn children." It makes as much sense as calling an old person an "undead corpse."

The problem with that argument is that a fetus is an unborn child. If born, it will probably become a child. Supposing a woman is voluntarily and happily pregnant, and another person administered to her a drug that would cause her to miscarry, or punched her hard enough to kill the fetus, or otherwise killed it against its mothers will - clearly they have committed a heinous crime, but exactly what crime have they committed? Grievous bodily harm? Supposing it occurred without overt violence, as in the drug example - intentional infliction of emotional distress? Torture, even?

It's a problem of emotive language, and propaganda. To "kill an unborn child" is somehow a more confronting statement than to "abort a fetus" although it means and describes the exact same thing. It's a dysphemism (or the latter is a euphemism, or both).

Judith Jarvis Thomson dealt with the "but it's an unborn child!" argument very well in 1971, and I believe her points to remain as valid today. It's about balancing lesser and greater rights and wrongs, of dealing with case-by-case realities rather than making sweeping declarations.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:06 PM on January 11, 2010


The problem with that argument is that a fetus is an unborn child.

A child, by definition, is an individual that has been born. Prior to that it is a fetus -- a different category of being. My objection is to the dishonesty of the language, deliberately used to distort and inflame.

Bear in mind that many of the people who choose to define a fetus as an "unborn child" are the same who choose to define marriage as "between one man and one woman." In other words, they are people who think that repeating something often enough makes it true.
posted by binturong at 2:21 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]



Bear in mind that many of the people who choose to define a fetus as an "unborn child" are the same who choose to define marriage as "between one man and one woman." In other words, they are people who think that repeating something often enough makes it true


I'm not sure I see the relevance here, or the relation between the two issues. Your language seems a little loaded, in my opinion.
posted by Shohn at 2:55 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Roeder's team is setting up a premise for jury nullification

Jury nullification doesn't require anything other than sympathetic jurors. No matter what defense the judge allows, or doesn't, is irrelevant if the people on the jury are determined to see him walk.

Maybe I'm in the minority, but I have a real problem with a judge simply prohibiting a line of defense.

I feel the same way. It just seems wrong to disallow a defendant from presenting the defense of their choosing. Just because you have the option to use the Chewbacca Defense doesn't mean it's a good idea. Then again, it only takes one to hang a jury so he may have a couple more trials yet.
posted by MikeMc at 2:58 PM on January 11, 2010


So, am I mistaken in thinking that there is no question as to whether the defendant killed Dr. Tiller, but that rather this trial is going to be about motive?

"Roeder has confessed to reporters to shooting Tiller, saying it was necessary to save "unborn children." He filed a motion made public Friday in which he admitted to the court that he killed Tiller, arguing his trial would be a "charade" if he could not present to jurors his only defense."

So, he doesn't deny that he did it but he wants to tell the jury why he did it and he feels the judge is trying to prevent him from explaining his actions.
posted by MikeMc at 3:02 PM on January 11, 2010


I feel the same way. It just seems wrong to disallow a defendant from presenting the defense of their choosing.

But this happens all the time in the courtroom. Pretty much any time you have an objection on the grounds of irrelevance that's sustained by a judge, it falls into this category. Neither plaintiff nor defendant has the right to waste the court's time with spurious, orthogonal arguments. My understanding of this situation is that getting a yea or nay ruling beforehand is simply going to save a lot of time once the case is actually being argued before the jury.
posted by Brak at 3:30 PM on January 11, 2010


Yeah, judges make threshold calls like this all the time; that's why they're the referees of the legal system. I haven't gone over all of this in-depth, but my initial understanding is that the judge didn't find any good-faith basis for the necessity defense, the victim wasn't imminently about to perform an abortion, and even if that was the case, it would be a close call. Since necessity requires an immediate danger, here, there isn't any threshold relevancy to the defense. Put another way, the judge is deciding that no reasonable jury could acquit based on the necessity defense, given these facts. These sorts of decisions that take fact-finding away from the jury are not taken lightly by trial judges, but they are necessary sometimes in order to prevent trials from delving too far into irrelevant information.
posted by craven_morhead at 3:50 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, he doesn't deny that he did it but he wants to tell the jury why he did it and he feels the judge is trying to prevent him from explaining his actions.

I was wondering about this. Would an alleged Anti-American terrorist like, say, Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi be allowed to use the defense that he knew that the CIA contractors he was going to meet were murderers, and would murder again, so acted to stop what he perceived as an imminent threat to others? (That is, if he were tried in a Kansas court system)
posted by muddgirl at 4:07 PM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


IANAL so I'll ask. If defense counsel asks Roeder why he shot Tiller will the judge cut Roeder short if his answer veers into "necessity" territory? I guess that's the part that I'm unclear on. If someone is on trial and are asked why they committed the act in question wouldn't they be expected to answer honestly? I watched a trial on Court TV where a guy claimed he traveled in time with one of the Archangels to kill Nazis and earn a soul, man if you can throw that out there as a defense I would think you'd be able to use damn near anything.
posted by MikeMc at 4:22 PM on January 11, 2010


Would an alleged Anti-American terrorist like, say, Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi be allowed to use the defense that he knew that the CIA contractors he was going to meet were murderers, and would murder again, so acted to stop what he perceived as an imminent threat to others?

I thought one of the reasons why the Republicans don't want to try terrorists in court was because it would give them a platform to express their anti-American sentiments. That's exactly what the Operation Rescue people want. A platform from which to recruit their next doctor killer. What I don't understand why, if allen.spaulding's comment is correct, no one has gone after them for conspiracy to commit murder.
posted by irisclara at 4:53 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I feel the same way. It just seems wrong to disallow a defendant from presenting the defense of their choosing. Just because you have the option to use the Chewbacca Defense doesn't mean it's a good idea.

Defendants can put on the defense of their choosing---if it's a defense.

It's a somewhat fine distinction, but essentially defendants can be prohibited from putting on evidence if, even if the evidence were believed by the jury, it would not constitute a defense to the crime charged. So whether a defense is actually a defense, is a question of law that the judge can decide.

The judge could (and should) decide that, even if Roeder believed it was necessary to kill Tiller to avoid the deaths of "unborn children," this would not, even if proved to the satisfaction of the jury, constitute a defense.

Take another example. Let's say you run a red light and hit another car, injuring the other driver. Assume that that that particular traffic light is brand new, and you were opposed to the city putting it there because it was not necessary, and as a matter of principle you chose not to observe or obey that red light. If the other driver sues you, you would not be permitted, as a defense at trial, to argue that the traffic light was not necessary and therefore you shouldn't have been required to stop. The judge can decide that you would not be allowed to put that "defense" on because as a matter of law it is not a defense, and it carries a risk of confusing the issues, creating unfair prejudice, inflaming the jury, etc. The judge would prevent your lawyer from eliciting any evidence along those lines. And rightly so.
posted by jayder at 5:32 PM on January 11, 2010


MikeMc, it appears that the judge will allow the testimony. He is reserving the right later in the trial to tell the jury to disregard it in the event he determines the "necessity" defense is not factually and legally permissible under the circumstances.
posted by minimii at 6:31 PM on January 11, 2010


Also, there is a line to draw beyond which a defendant (or a prosecutor) is just wasting the time of the court.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:05 PM on January 11, 2010


What I don't understand why, if allen.spaulding's comment is correct, no one has gone after them for conspiracy to commit murder.

There was a series of famous cases that went to the Supreme Court multiple times along this line. In the end, the Court, in Scheidler v. National Organization for Women, ruled that these organizations couldn't be held liable for damages under RICO or the Hobbs Act (the federal law that criminalizes extortion). It's not that these groups weren't in a large-scale conspiracy designed to deprive women of the right to choose by trying to shut down clinics through illegal means, it's just that the laws weren't designed to stop this. Which is largely true - for example, the Sherman Act was written during a time when prohibitionists were doing similar acts to shut down saloons and Congress didn't want it to apply to actions like that.

So it's not that Operation Rescue and the Army of God don't conspire to break the law in order to advance a political agenda, up to and including murder. They do. Multiple courts have ruled along these lines. The bottom line is that the current laws that we have don't apply to them. Well, there's FACE, which is a great law when it's applied. Of course, when Bush ran the DOJ it wasn't.

When Janet Napolitano talks about right-wing domestic terrorists everyone freaks out, despite it being fairly accurate. As to Dr. Tiller? Well, Scott Roeder apparently called a senior member of Op Rescue, Cheryl Sullenger, a few days before the murder, supposedly to find out where Tiller went to church. But there's no conspiracy here.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:38 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interestingly, Operation Rescue's website helpfully lists "late-term" abortion doctors. Tiller is scratched off at the top, and is listed as "passed away".

OR is the purest evil. They should be the stuff of the dystopian future, chilling fiction in an Atwoord or Orwell novel, not the reality of what we think is a civilized society.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:42 PM on January 11, 2010


So if I'm reading it right, Operation Rescue and the Army of God are domestic terrorist organizations.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:54 PM on January 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Interestingly, Operation Rescue's website helpfully lists "late-term" abortion doctors. Tiller is scratched off at the top, and is listed as "passed away".

I wonder what that list is for.


Can I get a link? I couldn't find anything on OR's site other than a screed about how shooting abortionists is stupid because it makes martyrs out of them. Not that I disbelieve you, I'd just like to be able to cite it myself for my own arguments.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:04 PM on January 11, 2010


BrotherCaine: "Can I get a link? I couldn't find anything on OR's site other than a screed about how shooting abortionists is stupid because it makes martyrs out of them. Not that I disbelieve you, I'd just like to be able to cite it myself for my own arguments."

Not too surprisingly, that page was scrubbed. What it linked to was an Army of God provided list. If you want to go wade through the Army of God site...well, I'm afraid I can't be your Virgil for that trek. I can't, in good conscience even link to them. Use the google if you must, but I warn you, it's a horrible journey which you contemplate. Turn back now. Trust me on this one.

Note that these people are all "pro life" right up until the fetus is delivered. You don't see a lot of them adopting kids, or creating foster homes, or working in poor communities to better the lives of the "after-borns". You don't see them volunteering at hospitals where crack babies need people to rock them to sleep, you don't see them opening their lily white doors to pregnant minorities.

They don't give a rat's ass about those kids. You know when pro-lifers care again? When it's time to send those kids off to fight their wars, or when those kids commit a crime and it's time to send them to prison to die.

Their belief in the "right to life" ends the second the umbilical cord is cut. After that, the baby is dead to these people. They are, every single fucking one of them; hypocritical, pandering, woman-hating, puritanical, murderous terrorist thugs. And that an AoG killer like Roeder has even the slightest chance of getting convicted of something less than murder is mind-numbingly terrifying.
posted by dejah420 at 10:46 PM on January 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


If the "unborn" are people too, how come I couldn't get a tax break while my children were in utero?
posted by readyfreddy at 1:47 AM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Note that these people are all "pro life" right up until the fetus is delivered. You don't see a lot of them adopting kids, or creating foster homes, or working in poor communities to better the lives of the "after-borns"

I'm absolutely sick of seeing this stereotype on Metafilter. It's every bit as ridiculous as the claim that scores of women are using abortion as birth control or roving gangs of gays are out to convert our kids. I'll go right along with you that the Army of God is a repugnant horrible group. But Army of God members are absolutely NOT the norm of pro-lifers. The vast vast majority of pro-lifers do not support nuts like Roeder, not because they think it will make abortion doctors martyrs, but because they actually are "pro-life."

I don't have anything to back this up but personal experience with people, but most activists for any cause tend to be active in one area only. I doubt that there are many pro-choice activists that are also activists in child or anti-poverty issues. People who are rabidly dedicated to a cause don't usually have the time to split themselves between more than one. That said, most supporters of a cause DO support more than one cause. And while it's easy to paint pro-lifers as evil troglodytes who live their entire lives to do nothing but control women, most people do have fairly consistent worldviews.

For example, consider Birthright International. In addition to prenatal support, they provide parenting classes, child care assistance, career guidance, housing assistance, adoption services, and a number of other areas of support for the entire family before and after birth. Or Catholic Charities USA, whose very motto is "Working to Reduce Poverty in America."

And from personal experience, I remember several Christmases as a child at my well-to-do aunt and uncle's house when there was some young black or hispanic woman, sometimes with a baby, that I didn't know there. I just knew they were friends of the family at the time, but later I realized that my aunt and uncle did indeed open "their lily white doors to pregnant minorities." A number of them.

Pro-Lifers on the whole are actual human beings. As are Pro-Choicers. There are nutjobs on both sides. Don't assume that the majority is like the fringe. And don't assume that someone is evil simply because you disagree with them on one issue.
posted by Dojie at 5:47 AM on January 12, 2010


When will we start recognizing this kind of backward application of pseudoreligious principles as justifcation for murder as insanity? I'd be perfectly happy with this man entering an insanity plea. There are legions of mentally ill people out there who seem to get a free pass on sanity because they happen to talk about god and saving people from damnation a lot.
posted by tehloki at 6:04 AM on January 12, 2010


Dojie, maybe your aunt and uncle were the exception. But I've spent 20+ years on the front line of this fight, facing down these very people. Many is the time when I had to have police protection to keep me safe from the murderous thugs at OR and AoG.

Yes, I feel perfectly comfortable with my statement that if someone belongs to AoG, then they support murder and terrorism. Just because your aunt and uncle were not club-carrying, woman hating anti-abortionists, does not mean that all anti-abortionists are your aunt and uncle.

I've also spent time volunteering at local hospitals. Volunteers and the nurses who work in the wards with babies born to mothers of addiction, or mothers with no prenatal care...we talk. None of us has ever seen an anti-abortionist in there.

The people who are ethically opposed to abortion, who have thought about the ramifications and the bioethics and who care about women and reproductive rights...these are not the same people as the ones waving photoshopped images outside the clinics. These are not the same ones who publish the home addresses of people who work at clinics. These are not the same ones who spit on rape victims and scream "whore!" at little girls who are victims of incest who need abortions. These are not the same people who promote and applaud the murders of medical professionals.

I stand by my statement. The Army of God, and the supporters of the Army of God are woman-hating, terror-inducing, violence-using thugs, and to defend them, even a little bit, is an evil act.
posted by dejah420 at 6:09 AM on January 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


For example, consider Birthright International. In addition to prenatal support, they provide parenting classes, child care assistance, career guidance, housing assistance, adoption services, and a number of other areas of support for the entire family before and after birth

This is some great PR that pro-lifers have passed around to each other to justify some of the more outrageous and inconsistent beliefs. The bottom line is that it's just not true and Birthright is an outrageous organization that does almost none of what you claim it does. It's main goal is to prevent women from getting abortions by any means necessary, including outright lies, deception, manipulation, denial of medical care, and so on. Indeed, the lies told to women about adoption at CPCs like birthright is absolutely heartwrenching

This is the problem when one side in a debate doesn't care about evidence-based medicine or reality-based arguments. Believing that they are doing God's work, facts and truth can get thrown out the window so long as it advances their cause. Crisis Pregnancy Centers are not staffed by professional nurses and doctors but by ideologues whose primary mission is to talk women out of abortion. They're hardly the warm-fuzzy one would want to hold up as the face of the modern pro-life movement.

It's not hard to go to a clinic to see the masses of angry protesters shouting obscenities and insults at women when they go in, holding up outrageous signs with no basis in reality, threatening staff and patients, and so on, just about any day of the week. It's the only debate in America where one side can't stop killing the other, while receiving millions of federal funds and having the institutional support of multiple churches, specifically the Council of Catholic Bishops. With their millions of dollars in funding (and note the other side receives none and also has legitimate expenses - you know, providing the highest possible medical care) they can have some great PR. Just doesn't mean it's true.

Individuals can hold any number of beliefs and be good people. Yet as a political movement, the modern pro-life cause in America makes Swift Boat campaigns look like the most honest attempts at constructive discourse ever.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:27 AM on January 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


As I said, I'm right there with you in condemning the Army of God. People who advocate murder are in no way pro-life. They are terrorists. And yes, my aunt and uncle were an exception in that they had the resources and courage to act on their convictions. Many people would love to do what they did, but can't. I'm one of them.

What I object to is the frequent metafilter claim that people who oppose abortion care only about fetuses and not about supporting life outside of the womb. You don't know what is in the minds of the people holding prayer vigils across the street from abortion clinics. You don't know how many of them are also at the prayer vigils outside of prisons on execution nights. You don't know how many of the people who use their votes or money to fight abortion also use their votes or money to support children's issues or anti-poverty causes. And you don't know the abortion views of all people who do actually adopt or serve as foster parents.
posted by Dojie at 6:37 AM on January 12, 2010


Your first link didn't work allen.spaulding. If you have something that shows that Birthright does not do what it says it does, I'd be interested in seeing that. Because I have seen it do exactly what it says it does.

Crisis Pregnancy Centers are not staffed by professional nurses and doctors but by ideologues whose primary mission is to talk women out of abortion.


Well, yes. That's the point. They're not there to actually deliver the babies, they are there to provide an alternative to abortion. Caseworkers are not supposed to provide medical care, they are supposed to help their clients through the process of getting medical care from actual doctors and nurses as well as support for other needs. The article in your second link shows that SOME, not ALL, crisis pregnancy centers have unethically pushed adoption rather than supporting mothers who want to keep their babies. That's wrong and needs to stop. But trying to persuade and help women to have and give up their babies to families who want them rather than abort them is exactly what it says on the pro-life box. And the fact that these centers are trying to place unwanted babies in homes is exactly what I'm trying to point out about pro-lifers continuing to care about the fetus after birth.

It's the only debate in America where one side can't stop killing the other
No. No, it's not. One side is not killing the other. A few violent nutjobs have committed murder in the name of this cause. Violent whackadoos commit murder in the names of all kinds of causes. That has nothing to do with the cause itself.
posted by Dojie at 7:27 AM on January 12, 2010


Your first link didn't work allen.spaulding.

Oops, mea culpa. This was the original link. There is lots of good information out there on how CPCs use outright deception and misinformation to lie to women about the services offered and the risks of pregnancy. If they're going to hold themselves out as providing medical information, it would be smart to at least employ the services of medical professionals or at least try to get some of the info right. But as I said, they aren't interested in the reality-based community and believe that it's ok to lie to women in order to advance their political agenda.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:37 AM on January 12, 2010


Okay, I've read your link and the few links from there that worked, and I am still not seeing even any unsupported assertions that Birthright does not provide the services it claims to provide. I would not expect a pro-choice blogger to be a crisis pregnancy center fan, but her primary objections seem to be that (1) they oppose abortion; and (2) they are not medical facilities. Which, as I said before, is the whole point. Giving a pregnant women in crisis options other than abortion is not a political agenda, it is an effort to solve a problem.
posted by Dojie at 8:27 AM on January 12, 2010


(1) they oppose abortion; and (2) they are not medical facilities.

Throw on the documented claims that (3) They provide fraudulent and false medical information about pregnancy and abortion, (4) they make promises about providing post-birth care which they do not provide, (5) they use deceptive advertising practices to try to trick women who believe they are entering an abortion clinic.

Those seem to be pretty serious concerns. If nothing else, the truth-in-advertising stuff is going to catch up to them.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:44 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dojie, if you cared enough to learn the facts, you'd know that when abortion is made illegal, abortion rates do not appreciably drop, but the number of women who are harmed sky-rockets.

Anti-abortionists may not all be murdering women with their own hands, but they are causing significant harm.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:53 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dojie, if you cared enough to learn the facts, you'd know that when abortion is made illegal, abortion rates do not appreciably drop, but the number of women who are harmed sky-rockets.

Anti-abortionists may not all be murdering women with their own hands, but they are causing significant harm.


This is a rather specious argument that assumes a number of things. First of all, do all pro-life people know these statistics? I have a number of political opinions about which I do not know several details, but I think I can still hold these opinions. Secondly, you are assuming that all pro-lifers must make an ends-justifies-means position with regards to their own personal ethics, i.e. that they should ignore their belief that abortion is the murder of a human being because making it illegal doesn't affect abortion rates but does more harm. A belief that murder should be illegal shouldn't be subject to statistics about greater harm, IMO.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:06 AM on January 12, 2010


A belief that murder should be illegal shouldn't be subject to statistics about greater harm, IMO.

Well, I'd say you're wrong there. An argument that murder is wrong, or immoral shouldn't be subject to statistics about greater harm, but a policy discussion of how we should punish various crimes, including murder, should be rooted in it from the very start.

Punishing a particular act "just because it's wrong," absent any other justification, when the punishment will actually create more harm than it prevents, is a pretty stupid thing to do, and I don't think the crime in question really matters.

So, getting back to the subject at hand, it's entirely possible to simultaneously believe that abortion is morally wrong, but that it shouldn't be illegal as a matter of policy. There are any number of reasons why someone might believe this: they could recognize that their moral opposition to abortion is premised on religious grounds, which have no place as justifications in a secular legal system. Or they might decide that the harm done by forcing women to continue pregnancies they desire to terminate, or to seek back-alley abortions, outweighs the harm inherent in abortions. Such stances are not hypocritical and are in reality quite common — I've met many people who are pro-choice as a matter of social policy even though they are not sure what action they would take if they found themselves pregnant. The morality question is best left independent of, or at best very loosely connected to, the legal/social-policy one.

In anticipation of the inevitable objection: Such stances do not deteriorate into utilitarian tarpits either, much as some moral legalists sometimes try to argue. The exaggerated fringe cases with which we are all familiar, and never fail to come up as arguments against utilitarianism as social policy ("utilitarianism dictates killing one person and harvesting their organs to save ten!" etc.), can be easily rectified by clarifying the "good" that is supposed to be maximized to include not turning society into a Soylent Green-style dystopia that nobody in their right mind would want to live in.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:43 AM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Dojie, if you cared enough to learn the facts
Please don't assume ignorance or apathy on my part. I have no interest in debating abortion laws here. I'm merely trying to counter the argument that Scott Roeder and his off their nut ilk are representative of all those who consider themselves pro-life and that pro-lifers care nothing about anything but fetuses.

allen.spaulding - Birthright is the only one of these organizations with which I have any personal knowledge, so it's the only one I feel qualified to speak about. There may well be some political groups posing as support centers, and I have no idea what might go on there. But I have not seen any documentation that backs up your assertions, only unsupported claims by partisans. I've read the links you provided and done some googling of my own, and I see nothing. Birthright, at least, is apolitical (insofar as they are not taking political actions - not that they are neutral on abortion), absolutely does provide post-birth care and does not in any way represent itself as an abortion clinic.
posted by Dojie at 9:45 AM on January 12, 2010


Well, I'd say you're wrong there.

That's fine, and I admit that you have several compelling arguments. I'm simply objecting to fff's position that pro-lifers simply need to do more research and then they will become pro-choice. That reasoning catapults over several discussions of ethics, moral philosophy, and civil law just to get to a point where pro-lifers can still be caricatured as not really caring about life.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:08 AM on January 12, 2010


I should also add that I am pro-choice, and actually agree with pretty much everything Kadin2048 says, and I'm not interested in actually discussing greater harm theory right now. I just don't think that discussion can be tossed out the window to brand pro-lifers as amoral.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:10 AM on January 12, 2010


But I have not seen any documentation that backs up your assertions, only unsupported claims by partisans

Birthright itself was just one of many organizations that came under investigation for deceptive practices. They settled with then Attorney-General Elliot Spitzer in 2002, after investigations showed it to be in violation of the law. While Birthright tries to be apolitical, they've been known to use controversial and problematic tactics to advance their agenda in other ways, including selling fake fetus Christmas ornaments in women's health clinics to raise money.

Again, I'm not saying that everyone who identifies with an ideology is evil or dishonest, or whatever. Nor are all the people who volunteer or work at CPCs bad people. There are many, many decent, thoughtful and compassionate pro-life people, including many of my friends and family. I'm arguing that the movement, as the political entity that it is, is deceptive, is not committed to evidence-based practices, and encourages violence in ways that are scary.

If you were to guess the number of abortion bombings and threats that have occurred since Roe v. Wade, without googling, what would you guess? If you were to guess how much intermingling of funds there was between CPCs like Birthright and organizations like Operation Rescue, what would you guess? These are well-organized movements and people like Scott Roeder are not wackos but deeply involved with mainstream pro-life activity.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:20 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


What I object to is the frequent metafilter claim that people who oppose abortion care only about fetuses and not about supporting life outside of the womb. You don't know what is in the minds of the people holding prayer vigils across the street from abortion clinics. You don't know how many of them are also at the prayer vigils outside of prisons on execution nights.

Well, Dojie, since no one seems to be willing to pay them to stand outside and do prison prayer vigils, it's not as popular here as protesting the local clinic is. Some pro-life organizations actually PAY protesters to go stand outside our local Planned Parenthood. Ever hear of the term "gay for pay"? Same thing. You don't necessarily have to believe in what you're doing in order to believe it's ok to get money for doing it, apparently.

They target older retired people through the churches when looking for protesters...people who have time to kill and could use a few extra bucks. We're not talking from the pulpit, it's more Fight Club-by. And if they're not being transparent, then that means they realize how hypocritical it is, too. Sad.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:16 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've got to disagree with your characterization of those links. The first article says "A preliminary investigation raised concerns" about a local chapter's practices. It does not say "investigations showed it to be in violation of the law." And while the Christmas ornaments may have been an egregious violation of good taste (Good Lord, what were they thinking?), it was one gym - not "women's health clinics." And they offered to take down the display, although I can't find anything that says if they eventually did.

Even with the worst possible interpretation of those stories, I don't see anything to back up your assertion that "Birthright is an outrageous organization that does almost none of what you claim it does." I'll stand my ground, here. There are plenty of people in organizations like this, and others, who back up their opposition to abortion by working to support women and children who need it.

I really don't see the point of guessing games, but I can't disagree with you more strongly. Scott Roeder absolutely unequivocally is a wacko and he may be against abortion, but he clearly is not pro-life. He is not the only wacko out there. And he might be "deeply involved" in the pro-life mainstream, but the pro-life mainstream is not deeply involved in him. This is the same kind of generalization that comes up any time there is an act of violence by someone with some defining characteristic. Just because some violent people oppose abortion does not mean pro-lifers support violence. Just because some violent people play video games does not mean gamers are violent. Just because some violent people are Muslims does not mean Muslims are violent.
posted by Dojie at 11:18 AM on January 12, 2010


people like Scott Roeder are not wackos but deeply involved with mainstream pro-life activity

I think that's a gross mischaracterization. I consider myself mainstream pro-life, and I think Scott Roeder is, in fact, a wacko and a murderer. His actions are not part of the mainstream of pro-life thought any more than those of the Earth Liberation Front are of the mainstream of environmental activist thought.

Let me say for the record that I am Dojie's husband, and we are like-minded on this issue.
posted by Shohn at 11:21 AM on January 12, 2010


Well, Dojie, since no one seems to be willing to pay them to stand outside and do prison prayer vigils, it's not as popular here as protesting the local clinic is.

Or, perhaps another interpretation is that executions are a much rarer occurrence than abortions. But, I'd be willing to bet that there is a prayer vigil somewhere during every execution in the U.S. I know they're pretty frequent in Texas. There might, indeed, be organizations that pay people to protest, but that's not the norm - for pro-lifers or any other group. I've seen plenty of announcements in my church bulletins of abortion-related (and dealth penalty-related) events, but I've never seen an offer to pay for attendance.
posted by Dojie at 11:33 AM on January 12, 2010


and he might be "deeply involved" in the pro-life mainstream, but the pro-life mainstream is not deeply involved in him.

I understand this argument and I don't think that pro-life individuals are necessarily linked to him. Yet Roeder was in close contact with many pro-life groups, participated with these groups, was present at many protests and whatnot, and so on. He was known to leaders of multiple pro-life organizations. He's not a lone wolf. And he's not alone.

While groups like the ELF may only be tangentially related to more mainstream groups, Operation Rescue is far more central and shares funding streams, literature, membership, resources, and so on with many pro-life groups, including CDC. These groups are closely linked. Birthright runs joint operations with Heartbeat International, and so on.

My problem is not with individuals, but with the institutional elements. I know that every time a pro-life individual commits murder people want to distance themselves from him/her, but it's time to stop seeing this as an aberration. Not only have there been 8 murders and 17 attempted murders, but there have been 175 arsons, over 700 bomb threats and attempted arsons, 1400 cases of vandalism of abortion clinics, 1900 cases of trespassing, 500 cases of stalking, 4 kidnappings, and over 33,000 arrests. These are no isolated incidents, but a pattern of behavior. I'm not trying to paint pro-life individuals with a broad brush but point out that these actions are consistent with mainstream pro-life rhetoric, the defense for these individuals comes from the same place as support for CPCs like Birthright, and so on. Multiple court cases have established these links to a far deeper degree than anything resembling the relationship between the Sierra Club and the ELF.

Birthright and other CPCs could serve an important purpose and obviously I would support any organization that provides resources to women who want to bring a child into the world. A significant part of my work is helping all women who want to be mothers be able to do so with dignity and with sufficient resources. But the pro-life movement uses deception, lies, and violence to advance its goals. And Birthright chooses to belong to that movement, instead of providing resources in a neutral and fair manner.

Again, this is not about targetting pro-life people. This is about pro-life organizations and the tactics they use, up to condoning and inciting violence. Look at the numbers, follow the money.
posted by allen.spaulding at 11:45 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, to jump back from the slight derail, the hearing on the state's motion to prohibit the consideration of imperfect self-defense voluntary manslaughter is being heard now. The Judge seems to be implying he is going to let Roeder proceed but may rescind later. Wants to hear evidence first. Seems to be speaking to the public and the media quite a bit.
posted by allen.spaulding at 11:49 AM on January 12, 2010


A child, by definition, is an individual that has been born. Prior to that it is a fetus -- a different category of being. My objection is to the dishonesty of the language, deliberately used to distort and inflame.

What are you basing that on? Certainly nothing scientific. A baby 1-day away from being born is hardly any different then one that has just been born. And it will have experienced consciousness and heard people talking. Babies are not just unconscious in there.

On the other hand, a 1-week old embryo is obviously not much like a born human being. But the question is "where do you draw the line?" And obviously "at birth" is totally arbitrary and somewhat meaningless. Are premature babies not alive until their due dates? Are babies that are born late somehow less human until they are born? Obviously not.

Generally, abortion is only legal up to the point where the fetus would be viable. But in Tiller's case, he was doing late-term abortions on children with serious health problems, most of whom would have died right away anyway. Or on mothers with health problems. Tiller's abortions were mostly medically necessary, so there is something of a difference between what he was doing and what normally gets talked about in pro-life/pro-choice debates.
posted by delmoi at 11:55 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


these actions are consistent with mainstream pro-life rhetoric
This is about pro-life organizations and the tactics they use, up to condoning and inciting violence.


Operation Rescue: "Scott Roeder has never been a member, contributor, or volunteer with Operation Rescue. Mr. Roeder may have posted to our open blog web site, as have thousands of members of the public, including those with pro-abortion views, but he is not affiliated with this organization.

We deplore the criminal actions with which Mr. Roeder is accused."

and: "What happened is antithetical to the Christian cause and to the stated foundation principles of pro-life."

National Right to Life: "National Right to Life extends its sympathies to Dr. Tiller’s family over this loss of life.

Further, the National Right to Life Committee unequivocally condemns any such acts of violence regardless of motivation. The pro-life movement works to protect the right to life and increase respect for human life. The unlawful use of violence is directly contrary to that goal."

American Life League: "WE DECLARE that the deliberate cold-blooded killing of a human being, from fertilization to natural death, is always wrong. This belief is the essence of what it means to be pro-life"

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:
"Such killing is the opposite of everything we stand for, and everything we want our culture to stand for: respect for the life of each and every human being from its beginning to its natural end. We pray for Dr. Tiller and his family."

Note that I am not a member of any of these groups and I do not know if I agree with or support all of their tactics. I did see in looking this up that Operation Rescue appears to have been distancing itself from some of the more abhorrent practices they followed in the past. But I do offer this as a demonstration of mainstream pro-life views about Roeder and other violent actors. The people who are bombing clinics or murdering people are on the fringe They are people who are motivated by a desire to commit violence - not devotion to their cause - just like people who commit violent acts in the name of Islam or Animal Rights or any other cause.

If Roeder does manage to get off on manslaughter, it very well might spur more wingnuts to violence. And if he's convicted of murder, it also might spur more wingnuts to violence. Wingnuts don't need a good reason to be violent. They do it because they're wingnuts.
posted by Dojie at 1:15 PM on January 12, 2010


Look, this isn't going to go anywhere. Of course groups will issue those disclaimers - they'd do so even if it was a member of their board of directors. Roeder called the leadership of OR to get information on Tiller. They're going to deny affiliation, of course, but he's obviously quite close to some of the people there.

And the numbers show that these can't just be a small number of crack pots. 33,000 arrests. Hundreds of incidents of stalking, arson, bomb threats, and so on. Who do you think is paying these legal bills? Who do you think is providing these individuals with the names and addresses of providers?

Let's just turn this away from the topic at hand. A lot of people on Metafilter are self-avowed atheists. If an individual were to shoot the pastor of a megachurch, I'd hope they'd all be outraged and appalled. If it turned out that the shooter had close ties to the leadership of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, I'd hope people would think it was deeply disconcerting. Yet they probably wouldn't think it affected them or their beliefs.

If over thirty years there was a large-scale effort to harass and kill pastors, that there were large blockades in front of churches every week, that bomb threats and anthrax letters were a way of life for the ministry, well, I'd hope there would be more discussion of the connection between these actions and mainstream atheist groups. A simple disclaimer after-the-fact isn't really soul-searching. Individual atheists could still feel like this didn't affect them or their decisions, but they would hopefully recognize that something was up.

Of course there is no large-scale movement to kill pastors. There never will be. The only political movement that deploys violence to this extent is the pro-life movement. Nobody posts the names and home address on the internet of any other political group, with the express intent of hoping they are murdered. The pro-life movement does. We can try to treat the tens of thousands of pro-lifers who participate in blockades, arson, kidnapping, and so on as aberrations. That's just a True Scotsman fallacy. These are real problems and they are not fringe problems.
posted by allen.spaulding at 1:59 PM on January 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


And I really do mean what I said earlier. I have pro-life friends and family that are very important to me and I respect their beliefs and values. I know people who work in faith-based ngos that work to support low-income women during pregnancy and I think their heart is in the right place. I do not want Scott Roeder's actions imputed to them. I see a political movement that looks more like a terrorist organization than an honest participant in the marketplace of ideas. I want there to be more criticism of the institutions, not of the individuals. And I want people to wonder where their money goes when they give to these institutions.
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:14 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


There been 8 murders and 17 attempted murders, but there have been 175 arsons, over 700 bomb threats and attempted arsons, 1400 cases of vandalism of abortion clinics, 1900 cases of trespassing, 500 cases of stalking, 4 kidnappings, and over 33,000 arrests.

contrasted with

The people who are bombing clinics or murdering people are on the fringe.

That's one hell of a fringe. One hell of a fringe, indeed.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:25 PM on January 12, 2010


That's one hell of a fringe. One hell of a fringe, indeed.

Insert obligatory parallel list of atrocities by Muslims, pose rhetorical question regarding whether Islam should also be characterized by its radical and violent members.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:34 PM on January 12, 2010


therefore will probably be about as successful as the Twinkie Defense

The Twinkie Defense is mostly an urban legend.
Twinkies were never mentioned in the courtroom during the White trial, nor did the defense ever claim that White was on a sugar rush and committed the murders as a result.
The actual legal defense that White's lawyers used was diminished capacity, and White's consumption of junk food was presented to the jury as one of many symptoms, and not a cause, of White's depression.
posted by electroboy at 2:47 PM on January 12, 2010


As I've said before, and will say again, I spent about 20 years escorting women into clinics. Because there was a need for escorts. Not because I wanted to be there, not because I like being hit with sticks and bottles or screamed at, or spit upon, or having my life threatened. Not because I liked having people show up at my job, or call my boss and tell them that I worked for baby killers.

I did it because someone had to. Someone needed to protect women who had a legal right to a medical procedure from people who had no right to stop her.


What antis say about their time spent harassing women outside clinics. Via Feministing, which broke the story about anti-abortion protesters wearing the vests mimicking the clinic escorts, so they could snatch and berate the women going in to the clinic before the "real" escorts could get to them to protect them.

I understand the ethical issues surrounding abortion. I too have many friends and family who are not pro-choice. And I'm fine with their logic. I disagree with them, and they disagree with me, but we've all determined that we're responsible for our own uterus, and just as I shouldn't be able to demand that someone have an abortion, they shouldn't be allowed to demand that someone stay pregnant.

Where the trouble comes in is when people decide that THEY should be able to make medical decisions for YOU. That YOU are not a responsible actor in your own life, and cannot be trusted to make your own medical decisions. That they, with no medical training or experience, are suddenly more of an expert than your doctor.

These groups, who do not protest in front of government offices to get benefits for the millions of children who starve in this country every day, pick the easiest targets...vulnerable women. Imagine the change they could have made in this country if instead of 30 years of throwing rocks and bombs and insults at pregnant teenagers, they had worked to raise the poverty levels of the American poor. If they had spent that energy filling food banks, if they had marched on DC to get a livable wage set, if they had demanded free childcare, if they had demanded health care for the weakest amongst us.

Imagine they had actually DONE ANYTHING for live babies.

I respect everyone's right to have their own views on abortion. It is a complex issue, determined only by ones own applied values. But, just because you believe one thing, does not mean that you are Right(tm)...only that you have the right choice for you.

And no matter how Right(tm), you think you are...supporting organizations who deliberately, intentionally, and with full malice, do harm....is wrong.

Just as allowing Roeder to be tried for anything less than first degree murder is wrong.
posted by dejah420 at 5:23 PM on January 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


There been 8 murders and 17 attempted murders, but there have been 175 arsons, over 700 bomb threats and attempted arsons, 1400 cases of vandalism of abortion clinics, 1900 cases of trespassing, 500 cases of stalking, 4 kidnappings, and over 33,000 arrests.

Those statistics appear to come from the National Abortion Federation, and include the U.S. and Canada. I can't find any neutral Canadian estimates right now, but there are over 100 million adults in the U.S. who identify themselves as pro-life. Even if we assume that no-one was ever arrested twice, 33,000 blockade arrests would be less than one third of one percent of U.S. pro-lifers. Add the Canadian pro-life population and leave out the second, third, nth arrests of those who have been arrested multiple times, and that percentage drops much, much lower. Yes. It's a fringe.

And lest we think this is a growing problem, keep in mind that those events are spread over the last 32 years. According to those same statistics, in the last five years, those numbers drop to one murder, zero attempted murders, four arsons, 53 bomb threats and attempted arsons, 270 cases of vandalism of abortion clinics, 1280 cases of trespassing (half of these were in 2005, declining rapidly since then), 52 cases of stalking, one kidnapping, and four arrests. Granted, even one of these attacks is too many, but this is a fringe of a fringe of the pro-life movement. If mainstream organizations truly are trying to incite their membership to violence, they're not doing a very good job of it

dejah420, I respect and admire your passion and I will not defend the protesters you have faced. I think their actions are distasteful and counter-productive. But extremists are not representative of any movement, including abortion opponents. Regardless of anyone's opinions about crisis pregnancy centers on the whole or the Catholic Church, I can assure you that in Tulsa, Oklahoma at least, Birthright of Tulsa and Catholic Charities are two mainstream pro-life organizations who have, indeed been helping live babies for many years. Pro-Life views do not prevent people from donating to food banks or pushing for free child care or working toward any other anti-poverty, pro-child causes.

And none of this has anything to do with Scott Roeder. Roeder is a mentally ill man who has been, in his ex-wife's words, "obsessed with not paying taxes, anti-government movement, gun control and pro-life, pretty much in this order.". His only apparent connection to pro-life organizations apart from Army of God, is having posted on an OR forum and having made phone calls to an OR member asking for info on Dr. Tiller's court hearing dates. He's using public defenders, not attorneys hired by any pro-life organization, and every major pro-life organization (including some extremist organizations) has strongly denounced his actions. He committed murder and he is being tried for murder. Most likely, he will be convicted of murder. Pro-life organizations are not to blame for this any more than self-sufficiency advocates were to blame for Theodore Kaczynski's crimes.
posted by Dojie at 8:44 AM on January 13, 2010


There are, at best, a few very few tens of thousands of "activist" pro-lifers. The percentage of violent loons is in that cohort, and it is deceptive to try to include all the other "casual" pro-lifers in your calculation.

And it's irrelevant, because the bottom-line facts are that banning abortion accomplishes very, very little other than killing and maiming women. It certainly has never been shown to do a damn bit of good in actually reducing abortion rates. Anti-choicers deny the mathematics of reality.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:12 AM on January 13, 2010


There are, at best, a few very few tens of thousands of "activist" pro-lifers. The percentage of violent loons is in that cohort, and it is deceptive to try to include all the other "casual" pro-lifers in your calculation

I honestly am having a hard time following this statement. I would be pleased if you could clarify what you're saying. Here's what I think you mean (please correct me if I'm wrong):

"Only a small percentage of the total number of persons who identify as 'pro-life' are activists, and the violent loons come from that activist population. There is thus a larger percentage of violent activists within this activist movement. It is deceptive to characterize this percentage of violent loons as a subset of the larger group of pro-life persons, which includes both activists and non-activists."

If I understand you, then my question is: "How is this deceptive?" I think the point Dojie was trying to make is exactly that violent activists are a very small subset of the larger mainstream pro-life movement.

On another note, no one seems to be really discussing the legality of abortion or whether it should or should not be banned, yet you continue to interject comments about it. As I see it, this thread is largely about: a) Scott Roeder's defense strategy and 2) the nature, relevance and activities of pro-life organizations.
posted by Shohn at 11:05 AM on January 13, 2010


You nailed it. It takes one helluva creep to picket a clinic. The activist group is loony, and the violent activists more loony yet.

You may wish to note that there are a number of other people in this thread who have talked about the creeps who picket abortion clinics. You need not focus solely on my comments, as gratifying as I find it.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:22 PM on January 13, 2010


Oh, I haven't focused solely on your comments, but I'm tremendously glad that you're gratified.

And though I suspect that you and I may disagree on some things, we do agree on this:
It takes one helluva creep to picket a clinic
posted by Shohn at 5:42 PM on January 13, 2010


Love is in the air!

and I'm snipped, so we don't have to worry!
posted by five fresh fish at 6:43 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


The jury found Roeder guilty on all counts after deliberating for thirty-seven minutes today. The prosecutors plan to ask for Roeder to be given a sentence of fifty years with no possibility of parole.
posted by EarBucket at 9:31 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Good. It hardly makes up for what he has done, but good.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:37 AM on January 29, 2010


I'm surprised at how surprised I was when I read that it took the jury so little time to come back with a guilty verdict. I guess subconsciously I was expecting some kind of jury nullification. I'm glad to be disappointed on that front.
posted by rtha at 9:42 AM on January 29, 2010


I'm surprised at how surprised I was when I read that it took the jury so little time to come back with a guilty verdict.

"In his testimony, Roeder told jurors he had considered elaborate schemes to stop the doctor, including chopping off his hands, crashing a car into him or sneaking into his home to kill him." (source). He was the sole witness for the defense. Knowing that--and that the prosecution took jury selection very seriously--the outcome is not too surprising.
posted by jedicus at 10:03 AM on January 29, 2010


“George Tiller shed the blood of 60,000 innocent children,” Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, told reporters. Mr. Terry (who is in a legal dispute over the use of the group’s name with Operation Rescue’s current president, Troy Newman) said that he was neither condoning nor condemning Mr. Roeder’s actions, but that people should remember the children." [link]

Fuck off, Randall Terry.
posted by rtha at 10:06 AM on January 29, 2010


Found guilt of first-degree murder. NYT link
posted by sio42 at 2:05 PM on January 29, 2010


guilty, i mean.
posted by sio42 at 2:05 PM on January 29, 2010


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