Ordinarily this really shouldn't be news or of interest - a case of someone who confessed openly in court and elsewhere that they deliberately planned and prepared to murder someone before finally carrying out the act seems to be open and shut, the conviction just a formality. Right?
The Legal bit
Scott Roeder was recently sentenced to a term of life imprisonment for the murder of Doctor George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas. Judge Warren Wilbert even enforced the maximum penalty, Roeder will not be eligible for parole for 50 years. Roeder was also sentenced to a further two years for threatening two ushers at the church where he shot Dr. Tiller.
Roeder had been planning the murder of Dr. Tiller for some ten years and finally carried out the act on May 31, 2009 whilst Dr. Tiller attended church with his family. Roeder fled the scene but was arrested and made no secret of the fact that yes, he had killed the doctor.
All this seems to make Roeder's conviction a formality surely? Not so. Roeder attempted to plead 'necessity'. Roeder's attempted defence was that he killed Dr. Tiller because the lives of children were in immediate danger since Dr. Tiller's clinic was one that carried out late term abortions, something which Kansas state laws allow. If Roeder had been successful then the charge he would have been facing would have been manslaughter instead of first degree murder. Initially Judge Wilbert appeared open to allowing this even though Kansas state law does not recognise the necessity defence - he said he needed more evidence to rule on the matter. Eventually, Judge Wilbert decided that Roeder could not use the necessity defence because Dr. Tiller was performing an action that was constitutional and legal and that Roeder had broken the law. Apparently it needs to be pointed out to some people that gunning someone down in cold blood is against the law and that planning to do so for ten years makes it pre-meditated.
Judge Wilbert very nearly opened a legal Pandora's box that would have been very difficult to close, as the Albany Government Law Review article I've linked to points out. At the time that Judge Wilbert first appeared prepared to allow the necessity defence I felt a creeping sense of dread, for reasons very close to home - the obstetrics clinic my wife works at referred people to Dr. Tiller's clinic.
If the necessity defence was allowed, and if Roeder had been successful in using it, then where would this end I thought? Who, exactly, becomes a legitimate target for those who think themselves to be saving the lives of unborn children in immediate danger and with the now established legal defence of necessity? Would it be just the doctors? Would it be the nurse practitioners as well? How about the medical assistants? The receptionists? The cleaners at the clinic that enable it to function? People who delivered medical supplies to the clinic? People who built the equipment that the clinic used? People who worked for the utility companies that supplied the clinic? People who built the buildings that these clinics operated in? Any of these people who worked elsewhere that referred patients to the clinic that performed the abortion - like my wife?
Where would the defence of necessity stop if it were ever allowed in a case like this? Judge Wilbert closed the door on using the necessity defence in this case - but what if, as the law review article argues, abortion were to be declared illegal by a conservative judge or state legislature?
Who, exactly, then becomes a legitimate target for fanatical anti-abortionists? Judge Wilbert very nearly declared it open season on anyone connected in any way to a clinic or doctor that performs abortions.
The fact that anyone anywhere actually considers that it was alright for Roeder to argue that it was ok for him to murder Dr. Tiller should send shivers up the spine of anyone with a modicum of intelligence.
Thankfully Judge Wilbert weighed up the facts and discarded the necessity defence, but really on a legal technicality that could be open to change or reinterpretation in the future. The necessity defence is something anti-abortionist terrorists have tried to use in the past and there is no guarantee that one day something might change with either the status of abortion or the legal position on necessity.
I'm certainly going to be keeping an eye on it.
What people like Roeder don't want you to know
Here's the part that people like Roeder, and even the less psychotic anti-abortionists, don't want you to know.
Dr. Tiller didn't carry out late term abortions lightly - Kansas state law is very strict on the procedure for a start. It can only be performed if there is a risk of death or serious harm to the mother, and where two independent doctors have agreed that health is at risk. Late term abortion is also performed if the foetus has a severe or fatal defect - for instance, my wife's clinic deals with high risk pregnancies and referred patients to Dr. Tiller's clinic when the mother was at risk or when the foetus had defects that would be fatal or cause suffering in utero or would cause severe and eventually fatal quality of life and health issues after birth.
Late term abortions are not performed for convenience, they aren't the fast food of medical procedures, but where the health of the mother is at risk or where there are severe medical problems with the foetus. But anti-abortionists portray late term abortions, and want everyone else to think this, as if they are done because people just don't want the inconvenience of a pregnancy carried to term. They don't want people to understand the actual medical issues, because they themselves don't. Ignorance is their friend, and they guard it with all their might.
No-one really points this out. The media don't really mention it. Anti-abortionists deliberately ignore it - abortion is abortion is abortion, to them. Women are just birthing machines and damn the risks, to your average anti-abortionist. Every foetus is always 100% healthy and viable to them. Under no circumstances is abortion ever necessary or medically correct. It's black and white. Don't think about it, take their word for it.
Dr. Tiller was no murderer, he was a medical professional performing necessary and legal medical procedures in the face of extreme violence, intimidation and abuse. On the other hand Roeder, who through killing Dr. Tiller forced the doctor's clinic to close, has condemned hundreds if not thousands of women to death or severe health problems. He has caused the continued suffering of unviable unborn children. He has caused incalculable mental anguish to women and their partners at the most difficult times of their lives. He was a murderer, and his actions will ensure the deaths of other pregnant women. He will continue to be a murderer for years to come, but the deaths will never be correctly attributed to him. Many will go unremarked by any but the affected families. Anti-abortionists will never spare them a moments thought, sympathy or compassion. Because of the physical damage done to women who would otherwise have gone on to have healthy full term pregnancies, many children will never be born that otherwise would have been.
There was nothing pro-life about what Roeder did.
Yet Roeder is proud of himself, and so are his supporters. They don't want you to think of the consequences of his actions - they want everyone to continue thinking that abortion is a black and white issue and that women have no rights when it comes to pregnancy. The collection of unborn cells outweighs everything else, no matter what. There are, according to these people, no conditions where abortion might be justified or necessary. No matter who dies or who suffers and how.
There is nothing pro-life about any of them or their beliefs.