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No Room for Wanted Posters

November 11, 2010

A couple of years ago, Lisa sent me a link to a “Wanted” poster from the American Life League.  It contained images of pro-choice Catholic politicians, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.  At the time, Lisa and I felt that the proper response to this would be to send letters of congratulation to Speaker Pelosi and all the Catholic politicians listed for being such strong pro-choice champions that they had warranted targeting by ALL.  I should point out that pro-choice Catholic politicians are not some rare breed: many Catholics trust women to make the reproductive health care decisions that are best for themselves, and do not believe that abortion should be illegal.

Our rather flippant discussion about this particular wanted poster took place before Dr. George Tiller was murdered.  Speaking for myself only, the previous murders of doctors who provide abortion care, in the 1990s, felt like far away episodes from a violent past.  I’ve written before about the protesters I see once a week – and that our medical staff and patients put up with twice a week at this location alone.  But the threat only felt real to me the afternoon that I learned Dr. Tiller had been shot, and killed. 

In some ways it still feels remote, more remote than the less-provocative possibilities I worry about daily – will our family planning funding be cut, will my pro-choice Catholic Congressmember lose his race after absentee ballots are counted, will my daughter get a long enough nap this afternoon.  I just don’t see myself as likely to end up on a wanted poster.   

Still, even with all those qualifications, I felt a sense of relief and of vindication when I read this today.  Flip Benham, leader of Operation Save America and the guy who baptized Norma McCorvey, has been convicted of stalking local doctors after he distributed hundreds of “Wanted” posters featuring the names and pictures of local doctors who provide abortion care.  At least one version of the poster included a home address for the featured physician.

The article cites the National Abortion Federation’s statistic that, since 1977, there have been more than 6,250 acts of violence documented against abortion providers in the U.S. and Canada.  It’s past time for anti-abortion groups to stop using inflammatory words and tactics like these posters, and then hiding behind claims that they do not support violence.  Putting someone’s picture on a “Wanted” poster condones actions that will hurt that person.  Using language like “Wanted by Christ to stop killing babies,” which is the phrase Benham used, encourages people who are already inclined toward violence to target their aggression at specific individuals who have committed no crimes and have actually helped women. 

Differences of belief, morality, politics – whatever term you want to use – should never lead to murder.

There is a connection to Catholic beliefs here too.  Less than a quarter of Catholics want abortion banned outright.  One tenet of Catholic beliefs is that “every individual must follow his or her own conscience and respect others’ right to do the same.”  Respecting others’ rights to make their own moral decisions means not judging people with whom you disagree.  If anti-choice groups truly wanted to move forward and find common ground, a phrase used ad nauseum since President Obama first talked about it on the campaign trail, they would start with respectful dialogue – in which there is no room for wanted posters of any kind.  Respectful dialogue from both sides is one avenue to creating abortion peace, and moving toward a world in which doctors don’t have to live in fear.

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