[First Things, December 1994]
Paul Hill’s thesis has sometimes been expanded into "the big what-if," the scenario often used to challenge pacifists. What if you had to defend your own children from a criminal? Wouldn’t deadly force be justified then?
Anyone finds such a prospect deeply distressing. But the very impact of this image hinders us from realizing that shooting an abortionist fails the analogy in three important ways.
First, you are not defending, you are attacking. You are lying in the bushes training your sights on an unsuspecting stranger, shooting Dr. Gunn in the back, spraying bullets at Dr. Britton while he’s trapped in his truck. It isn’t even a fair face-to-face fight. You are adding more violence to the situation, not reducing it, spilling more blood on ground already soaked red.
Second, it is not your own child; someone else’s flesh encompasses that child, and we cannot protect that child without reaching its mother. The woman who hires the abortionist drives the whole machine, and picking the doctors off one by one won’t stop her. Unless we reach her with help and hope, she’ll just offer her money to someone else—and there will always be a taker. As long as abortion is legal, you won’t be able to save babies without saving their mothers first.
Third, the doctor is not a "criminal," except in the courts of Heaven. Here in the USA, he is an honored professional, offering a legal service for which there is ample financial demand. If you shoot him, upstanding citizens will be horrified and pay a hero to replace him. Because the abortionist’s work is legal, not criminal, shooting him is something society at large will not support. It is futile. If we want to waste our time on empty gestures, let’s choose those that don’t involve killing anybody.
A just war demands more than a just cause; among other criteria, it demands that there be reasonable hope of success, that non-combatants be protected, that violence be a last resort. Shooting abortionists fails in all these ways and more. There are many reasons why twenty years of frustration, ridicule, and persecution should have pro-life tempers running high. There are more reasons for us to swallow our pride, turn the other cheek, and humbly save babies the only way we can—by showing ourselves the loving servants of their hurting mothers.