Abortion Doctor Murdered, Media and Government don’t Label it “Terrorism”


Over the weekend, an a doctor named George Tiller–who provided abortions to women who needed them–was gunned down as he entered his church. The shooting was part of a long campaign of anti-abortion violence aimed at intimidating doctors who perform abortions. Not only that, it’s part of an upsurge in harassment of clinics since President Barack Obama took office. The lead suspect in the case has long been associated with the anti-abortion movement–a movement which has successfully restricted access to abortion over the years.

While the media coverage of the shooting has been correct to put in the context of a long history of anti-abortion violence–including shootings and clinic bombings–few media outlets spoke of the attack as an act of terrorism. Almost universally the shooting was referred to as simply a “shooting” or a “murder”–not as an act of terrorism. The only newspaper that mentioned the shooting in relation to “domestic terrorism” was the Los Angeles Times. Online alternative media has been quick to call the shooting terrorism, with The Huffington Post (1, 2) and Salon.com both ran articles calling the attack an act of domestic terrorism.

I’m not a huge fan of calling every crime under the sun terrorism, as the government has been wont to do in recent years, but it’s hard to imagine calling this attack anything else. The federal government defines “domestic terrorism” as:

`(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;

`(B) appear to be intended–

`(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;

`(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or

`(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping;

Under this definition, this was clearly an act of domestic terrorism. Tiller was specifically targeted for assassination with the goal of ending his capacity to perform abortions and intimidating doctors who perform them. Tiller’s movements were tracked by the anti-abortion movement and he was hated within that movement. He had previously been the target of protests and acts of violence. In the 1980s, his clinic was regularly targeted by protestors, it was bombed, and Tiller himself was shot. Recently, his clinic had been vandalized–an act that did thousands of dollars of damage. Tiller had also just beaten trumped up charges that he violated Kansas law.

Contrast with Left-Wing Violence

I think it’s interesting to contrast the media’s coverage of this case with so-called acts of terrorism committed by the left in the United States. Crimes committed by the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front–groups which engage in the criminal destruction of property and economic sabotage–are routinely labeled “terrorist” and both the media and the government are quick to call those crimes “terrorism.” For example, when environmental activist Marie Mason was arrested last year for a politically motivated arson at Michigan State University (MSU), the corporate media universally called the act “terrorism,” even before she was convicted. This echoed coverage back when the arson happened in 2000. No human lives were harmed or threatened–although the government and media would later hype the fact that the resulting fire put firefighters in harm’s way.

Similarly, environmental and animal activists have been rounded up as part of the government’s “green scare” campaign and labeled “terrorists”–and even imprisoned–when they have engaged only in acts that damage property, not taken human life. Moreover, there has been a recent trend of charging animal rights activists with terrorism for undertaking acts that are otherwise protected under the First Amendment–such as protests and informational campaigns.

How do you think the media and government would respond if it was a vivisectionist that was shot? I’m willing to bet there would be allegations of “terrorism” coming from all quarters.


Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org

8 thoughts on “Abortion Doctor Murdered, Media and Government don’t Label it “Terrorism””

  1. I don’t think this piece quite does justice to Dr. Tiller. It doesn’t adequately highlight the amazing compassion, bravery and conviction of Dr. Tiller or the need for others like him. He was one of 3 providers in the entire country of therapeutic late term abortions. Stories of a few of his past patients can be found here: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2009/06/01/patients-remember-dr-tiller/

    He respected the autonomy and lives of women enough to provide this essential service. Here is a quote from his clinic’s website:

    “Women and Families are intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and ethically competent to struggle with complex health issues — including abortion — and come to decisions that are appropriate for themselves.”

    George R. Tiller, M.D., DABFP

    Medical Director

    Women’s Health Care Services, P.A.

    Here is a great piece which shows the intelligence and compassion of Dr. Tiller, as well as the importance of the work he did: http://www.prch.org/george-r-tiller-md

    Also, if anyone is looking for some way to act upon this, please consider organizing a vigil/event. If that is not your thing, please consider donating to Medical Students for Choice: http://www.ms4c.org/

    or if you’d like to donate locally, please contact Fountain Street Church at 616 459-8386 to donate to their Fountain Street Church Choice Fund.

  2. I kept getting error messages when trying to submit a comment, so I apologize if it ends up posting a million times.

  3. Also, I get the point that you were making in regards to what the media does and does not label terrorism, but I think it’s a bit disingenuous to use this in the way that you have. Violent rightwing anti-abortion activists target women and those who support their autonomy. This was a terrorist act against women and healthcare providers who have the audacity to consider us human beings. I get no sense of that from what you’ve written here. I understand the frustration in the unequal media coverage of radical activism on both sides, but this is not that battle. This is about something much more basic: the lives and autonomy of women.

  4. @M: Your points are well taken. I thought that it was clear in the piece that I considered this an act of terrorism–unlike the rest of the media–and that it was an act specifically targeted to intimidate abortion providers and women. I think I made some logical leaps that I assumed the reader would follow, to which I apologize if they were not clear.

    I rolled in the bit about the coverage of radical environmentalism not to say that one has been covered better than the other, but to point out that the media has a tendency to treat right-wing terrorism in a more sympathetic light than left-wing terrorism. To be sure, that isn’t the major issue in Tiller’s case, but I think it is telling that the press has not used the word “terrorism” when describing this case at all. It has something to say about their sympathies and I think something to say about patriarchy in general if you look into enough (which I failed to do).

    Anyway, thanks for taking the time to share your critique. I’ll try to do better in the future.

  5. I understood your leaps in logic and what you meant. My main criticism though is that in painting the larger picture, in making that larger point, you rendered women and their advocates (and how directly this affects them) invisible.

  6. I agree with M. that with the murder of George Tiller there are immediate fundamental issues of the safety of women in the United States and that deserves the most attention. I was amazed at what I learned on Democracy Now!’s coverage.


    But in that Media Mouse has a focus on media, I don’t see how it is in any way “disingenuous” to report on this issue in this context.

    I think that further reporting would be helpful. I am very concerned of where this “story” will go in the mainstream media and that it will be framed in a “culture wars” context.

Comments are closed.