Monday, September 14, 2009

The Murder of James Poullion

The New York Times reports on the murder of an abortion opponent. Yes, that's right an abortion opponent was murdered, apparently because of his protests. This is news in the man bites dog sense. We are not surprised when an abortion supporter is murdered for position, but I was gobsmacked to read of this case.

Although this goes without saying, I will say it anyway. I absolutely condemn this murder and anything like it. The man charged with the murder should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law for his terrible crime.

With that said, it is unclear the extent to which James Poullion was murdered for his views on abortion or because he made a persistent nuisance of himself. Of course the latter doesn't justify murder, but it might help us understand the motives of the killer.

Like many protesters for any cause, Poullion sought attention and controversy. He would occasionally stake out a position at a Farmer's Market and cuss customers out. Poullion's protests were loud, gory, and generally obnoxious. He appeared to be getting more provocative as time went on, but always staying (just) within the law. The assistant prosecutor is reported by the Times to have said that the suspect was annoyed by Mr. Pouillion's protests, especially when they were near schools.

So while I unequivocally condemn the murder, I don't think that he was so much murdered because of his views, but because of his protesting style. Neither is any justification for murder, but we should be cautious about concluding that abortion supporters are just as like to murder their opposition as abortion opponents are.

Asymmetry of passion

We need to recognize that there is a fundamental asymmetry between supporters of legalized abortion and opponents. Abortion opponents (at least in their rhetoric) treat abortion as murder. For them the legal system and the courts have enabled mass systematic murder with no recourse within the legal system to stop or bring those perceived murderers to justice. While I'm offering no justification, it is not too difficult to imagine how a few people with those beliefs could turn to violence.

For supporters of legalized abortion (like me), there is no heinous crime that our opponents are involved in. We think that our opponents are wrong, and that much harm would be done if they got their way. But only though the most elastic stretches of hyperbole could we consider them as supporters of systematic murder. To me, opponents of legal abortion are not evil or criminal. They are not sinful or inhuman monsters. They are merely mistaken. It is this asymmetry that makes it so hard for me to belive that Pouillion was murdered because of his views on abortion.


  1. Excellent perspective. I an pro life and view abortion as immoral. However,Pouillion's pactices and arrest history , do not make him a hero!

  2. John, Thank you for your comment. Pouillion may have wanted to become a martyr for his cause, but I think you are correct that he's hardly a positive role model.