What does the pro-life movement have in common with the ’60s-era civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King?
According to Randall Terry—the fiery pro-lifer who founded the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue—they’re both “peaceful” crusades. At a press conference on Monday at the National Press Club, Terry responded to criticism that the pro-life movement’s highly charged rhetoric was partly responsible for the murder of Dr. George Tiller, the Wichita abortion provider shot dead at his church on Sunday morning. The suspect in the murder, Scott Roeder, reportedly had ties to Operation Rescue.
“We train [pro-life activists] to be peaceful and nonviolent, just like Dr. King trained people in the civil rights movement,” Terry said. Terry said Roeder “wasn’t working with us” before adding: “Pro-life leaders and the pro-life movement are not responsible for George Tiller’s death. George Tiller was a mass murderer and, horrifically, he reaped what he sowed.”
Asked to clarify, Terry responded, “He sowed death, and then he reaped death in a horrifying way.”
Terry said that he held the press conference as a way to signal to pro-lifers that they “must not lose focus”—that is, dial down their rhetoric—in the wake of the murder of Dr. Tiller, one of the few doctors in the US who provided late-term abortions, and who was a frequent target of protests by pro-lifers.
In fact, the prospect that pro-lifers might tone down their campaign against abortion seemed to annoy Terry more than the shooting itself. “Tiller’s death poses a great problem for the pro-life movement because there are many political leaders who are going to be intimidated, and keep saying ‘Oh, we’re peaceful, we’re peaceful, we won’t use highly-charged rhetoric,” Terry said. “That’s a problem.”
Terry repeatedly called Tiller a “mass murderer” who died with “blood on his hands.” That’s probably not how Martin Luther King would have responded to the killing. Asked if those kinds of remarks could cause some to link Terry and his followers to violence, Terry responded, “We run that risk, but that is the cost of saying the truth.”