Sunday, September 13, 2009

Dr. Tiller and Jim Pouillon: The Real Difference

The following is a cross-post with ChoiceUSA.

It is with great sadness that I address the murders of anti-abortion activist Jim Pouillon of Owosso and business owner Mike Fuoss of Shiawasseem, Michigan. The two men were gunned down on Friday within hours of one another, allegedly by 33 year old Harlan Drake, a truck driver and resident of Owosso. My deepest sympathies go out to the families and friends of the two men.

According to the Associated Press, Drake had planned a third murder: real estate agent James Howe. Drake apparently "had a grudge against Fuoss and Howe and didn't like Pouillon's graphic antiabortion signs." According to police, Pouillon was the only victim that had any connection to anti-abortion groups. He was commonly seen across the street from a high school with a giant graphic poster depicting a later-term aborted fetus, which he was holding in his usual spot when the shooting occurred.

Anti-choice activists were quick to jump on this tragic event as further proof that they are a marginalized minority. In vigils, they have and will continue to step up on their soapboxes, forget the many instances of violence or threats against abortion providers committed within their own ranks, and use Drake's actions to "prove" just how hateful us pro-choicers really are. Randall Terry's Operation Rescue sent out a press release calling Pouillon a "martyr," a stark contrast to the "mass murderer" label bestowed upon Dr. Tiller immediately following his death last May. Anti-choicers are even chastising the pro-choice community in editorials for not issuing statements condemning Drake's actions, and yet they all seem to miss one important detail: Pouillon's murder was not really about abortion at all.

Harlan Drake is a nutjob, pure and simple. But he's not the type of nutjob as Dr. Tiller's alleged assassin Scott Roeder; while Roeder acted upon religious and political convictions in his decision to kill Tiller (and his previous history of clinic vandalism), Drake seemed to be acting on, well, anger at the way in which Pouillon protested. He "didn't like" the poster, and he especially didn't like that the poster was being displayed in front of a high school. He begrudged Pouillon, as he did gravel pit owner Mike Fuoss and apparently James Howe as well. It had less to do with Drake's personal convictions about abortion (he's completely unknown to the choice community) and more to do with how Pouillon was choosing to express himself.

Scott Roeder, on the other hand, has an impressive resume in antiabortion activity. He is well known to anti-choice groups, even those who eventually would denounce his actions, and was hooked in with extremist groups like Operation Rescue prior to shooting Dr. Tiller in May. He has a long standing history of violent and threatening actions against abortion providers and clinics. Prior to his death Dr. Tiller had become a high profile target of the anti-choice movement because of his willingness to perform later-term abortions and his outspoken support for reproductive rights. It is clear Roeder's fatal shooting of Dr. Tiller was about (and only about) his career as an abortion provider. He assassinated the Kansas doctor because Tiller had by then become a symbolic figure in the abortion rights movement. The murder was a murder intended not only to stop Tiller's medical practice, but also to send a message to all abortion providers: "You could be next."

Pouillon's murder, while tragic, sends something of a different message, if any at all. Randall Terry said it himself: Pouillon is "the first martyr" of the "pro-life" movement. And he will most likely be the last. You could even argue that he wasn't killed because he was an anti-choicer; Pouillon was killed because a psychopath didn't like his sign. If an abortion rights activist was to fatally attack an anti-choicer (which has, to my knowledge, never happened), a 63 year old roadside demonstrator would probably be pretty low on the list of candidates. He was, after all, known only locally throughout Owosso as "the sign guy." No danger, just a guy with an oxygen tank and a big, ugly fetus poster. This is well evidenced by the fact that Drake's other victim and the man who was apparently next on his list had nothing to do with the antiabortion movement whatsoever... it appears they were just on bad terms with the wrong kind of person. What possible message does this send? How about, "Stay away from sociopaths that might begrudge you."

See the difference?

So if you're looking for condemnation of Pouillon's murder, I will offer it one hundred percent, but no more than I will condemn the subsequent murder of Mike Fousse or the intended killing of James Howe. I do not see this tragedy as a politically motivated attack, as Dr. Tiller's assassination most certainly was. Drake acted out of what seems to be pure insanity. Of course we condemn that sort of action. If you are looking for an apology from the abortion rights movement at large, however, you will not, nor should you expect to, find it here.


Becca said...

Lauren: I am BEYOND relieved that you took this one on. I was feeling like I had to do it, and man it is a doozy! (Plus Little Buddy's naptimes aren't nearly long enough any more where I could crank something like this out lol.) Beautifully written. Let them try to argue with us on this! :)

Lindsay said...

I am on the pro-life side and agree with you on this. I don't think Pouillon was shot because of his views, I think he was shot because the way he protested was offensive to a psycho. I also think Scott Roeder is a psycho, but yes you are right Roeder's attack was far more politically motivated and the two just do not compare. God bless the three of them: Jim Pouillon, Mike Fouss, and Dr. Tiller. We don't solve anything when we use violence. I think we can agree on that.

Bill Bekkenhuis said...

I think the basic dynamic is that there are violent wack jobs out there who will probably kill no matter what we do, but we need to be very careful in our use of language.

I, for one, do not want to be responsible for "targeting" some wack job against some opponent of mine.

Bill Bekkenhuis
Bethlehem, PA