Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Can Killing An Abortion Doctor Be Justified?

Q - One of my friend brought up the question of whether or not it would be justified to kill an abortionist if you knew that the abortionist was going to cause imminent and fatal harm to an unborn child, and not just one child but rather many children. As I thought about this statement it kind of scared me because I could see his logic and the parallel to shooting someone who was about to cause your child harm. But I can’t rectify my conscience with that logic. Can you give me some advice?

A -
Thanks for the question. I hope I can help you get some clarity on this issue. The short answer is that there is no moral justification in killing an abortionist. Another way to put it is that you can't murder a murderer.

St. Thomas, quoting St. Augustine, says
a man who, without exercising public authority, kills an evildoer, shall be judged guilty of murder, and all the more, since he has dared to usurp a power which God has not given him (Summa Theologiae, II, II, q. 64, art. 3).
Our Catholic tradition does allow for someone to defend themselves, as I have explained in other posts. But, killing an abortionist does not fit this criteria. If you were in the doctor's office and he was about to perform an abortion, you could use reasonable force to try and stop him, but not lethal force. Intent matters, as is explained below, as is the kind of force used.

The best article I have read in regards to this issue is from Dr. Charles Rice, who is a moral theologian and teaches at the Notre Dame Law school. He writes this:
The only situations in which anyone ever has the right intentionally to kill anyone are the just war, capital punishment, and a justified rebellion (or what the Catechism calls "armed resistance to oppression by political authority"├żN. 2243, emphasis in Catechism). The just war and capital punishment are decreed by the state, which derives its authority from God. Armed rebellion involves an assumption by private persons of that authority of the state. The death penalty is inflicted on a person judged guilty of a capital crime and a just war or justified rebellion is subject to the mandate of noncombatant immunity, which forbids the direct and intentional killing of innocent noncombatants. See the Catechism, NN. 2312-2314. Whether in a just war or any other circumstance, no one ever has the moral right intentionally and directly to kill an innocent human being.

In self-defense or defense of others, against an aggressor, the intent must be to defend, rather than to kill. Consider two situations. In the first, Able, an abortionist's assistant in the killing room, suddenly has a change of heart moments before the abortion begins. He has a right and even a duty to use force to defend the child, not to kill the abortionist. In the second situation, Baker, an opponent of abortion, shoots the abortionist in the parking lot as he is approaching the building to do abortions a few minutes later.

One difference between the two cases is imminence. Able engages himself in the immediate defense of the child; he has no intent but to defend that child; he has no separate intent to harm or kill the abortionist. Recall that, in justified self-defense or defense of others, the intent cannot be to kill the aggressor, but rather to stop the attack. Baker, by contrast, is not in the heat of a physical struggle to save the child. He thinks, "I can get no closer than this. If I do not stop him he will go in there and murder babies. So I will shoot him in the head." His purpose or motive is to save children. But his intent in the act he performs that moment is to blow the baby killer's head off in order to achieve that purpose of saving children. Apart from the just war, capital punishment, or the justified rebellion, which derive from the authority of God, no one may ever intentionally kill anyone. Baker is intentionally doing an intrinsically evil thing to achieve a good end. He assumes the authority of God, to decide when that person will face the final judgment of God. His act cannot be justified. St. Thomas, quoting St. Augustine, said that "`a man who, without exercising public authority, kills an evildoer, shall be judged guilty of murder, and all the more, since he has dared to usurp a power which God has not given him"' (Summa Theologiae, II, II, q. 64, art. 3).

Some may argue that killing the baby killer in the parking lot is defense of the child because that is as close as Baker could get. But if Baker may kill the abortionist when he is not actually performing an abortion, why does he have to limit himself to the parking lot? Why can he not conclude that the only practicable way he can get a clear shot at him is to shoot him on the golf course? Or at the video store? St. Thomas speaks of the justified defender as one who "repels force." See the Catechism, N. 2264. Unless we are to declare open season on abortionists, so as to justify their intentional execution by anybody so inclined wherever practicable, the right to defend the child must be restricted to the immediate performance of the abortion. Even then it is practically inconceivable that lethal force would have to be used.

The first of the above two examples is academic, because opponents of abortion, prac- tically, do not find themselves in abortuary killing rooms. The issue is simply whether it is justifiable to kill abortionists, wherever and whenever an opportunity to do so presents itself.

The intentional killing of an abortionist could be justified only if it were incidental to a justified rebellion, which would itself be a just war, in which the abortionist was rightly regarded as a combatant and therefore a legitimate target. However, "Armed resistance to oppression by political authority is not legitimate unless all the following conditions are met: 1) there is certain, grave, and prolonged violation of fundamental rights; 2) all other means of redress have been exhausted; 3) such resistance will not provoke worse disorders; 4) there is well-founded hope of success; and 5) it is impossible reasonably to foresee any better solution" (Catechism, N. 2243; emphasis in Catechism). These criteria do not justify the intentional killings of abortionists. Michael Griffin was not resisting an immediate, unjustified attack by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. By no stretch of the imagination can one reasonably conclude that we are in an insurrectionary situation in the United States today such as to justify his intentional killing of a person who was not then attacking anyone. A justified rebellion involves the assumption by private persons of the prerogative of the state to wage a just war. In a rebellion the war is waged against the state itself. In Roe v. Wade, and later cases, the Supreme Court, with the cooperation of Congress and the Executive Branch, has precipitated an unraveling of the American civic fabric. It cannot, however, be legitimately concluded that the situation has disintegrated so far beyond other means of correction that armed rebellion is justified in whole or in part.
I hope this explanation helps. For even more, read the entire article.


Erin said...

If a man with a gun was walking through the parking lot into a day care center or school or some place where there are a bunch of children and you knew for certain that his intent was to kill as many of them as he could. You see him and ask police men for help but they do nothing. You ask the government for help and they do nothing. Neither do teachers or doctors. You tell the parents of the children and they're ok with it.
I have a hard time believing it wouldn't be justified to stop that man in his tracks with lethal force if necessary. I do understand the Church's teaching and believe it's right, but the reality of the situation is so horrible that a good person has a heck of a time watching it happen.

Dennis said...

Marcel--Respectfully, I do not refer to your ultimate conclusion but your reasons and authority.

The sum up of your authority is that if one's government has authorized the killing, only then may you kill.

What non sense--Governments are often wrong and have committed many of the greatest atrocities in history.

We have no responsibility to follow governments direction if it violates our conscience. Our conscience is where God has written his word. If government can be wrong about authorizing killings they can be wrong about prohibiting it.
It is our conscience (a well formed intent) that determines what is and what is not moral.