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Deborah King Headshot

George Tiller's Murder and Sotomayor

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Shock seems to be the word that follows the murder of a fine doctor named George Tiller, who was gunned down while ushering people into church services as his wife sang in the choir. Everyone from the President of the United States to the president of NARAL expressed shock.

Frankly, that they are shocked is precisely the problem. Shock is a serious indicator that we are losing the battle for individual rights--which includes a woman's right to an abortion--and we are losing it fast. Both President Obama and NARAL are ostensibly pro-choice on abortion, but no one who is 100 percent pro-choice has reason to be shocked at the brutal killing of Dr. Tiller, who performed abortions for patients at his Wichita, Kansas, medical clinic.

Anyone who is shocked is not paying attention to the cause of this violent anti-abortion crusade: religion. Even Huffington Post writer Mary Mapes, a reporter with impeccable credentials on the subject, ultimately gives anti-abortion terrorists a pass, arguing in an otherwise articulate post that "violent behavior is not a natural outgrowth of religious belief or moral concerns."

Of course it is. This murder--unless the motive is unrelated to the nature of Dr. Tiller's work which is highly unlikely--is exactly what religious opponents of abortion have preached and practiced. They have attacked abortion doctors and clinics for decades--and they do so at the behest of religious leaders and politicians who, like their philosophical cousins, the Islamists, denounce Western civilization from pulpits and podiums at sermons and conventions alike.

Most readers are familiar with the anti-abortion rantings of Republicans and Catholic and Christian fundamentalists, who routinely (most recently at the University of Notre Dame) define abortion as murder, a theological view based on the belief that life begins at conception.

Religionists proclaim that abortion is therefore an evil sin which violates God's highest commandments. Among those who denounce abortion as the worst moral transgression in society is Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, who has railed against Dr. Tiller for years, falsely accusing him of executing babies--even a late-term fetus is not a baby--and practically pre-approving any action to stop what O'Reilly wrongly calls "murder".

What about moral culpability for the rest of us? Those who sit quietly in the pews or in the synagogue, or passively listen to our friends and relatives rail against abortion and declare that it ought to be against the law; we also bear responsibility. Silence implies consent and we who remain silent are indirectly complicit in the murder of those brave, bold medical professionals who perform abortion against the tide of religious fundamentalism. Dr. Tiller's murder is a warning that it is long past time to speak up for women's rights.

That means we must stop being shocked and start taking action--action to express defense of the separation of religion and state.

What does that mean in practice? For starters, it means our president, who recently nominated a judge to the Supreme Court whose views on abortion are ambiguous, must reaffirm his commitment to defending a woman's right to choose an abortion. It means Judge Sotomayor must address this issue without equivocation during her confirmation testimony and, if she is not in favor of individual rights, she should withdraw her nomination. It means President Obama must consider and, if necessary, deploy a military defense of the nation's abortion clinics, protecting their rights under the law.

Today, President Obama said he was shocked by the murder of Dr. George Tiller and he described abortion as a "difficult" issue. Wrong, Mr. President. You--and all Americans for a woman's right to abortion--must stop equivocating, stop being shocked that those who distort what constitutes murder are willing to commit murder and start defending our rights. Dr. Tiller's murder is an alarm telling us to unite against religious fundamentalism--and against those who tolerate it.

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