Justice, not vigilantism: more on why pro-lifers reject violence


On October 22nd, Jewels Green wrote a great article offering a compelling personal story illuminating why true pro-lifers don’t use violence to fight abortion. But abortion defenders refuse to drop their fixation on “anti-choice violence,” so it’s worth saying a bit more about the subject.

We all know how pro-aborts twist the crimes of lone fanatics into indictments of the whole pro-life movement. But over the years, I’ve repeatedly encountered a less inflammatory, though no less dishonest, spin on anti-abortion violence: If you think fetuses are people, then why wouldn’t you use force to save them from execution? Wouldn’t violence be justified to save live, say, during the Holocaust?

On the surface, it seems like a powerful question with uncomfortable implications. Is there a disconnect between our rhetoric and our actions? Does our unwillingness to wage war for the unborn mean we don’t really consider them our equals, or that we’re simply too cowardly to get our hands dirty?

Not at all. Nonviolence isn’t merely the safe, practical path; it’s also the just one. The United States is a free society living under a constitutional government, founded substantially on the social compact theory of Enlightenment philosopher John Locke. In a nutshell, Locke says that people have a natural right to unilaterally punish injustice, but in forming government, we surrender that power to representative institutions that will dispense justice impartially. By agreeing to live under government’s protection, we agree to submit all such questions to a political process whose outcomes we’ll obey no matter what.

As long as the process remains available to us, we don’t have the right to pick and choose which wrongs are evil enough to justify vigilantism. Why? Because even if the effect might be good in the short term, in the long term it damages the very concept of rule of law, setting a precedent for others to take the law into their own hands and eroding the people’s confidence in, and respect for, our system of government. No small-scale, temporary victory is worth starting down the road to anarchy.

Violence is only justified when the process breaks down and people no longer have a legal way of righting wrongs. Our Declaration of Independence makes clear that the Founders didn’t cast off colonial rule because they simply hated King George’s policies, but because the King’s “long train of abuses” included crimes like taxing the colonies without allowing them representation in Parliament and dissolving colonial legislatures. Similarly, the Holocaust comparison fails for the simple fact that Nazi Germany was a police state without free elections. It’s not as if Germans could have passed a save-the-Jews referendum, or run an anti-genocide candidate against Hitler.

Such is not the case we find ourselves in today. Sure, the Supreme Court disgracefully keeps us from voting on abortion, but they do so under the power we gave them in our Constitution, which also gives us several options for correcting their mistake, such as challenging their contention in court, electing presidents who will appoint differently-minded judges, or overruling them with constitutional amendments. Ultimately, the final blame for abortion’s continued legality lies not with some tyrant to be overthrown, but with the judgment of we the people, and only by changing the people’s judgment will it be resolved.

In refusing to fight bloodshed with bloodshed, pro-lifers aren’t compromising our principles or neglecting our responsibility to the unborn. We’re simply giving equal consideration to all of justice’s demands, so that we replace evil with good, rather than simply trade one form of suffering for another.

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