…excuse me?

Slate, I know you get off on publishing thoroughly moderate and traditional arguments couched as contrarianism instead of, say, anything actually groundbreaking or intellectually hefty, but the headline “Is it wrong to murder an abortionist?” is too far.

First: “Abortionist” is a word made up by right-wing fanatics. They use it to downplay the fact that abortion providers are doctors, often OB/GYNs. It would be like calling a dermitologist an “acne-ist.” It doesn’t really make sense, and there’s already an actual term for what those doctors do. “Abortionist” is a loaded and totally incorrect word, and it’s appalling to see it used over and over again in an article written by a supposedly pro-choice person.

Second: Tiller is not the pro-choice equivalent of Scott Roeder, and Saletan should be ashamed for suggesting as much.

Third: The headine “Is it wrong to murder an abortionist?” suggests that there’s actually some debate amongst reasonable people on that issue. There is not.

Fourth: Saletan is right that the reason pro-lifers are able to say that killing abortion providers is wrong is because they don’t actually equate fetuses or fertilized eggs with born human beings. Of course they don’t. But he fails to adress the issue of why these groups oppose abortion and birth control so strongly — he only offers the idea that there’s a “third way” of trying to decrease the abortion rate through prevention (which is actually the long-time pro-choice position and not exactly a new invention, but if it makes Saletan feel good to think he invented the Pill, then ok). In fact, anti-choice groups have a widespread social agenda that is about much more than just ending abortion. They’re against birth control. They’re against single parenthood. They’re against egalitarian parenting. They’re against planning the number and spacing of your children. They’re against women who work outside the home. They’re against any challenge to the nuclear, male-dominated family where Dad is in charge and Mom stays home and has as many babies as God gives. Think maybe that their real agenda in opposing abortion is about controlling women?

And on an unrelated note while I’m bitching, Jeffrey Feldman points out that the current Hardball panel on Dr. Tiller and abortion rights is composed entire of men. As he quips on Twitter, “All of America’s women must be busy.”

What the hell, Slate and Hardball?

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51 comments for “…excuse me?

  1. June 1, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    William Saletan isn’t even worth acknowledging. He’s been writing these bullshit anti-woman articles for God knows how long. I think the last straw for me was his unbelievable piece on how soliciting teens online for sex shouldn’t be a crime. Or maybe it was his piece on why age of consent laws are bad. I honestly can’t remember.

    Slate is, in general, a misogynistic website. Some of the advice given in the ‘Dear Prudie’ column makes me want to smash my computer to bits, all the more so because commenting on that site is almost impossible.

  2. Cathryn
    June 1, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    I, too, have been struck by the absence of women in the coverage of these anti-choice groups after Dr. Tiller’s murder.

    I noticed, however, that the footage of the many vigils being held in his honor contains mostly women.

    This act of violence has brought on a very emotional time for me, as I am expecting a daughter in August. As my husband put it last night, he “want(s) to be able to tell her that her choices and rights will be protected, and that she will be safe.”

  3. Colin Day
    June 1, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    Jill, you correctly decry the use of the dysphemism “abortionist”, and yet you allow the euphemism “pro life” for fetal-rights activists. What kind of life do they favor? Do you agree that they are pro life, or are you just being polite?

  4. libdevil
    June 1, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    “Pro-life” is kind of ingrained after decades of misuse. I can’t remember a time when they were called anything else. And really, “sick misogynistic shits” doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily, no matter how much more accurate it may be.

  5. June 1, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    It’s wrong to murder anyone, full stop. God, I can’t believe the headline got through to publication.

  6. June 1, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Unbelievable. Righteous call-out of both Slate and Hardball. Kinda explains why Spitzer’s at home there and also the link with XX.

  7. Kathy
    June 1, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    Slate was and is so in the tank for Obama and they do nothing but publish sexism at XX factor is is laughable.

    On the other hand two excellent articles today challenge Obama to stop talking about abortion as a moral tragedy and to start talking about this as a issue of freedom for women.
    Femisex.com has a rant up on this and Gloria Feldt published a softer version on Salon.com today. Both are excellent. I am a convert to Femisex, ever since they called out the noxious sp? sexism of XX factor.

  8. June 1, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    Jill, you correctly decry the use of the dysphemism “abortionist”, and yet you allow the euphemism “pro life” for fetal-rights activists. What kind of life do they favor? Do you agree that they are pro life, or are you just being polite?

    I’ve written many, many times about how “pro-lifers” don’t actually value life at all. I don’t bother to call other people out on it because it is an ingrained term, inaccurate as it may be. And I occasionally use it for two purpose: (1) either describing individuals who self-identify as pro-life but who don’t actually fall in line with the real goals or sentiments of the organized “pro-life” movement, and (2) intentionally juxtaposed with violence-promoting statements to subtly highlight the hypocrisy. Otherwise I use “pro-life” in scare quotes, or simply anti-choice.

  9. Arkady
    June 1, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    the current Hardball panel on Dr. Tiller and abortion rights is composed entire of men

    Reminds me of how Clinton was surrounded by women when he vetoed the partial-birth abortion ban, and Bush was surrounded by men when he signed it into law…

    I am extremely grateful to live in a country where the abortion debate is so much calmer. Most of the ‘Pro-lifers’ I’ve come across in the UK have at least been supportive of readily-available contraception and better sex education. I’ve only ever heard of one doctor in this country (Prof. Kypros Nicolaides) facing a criminal investigation for performing late term abortions, and that was dropped pretty quickly. A profile of him here: http://www.ob-ultrasound.net/nicolaides.html

    I must admit, until all this information came to the fore after this senseless murder I had no idea that there were so few clinics in the USA that could perform these procedures. It’s fairly horrifying that such essential medical services are so difficult for many desperate families/would-be parents to get hold of.

  10. JessSnark
    June 1, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    well said.

    Where is the link for Jeffrey Feldman supposed to go? it took me to a placeholder website with no content.

  11. June 1, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    Saletan’s article highlights the flip ignorance and dehumanization which gets trotted out repeatedly as if it were deep thought. A man was murdered in cold blood and Saletan seems to see it as nothing more than an opportunity to blow hot air.

    That shows an extreme disrespect for human life.

  12. Bitter Scribe
    June 1, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    My mouth fell open when I read that Saletan article. He actually drew a moral equivalency between Tiller and his murderer. Even for that dithering nitwit, this is too much.

    Aborton “moderates” like Saletan and Megan McArdle keep saying that if someone genuinely believes that abortion is murder, he or she has the right if not duty to kill abortionists.

    Great. So personal belief is the new moral standard? I guess those fanatics who crashed into the WTC and the Pentagon were cool, because they genuinely believed that America is the great Satan. And let’s not forget the Nazis, who genuinely believed that Jews were out to dominate the world and so had to be eradicated.

    I don’t know why Slate keeps letting Saletan write about abortion, unless it’s to keep him from churning out even more ridiculous stuff (see Eghead above).

  13. piny
    June 1, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Aborton “moderates” like Saletan and Megan McArdle keep saying that if someone genuinely believes that abortion is murder, he or she has the right if not duty to kill abortionists.

    I extend no benefit of the doubt to Saletan, and I understand that there are many examples of straight-up inflammatory and irreponsible rhetoric. (Cf. Billo.)

    But I’ve seen this argument used to point out inconsistencies in the anti-choice position:

    Q: So you believe abortion is the moral equivalent of murder?

    A: That’s right. It ends an innocent life.

    Q: So women who abort should get the death penalty?

    A: Well…

    Q: Life without parole?

    A: No, I think the doctor should–

    Q: But people who hire hitmen are guilty of murder.

    A: Well, but–


    Q: You don’t condone the murder of this doctor.

    A: No! No, never! It’s unconscionable. Murder is never moral.

    Q: Oh. What if someone were about to kill a child and somebody shot them to save the child’s life?

    A: Well, then that would be different.

    Q: But didn’t you just say that you think abortion is just like killing a child?

    A: Yes, but–


  14. Colin Day
    June 1, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    libdevil and Jill:

    I’m not trying to criticize you, but words matter. You understand that they are not pro life, but millions of undecided Americans might not be so astute. You might not care about that, but they do vote, and politicians respond to them. Jill’s “anti-choice” is nicer sounding than “fetal-rights activists”.

    If I’m dragging this out too much, just let me know.

  15. Kristen J.
    June 1, 2009 at 9:53 pm


    Forced birthers is my preferred phrase, but I try not to criticize others for their less incendiary word choices.

  16. Monica
    June 1, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    “acne-ist” analogy is dead on. I am so done with slate pretending to be forward thinking.

  17. evil_fizz
    June 1, 2009 at 11:29 pm

    I actually have another objection to Saletan’s piece, which is somewhat ancillary to the whole issue, but I wanted to bring it up. If one posits that (a) a fetus has full moral status as human being and (b) under some circumstances the fetus threatens the life of the mother, then both the mother and the physician are entitled to use deadly force to protect the woman. Those abortions aren’t murder under any rubric: they’re justifiable homicides.

    I’m not really taken with this line of argument for a variety of reasons, there it is.

    Oh, and Saletan is still an appalling writer who is far more preoccupied with shaming women than arriving at any actual policy positions.

  18. joe_D
    June 1, 2009 at 11:55 pm

    Jill, I think Saletin’s basic argument is a good one. The title does not, as you say, “suggest[] that there’s actually some debate amongst reasonable people on that issue”. Rather, it nicely points out the the logical corollary of the standard anti-abortion position.

    Is it wrong to murder an abortionist? If yes, then it’s wrong to murder a mass-murderer. But it’s not wrong to murder a mass-murderer. Therefore, it’s not wrong to murder an abortionist. Unless, of course, there’s a difference between a fetus and a live person – which the anti-abortion movement has to acknowledge, even if implicitly, for the sake of consistency.

  19. June 2, 2009 at 12:07 am

    Well, that’s because if you want to know how women feel about abortion, their reasons for wanting or needing one, or anything about basic women’s health care you should ask the people who really know about that.

    The men, natch.

  20. norbizness
    June 2, 2009 at 7:56 am

    If you were a self-respecting woman, would you get within 1000 yards of Chris Matthews’ show?

    As for Saletan, as somebody pointed out upthread, he’s consistently provided the very finest in “abortion should be legal but it should never occur and you’re a terrible hellbound person for considering getting one” argumentation.

  21. June 2, 2009 at 8:42 am

    Saletan is also a Bell Curve apologist, willing to accept any “science” that concludes that nonwhite people are less intelligent.

    Someone should do some research on Saletan. A guy who thinks age-of-consent laws are a problem and cites racist propoganda as “science” surely has more to hide. It would be good if people found things about him that would make it impossible for mainstream news outlets to continue taking him seriously. Of course, Pat Buchanan is still a Beltway talking head in good standing and he has done everything to rehabilitate Hitler short of growing a toothbrush moustache, so I guess I should not overestimate the MSM’s willingness to soft-pedal the disturbingly far-right views of their own.

  22. Nadia
    June 2, 2009 at 8:44 am

    what the frack! murder is wrong!!!

  23. June 2, 2009 at 8:58 am


  24. June 2, 2009 at 9:13 am

    OK, I read about all I could take of it, which was the first few paragraphs. Let me say this. If one believes that abortion is murder, killing someone is not the most effective way to prevent such murders is not to kill a doctor.

    The most effective way to reduce abortions is to support comprehensive sex education and access to affordable birth control.

    I cannot understand someone saying “murder” when talking about therapeutic abortion, which has nothing to do with murder, but not using that term when talking about killing a physician in the lobby of his church. Not to mention, if you think murder is wrong, IT’S WRONG!!

  25. Politicalguineapig
    June 2, 2009 at 9:36 am

    Saletan’s line of “reasoning” could also apply to the forced-birth crowd. If you believe that they threaten your well-being, than maybe they should be reminded that breathing is a privilege. Preemptive self-defense, anyone?
    (Yes I know, murder is wrong..)

  26. preying mantis
    June 2, 2009 at 10:24 am

    “And really, “sick misogynistic shits” doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily, no matter how much more accurate it may be.”

    I prefer “fetus-huggers,” myself.

  27. FashionablyEvil
    June 2, 2009 at 10:40 am

    Is abortion murder? Or is it something less, a tragedy that would be better avoided?

    I’ve always thought that the tragedy is not the abortion. It’s the circumstances that lead a woman to that choice.

    Also, the Times has a really good article about the effects of illegal abortion in Africa, Tanzania in particular.

  28. Anonymous
    June 2, 2009 at 10:55 am

    I totally agree that the headline was outrageous and offensive. But I got something different from the article itself (although maybe not what Saletan was trying to communicate).
    It seems to me that Saletan was pointing out that, just as conservatives scream that abortion is murder, but then act innocent when a doctor is killed, liberals say they support abortion rights, but then get queasy about the reality of late-term abortion. In some ways I think Saletan’s article is a call to walk the talk: If you are a doctor and believe in abortion rights, then why aren’t you offering legal late-term abortions? Why did these women have to go to Kansas for health care?
    Maybe that was not Saletan’s point at all, but that’s what I thought about after reading his article.
    On a different note, I am a little tired of hearing about preventing unwanted pregnancies in relation to this case. I don’t think it reflects the reality of why late-term abortions exist. From what I’ve read of Dr. Tiller’s practice, he was providing these services to women who often did want their babies, but whose babies were sick, or whose own health was in danger. This preventing unwanted pregnancies is popular because it is non-confrontational, but is that really what we’re talking about with this case?

  29. June 2, 2009 at 11:03 am

    How about “excuse me-” there are reasons for supporting abortion rights that have nothing to do with egalitarianism vs. patriarchy. There are practical, utilitarian reason that are divorced from both ideologies.

    It’s safer for society as a whole. Affordable, available abortion ultimately makes the culture at large safer and wealthier. A society cannot benefit by trying to outlaw a safe practice that can then be accomplished unsafely in one’s kitchen.

  30. Henrietta G. Tavish
    June 2, 2009 at 11:10 am

    The “pro-lifers don’t really believe abortion is murder” argument can be easily turned around on pro-choicers in cases of forced or coerced abortion. For example, Michelle Armesto-Berge claims that Dr. Tiller aborted her 24 week old fetus after her parents coerced her to have the procedure — and she was denied the right to look at an ultrasound and presented with the consent forms only after the procedure had started. Even if one doesn’t believe in the death penalty, it’s clear that a doctor should face substantial prison time for that sort of offense.

  31. Persia
    June 2, 2009 at 11:24 am

    “Claim” is an interesting word, Henrietta. Means you don’t have any proof, generally. Nice attempt at trolling, though, two stars.

  32. muffler
    June 2, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Ever notice that almost all these articles are written by men. Almost all the arguments are proposed by men. Also notice that there is no discussion with these people. They have made their definitions and aren’t open to discussion or rational thought. They are uncomfortable with thinking or discussing women’s issues, problems or needs. They are uncomfortable with women being able to debate or contradict them.

  33. Laurie
    June 2, 2009 at 11:42 am


    I think that performing an abortion on a woman against her will should be considered criminal, but the issue is the crime against the WOMAN. Remember her?

  34. Henrietta G. Tavish
    June 2, 2009 at 12:02 pm


    Michelle Armesto-Berge believes a crime was committed against both her and her unborn child. She wouldn’t have objected to the procedure had it involved the removal of a mere tumor or fibroid.

    The issue I was highlighting was that under certain circumstances even pro-choicers believe in substantial, distinct penalties based upon the human status of the fetus. Scott Peterson, in fact, is on death row because of the separately enumerated charge of killing Conner, an eight-month old fetus. That killing was classified as murder under California law.

    So trying to classifying all crimes against the fetus as crimes against the woman doesn’t work. Clearly, we would call for more serious penalties against someone who intentionally induces a miscarriage or forces an abortion, than we would against a hairstylist who disregards a woman’s instructions and cuts off too much hair. In both cases, all the woman has lost is a clump of cells, but we value some more than others.

  35. norbizness
    June 2, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Henrietta: I can’t speak to the veracity of her claims, but I can speak to its relevance on this thread. I can also speak to the many failed attempts at criminally prosecuting Dr. Tiller by privacy-invading, rights-trampling AG Phil Klein, and Dr. Tiller’s recent acquittal in a March 2009 jury trial.

  36. Laurie
    June 2, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Yeah, I know I shouldn’t engage but . . . pro-choicers OPPOSED the Unborn Victims Act precisely because of its potential to undermine abortion rights.

    That’s not to say that killing a woman’s fetus against her will isn’t a horrible crime. But it isn’t murder. It is a violent assault and the destruction of a fetus whose birth the woman may have been joyfully anticipating. It is NOT comparable to assaulting someone by cutting off her hair against her will (though such a crime should be punished as an assault as well, assuming the assailant knowingly did it without permission), but neither is it comparable to the murder of a separate human being.

  37. Ron O.
    June 2, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    The value of a fetus is up to the woman carrying it*. It can be a ‘baby’ or it can be an unwanted clump of cells or something else. I am against laws that impose a second penalty on behalf of a fetus for violent crimes. I view those laws as a back-door way of trying to make abortion illegal by creating a precedent for leagal personhood of a fetus. In general these laws have been by pushed by people with just such a strategy. So your evidence is not very compelling.

    I would not automatically be against additional jail time for the pain and suffering the loss of wanted fetus causes a woman and/or her family, but I’d stress the wronged party is the woman and/or her loved ones.

    The hair analogy doesn’t work because if you take no action, your hair gets longer. If you take no action you won’t become pregnany again. Even if you do take action, you might not get pregnant again. Also, in case you forgot, removing hair doesn’t present a health risk since hair is on the outside of the body. Removing a fetus is always going to involve some health risk, which is shy it carries more penalties than than illegal hair-trimming.

    *For example when my spouse was pregnant the first time, she was 20. She aborted without regret or remorse days after she found out she was pregnant. The second time she was pregnant, the fetus had major deformaties and was in the process of dying. Since she was in the second trimester, this could cause severe health problems. This baby was very much wanted and it broke both of our hearts, but the safest option was an abortion rather than wait for the fetus to spontaneously abort. Because she had a safe abortion by an experienced OB/Gyn she was able to get pregnant again within a few months and now we have two children.

  38. June 2, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    In the wake of the murder of Dr. George Tiller, this article is a must read:

    The Deadly Illusion of “Common Ground” on Abortion
    Response to Obama”s speech at Notre Dame on common ground and abortion
    By Sunsara Taylor

    “When it comes to abortion, there really is only one moral question: Will women be free to determine their own lives, including whether and when they will bear children, or will women be subjugated to patriarchal male authority and forced to breed against their will?”

    Read the whole article at http://revcom.us/a/166/ST_on_Obama-en.html

  39. June 2, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    Two Thomases on the thread. Check the urls.

  40. Milan
    June 2, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Well-said, Jill. I’m a fan of Slate, but I was pretty disgusted with the article. Saletan is sometimes an interesting political columnist, but he was being needlessly provocative and on the abortion issue, he assumes that all reasonable people agree with him, that abortion is always a tragedy and should be avoided but not made illegal and the problem is the Tillers and Scott Roeders of the world.

    I don’t think it’s the place of Saletan to tell women how they should feel about obtaining an abortion and the notion that abortion numbers would go down if more women felt ashamed about it (as he has argued many times), even if true, is a pretty poor excuse for traumatizing half of the population.

    What allows Saletan and others (think Justice Kennedy’s disgusting opinion in Carhart II) to get away with this is that the mushy middle on the abortion issue (roughly that advocated by Saletan) is now supported by many politicians, including Clinton and Obama. Hopefully some of the testimony of Tiller’s patients will force people to understand that the choice to have an abortion is highly personal and involves many complex considerations that cannot and should not be reduced to talking points.

  41. June 2, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    Many of the leaders of anti-abortion groups frame their mission outright as a Christian mission, or one of Christian morality. Because of this, Saletan’s consistent attempts to reframe the abortion debate as a debate over medical ethics miss the point. There’s no middle ground when one side sees themselves as the great fetal avengers and the other side is advocating all kinds of medical interventions for the patient.

    Saletan is the sicko at the party after one too many Jaeger bombs that can’t stop talking about his gyno-hobby.

    To be blunt about it: these anti-abortion groups need to grow the fuck up and realize that people fuck and reproduce — ZOMG! people are boning! — and their reproductive decisions will not always meet biblical standards, nor should they. We make mistakes, sometimes happy and sometimes sad, and we sometimes find ourselves in circumstances where very wanted additions to the family are not viable. This is personal pain, not a matter of violent intrusion by grossly interested outsiders.

  42. June 2, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    Henrietta, in your example your focus on Dr. Tiller is incorrect. You say that the parents of Michelle Armesto-Berge coerced her into an unwanted abortion so if anyone should be charged with a crime it should be her parents. I very much doubt that she asked her local DA to charge her parents with murder.

  43. Colin Day
    June 2, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    Jill, would you say that “forced birthers” is more incendiary than “fetal-rights activists”? And whichever is more incendiary, should we try to be more or less so?

  44. June 2, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    Colin, what’s your point?

  45. stlthy
    June 2, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    My god. What is wrong with people?? Lord Saletan can go fuck himself, seriously.

    As to greater penalties for assaults on women that lead to the death of a foetus – I don’t think there should be an extra murder charge because of the potential repercussions for reproductive rights. I do think there’s a case to be made for taking it into consideration when deciding penalties for the fact that an assault severe enough to induce a miscarriage is a pretty damned bad assault on a woman, and it would indicate that major damage had been done to her.

  46. Colin Day
    June 2, 2009 at 9:59 pm


    I’m just trying to find substitutes for “prolife”. I don’t believe that they are.

  47. stlthy
    June 3, 2009 at 9:54 am

    Foetus fetishists?

  48. June 3, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    Henrietta, I think your argument about Michelle Armesto-Berge really just reinforces the argument that the pro-choice movement has been making all along: women deserve the right to make their own decisions for themselves. If Michelle Armesto-Berge wanted her baby, she should have been able to keep it, without interference from her parents. Perhaps you should question laws that allow or require parents to be involved in decisions about reproduction and abortion for minors, rather than questioning laws that promote greater choice and freedom of control over their own bodies for ALL women, regardless of her age.

    For every Michelle Armesto-Berge, there is another young girl who does not want to be forced to carry a child to term and whose parents will coerce her into doing just that. As far as I’m concerned, either is a violation of a woman’s right to choose, and we should do whatever we can to prevent such travesties from happening. The correct response, however, is not to argue there is a problem with laws that allow abortions. The problems are with laws that say anyone but the woman in question are allowed to make those decisions for her.

  49. Colin Day
    June 3, 2009 at 9:24 pm


    Are they fetishists? Do they get off on fetuses? I call them “fetal-rights activists”, which I believe is more descriptive, if less zippy.

  50. June 4, 2009 at 11:29 am

    Colin: The sexual meaning is a very recent-onset meaning of fetishism/fetish. Think more along the lines of something revered for irrational reasons; an object or idea imbued with spiritual powers due to magical thinking. And you could look up “commodity fetishism” for another non-sexual meaning.

Comments are closed.