Homicide Justifiable?

Paul Hill

Paul Hill—A hero?

Christians have struggled for centuries with the question of if and when killing a human being is justified. Christians moved from a position of absolute refusal to defend oneself even from fatal attack, to the writings of Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologiae in the fourteenth century, allowing for self-defense and a just war, which remain the standard for Western law with regard to the use of force.

Media Interviews Scheidler on Hill Execution

On August 25, with the execution of Paul Hill for shooting abortionist Dr. John Britton and his bodyguard, James Barrett, approaching, Joe Scheidler participated in a conference call on the execution with secular and Catholic media, at the invitation of anti-death penalty activist Abe Bonowitz, one of the amici in Scheidler v. NOW.

Partly in consequence of this media conference call, Scheidler was interviewed by a number of media outlets on September 3, the date of Paul Hill’s execution. Scheidler did interviews with Ave Maria Radio, WMBI Christian radio station in Chicago, Al Kresta Live, the BBC, World magazine and cable-TV’s Fox News and top-rated The O’Reilly Factor, and others.

Though the occasion was an unfortunate one, these interviews afforded Scheidler an opportunity to make the case for peaceful pro-life activism.

St. Thomas on Justifiable Homicide

The first criterion for the use of force is that the force used to prohibit harm to an individual must be the least amount of force reasonably necessary to protect oneself or another. Shooting an abortionist, then, is not the least amount of force necessary to prevent the killing of unborn children. A whole array of nonviolent tactics could prevent an abortionist from getting on with the grisly business of killing children.

Second, stopping an act of aggression in defense of oneself or another must be done with the moral certitude that great harm will be inflicted upon that individual if force is not used, and that the force about to be used will indeed stop it. Since we cannot know for certain what is in the heart and mind of a particular abortionist on any given day as he goes into the abortuary, we cannot prove that harm will be done to an individual. Each of the abortionists who has testified at the Pro-Life Action League’s six Meet the Abortion Providers conferences, is someone who, on a certain day, walked into his or her abortion clinic for the last time—to clear out his desk and quit.

We Must Appeal to the Mother

It is crucial also to remember that the provider is not the principal threat to the baby’s life. The abortionist is the hired killer. The mother is the imminent aggressor, or principal cause of the abortion, and she is frequently under pressure from a boyfriend, a husband, or a parent. She is still free to go to another abortionist if the first one is unavailable. The challenge of a true pro-life activist is to help the pregnant woman recognize the value of her child and to help her cope with the factors that are leading her to an abortion, not to kill the abortionist.

A person attempting to prevent harm to an individual cannot intend to inflict mortal injury on the aggressor. Since the Christian has a scriptural mandate to love his enemies, when intervening for the life of oneself or another, the Christian must not intend to kill the aggressor, even if that should be the result.

We Cannot Fight Evil with Evil

We in the pro-life movement have the obligation to seek remedies to the grievous injustice of abortion. But we may not fight evil with evil or inflict mortal injury to attain our goals. We are called upon to be examples of the peaceful, nonviolent resolution of injustice. We are not the ultimate judges of the actions of the abortionist. Our job is to educate him or her on the value of life and the grave evil of his actions, to pray for him and provide him the opportunities and incentive to quit the abortion business. We leave to God the awesome responsibility of Judge.

Paul Hill’s philosophy, much as he may have believed in it himself, was one of anarchy. While there is no question that the abortionist is a a murderer—many abortionists freely admit it themselves—it is not our right to murder abortionists on a confused theory that our brand of homicide is “justified.” We must attempt to convert the abortionists, not kill them. And as to the fear that Paul’s execution, even though we opposed it, would make him a martyr and lead to copycat killings of abortionists, we totally reject that theory. Those who believe that Hill was a martyr miss the fact that what Hill did made a martyr of the abortionist and took the focus off of the true victims of abortion, the unborn children and their unhappy mothers, and made it more difficult for the true workers out on the streets and sidewalks in front of the clinics to do their job of conversion.

We pray for Paul Hill, and opposed his execution, in part because he was not permitted to use his own lawyers or to appeal to the defense of necessity, as he requested, and thus did not get a fair trial. But we do not consider him a martyr. Few in the pro-life movement do.

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