07/05/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

How the Pro-Life Camp Sees the Tiller Murder

The cold, hard truth about the right's reaction to the murder of Dr. George Tiller -- the truth that most anti-abortion activists are reluctant to admit, at least publicly -- is that they're happy he's dead.

Well, maybe not "happy." "Relieved," might be a better word. Or, less succinctly, I think it is safe to say that there are many anti-abortion activists who genuinely believe that the ultimate good that comes from Dr. Tiller's death far outweighs the inherent evil of his murder.

An apt analogy comes to mind, the oh-so-cliche thought experiment: If you could go back in time to pre-Nazi Germany, would you kill Adolf Hitler?

Murder is wrong; I think that's a pretty universal moral standard. But knowing the crimes Hitler committed and the horrors he wrought, few would consider it immoral to preemptively kill a man who would ultimately be responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of innocent men, women and children. And while many of us might lack the fortitude to commit the act ourselves, neither would we mourn Hitler's death. Indeed, we'd welcome it.

Yes, murder is wrong, but not all killing is murder, and as a society we tend to make moral exceptions in circumstances such as war, executions, and self-defense.

Now let's look at the rhetoric anti-abortion advocates have used to describe Dr. Tiller, both before and after his death.

Few on the right have publicly condoned Dr. Tiller's murder, but even in disowning and/or condemning the assassination, some very public figures continue to describe Tiller as a "serial killer," a "baby killer," a "mass murderer" and worse. Even anti-abortion activists and organizations who genuinely disavow violence have referred to Dr. Tiller as "Tiller the Killer" and "Dr. Death," comparing him to the infamous Nazi war criminal, Dr. Josef Mengele.

Many, many people in the anti-abortion movement, mainstream and extreme alike, have used and embraced this sort of rhetoric, and I see little reason to doubt their ingenuousness. These people believe that Dr. Tiller was a serial killer who brutally murdered thousands of babies, and who would have continued his killing spree for years to come... had he not been stopped by an assassin's bullet.

Undoubtedly, most would have preferred that he were stopped through legal means, and damn few would have had the personal fortitude to pull the trigger themselves. But don't kid yourselves. They don't mourn Dr. Tiller's death any more than I did the deaths of Saddam Hussein and his two odious sons, regardless of my opposition to the Iraq war itself. And they don't think his killing was particularly immoral, especially when balanced by the thousands of babies who might have been saved in the process.

The cold, hard truth is, political and PR considerations aside, many in the anti-abortion movement are happy Dr. Tiller is dead. Or relieved. Or at the very least, comfortable with a moral calculus that, in their minds, balances the life of one guilty man against the lives of thousands of innocent babies.

And that is a disturbing truth the so-called "pro-life" movement needs to come to terms with.

David Goldstein writes on WA state politics at