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Convert, don’t kill, abortion providers

Charles Rice | Wednesday, September 17, 2003

“I expect a great reward in heaven,” said Paul Hill before his execution for the murders of abortionist John Britton and his escort, James Barrett. None of us are the Deputy God Almighty therefore we cannot judge Hill’s entitlement to such a reward. But he did give us a wake-up call.

Hill, Britton and Barrett were all victims of a utilitarian culture in which the intentional infliction of death is an optional problem-solving technique. Since Roe v. Wade in 1973, more than 40 million unborn children have been legally executed by surgical abortion, in addition to uncountable millions killed by abortifacient pills and devices, including many “contraceptives.” The direct and intentional killing of a human being of any age, without justification, is, in moral terms, murder. At the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast, Mother Teresa, describing abortion as “murder,” asked, “If we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?”

Contrary to his opinion, Hill’s act was not legally and morally unjustified. One has a legal right to use reasonable force, including lethal force if necessary, to defend his life or that of another. Courts deny this necessity defense to those who block abortuaries to stop the killing of unborn “nonpersons.” When his trial judge refused to allow Hill to raise the necessity defense, Hill offered no further defense. Hill shot Britton in the parking lot. Even if the necessity defense applied, it would not legalize Hill’s act since he was not defending the unborn child from actual or sufficiently imminent attack.

In moral terms, the only situations in which anyone ever has the right intentionally to kill anyone are the just war and capital punishment. Both are by the authority of the state which derives its authority from God who is the Lord of life. In a justified rebellion, private persons rightly assume the “just war” authority of the state. We are clearly not in a condition of rebellion that could justify Hill’s killing of Britton as a combatant in that rebellion.

The moral right to defend oneself or others is governed by the principle of the double effect. An act can have two effects, a good one which is intended, and a bad one which is permitted for sufficient reason but not intended. If he had been in the abortuary killing room as Britton was doing an abortion, Hill would have had a moral (but not legal) right and perhaps a moral duty, to stop him by force, although it is inconceivable that lethal force could have been necessary. Hill’s intent would have had to have been to stop Britton rather than to injure or kill him.

In the parking lot, Hill killed Britton, not as he was killing an unborn child, but to prevent him from doing so later. Hill was not defending the unborn child from an actual or imminent attack. If Hill could morally kill Britton in the parking lot, why could he not kill him in the supermarket? Or in medical school?

As a private execution, Hill’s act was intrinsically evil. No private person ever has the right intentionally to kill anyone. “A man who, without exercising public authority, kills an evildoer,” said Thomas Aquinas, is “guilty of murder, and all the more, since he has dared to usurp a power which God has not given him.”

Paul Hill sent a false but important message. In our relativist, individualist culture, we assume the power to decide whether, when and how life will begin and end, as in contraception, abortion, euthanasia by sedation or by withdrawal of food and water, assisted suicide, stem-cell research, etc. In his private judgment usurping the authority of God, Paul Hill was a child as well as an opponent of that “culture of death.” Far better is the position of Joseph Scheidler, head of the Pro-Life Action League and a Notre Dame graduate. “We don’t want to kill the abortionist,” he says. “We want to convert him.” The League has had six national conferences of reformed abortionists. Joe Scheidler saves more lives by prayer and witness than Paul Hill and his followers ever did.

Legalized abortion will be overcome only through a reconversion of the American people to the conviction that the right to life is sacred because each human being is created in the image and likeness of God with an eternal destiny that transcends the state. Help to women in problem pregnancies and political activity are needed. But the most important step toward that reconversion is prayer, especially the rosary since Mary is the mother of life. Pray for Paul Hill, for his victims and for all those involved in the killing of unborn children, especially their mothers.

Professor Emeritus Rice is a member of the Law School Faculty. During this term, he is Visiting Professor at Ave Maria School of Law. His column appears every other Wednesday. He can be contacted at jlicandr@nd.edu

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer