Arguments and incitements

There’s a not-absurd moral definition of “murder” that would include abortion. It would also include suicide. People who think suicide is murder in the eye of God (which is the traditional Christian belief) don’t insist on making it a crime. Saying “abortion is murder” and calling a physician who performs abortions a “baby killer” on Fox News is different from a seminar-room argument.

I went over the top in claiming that everyone who ever said “Abortion is murder” has George Tiller’s blood on his hands, and a reader called me on it. There’s a difference between a seminar-room argument and public incitement.

In terms of traditional Christian theology, suicide is also “murder,” and it used to be a crime under secular law; attempted suicide was a felony, and successful suicide resulted in denial of Christian burial and forfeiture of the decedent’s estate. (That’s why coroner’s juries invented “self-defense” and “suicide while not of sound mind”; see the Gravedigger scene in Hamlet.

Most Christians, even those who continue to think of suicide as a variety of homicide in moral terms, are OK with not having the secular law enforce their viewpoint. And the last time I checked, right-wing bishops weren’t withholding the Eucharist from polticians who refuse to criminalize suicide. So it’s possible to fully respect the conviction of the Right-to-Lifers that abortion is murder in the eye of God without allowing them to impose that view on others who don’t share it.

The link has my reader’s note and my full response, as updates to the original post.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: