Weekly Pulse: Will the Feds Dare to Call It Terrorism?

Lindsay E. Beyerstein

The feds will probably stop short of investigating Tiller's murder as a terrorist attack. That designation would unleash vast federal powers to investigate large swathes of the radical anti-choice movement.

The fallout from the assassination of women’s healthcare provider Dr. George Tiller continues. As Zack Roth of Talking Points Memo
reports, the Justice Department will investigate whether Tiller’s
shooter, an anti-choice zealot, violated the Freedom of Access to
Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act or any other federal statutes. But little
has been said about investigating the killing as an act of terrorism, a
federal crime. The Oklahoma City bombers were investigated by the FBI
and tried under a 1994 federal anti-terrorism statute, and that was
before the PATRIOT ACT, which presumably makes it even easier to
prosecute terrorism as a federal crime today.

Tiller’s murder was terrorism by any reasonable definition of the
term. It was a politically-motivated act of conspicuous brutality,
designed to suppress abortions through fear. The feds will probably
stop short of investigating Tiller’s murder as a terrorist attack. That
designation would unleash vast federal powers to investigate large
swathes of the radical anti-choice movement and hold accountable anyone
who gives them the slightest aid and comfort. The feds are simply not
prepared for the political fallout that would ensue if, say, Operation Rescue were officially designated as a terrorist organization.

But Tiller’s assassination seems to be working as an intimidation tactic. On Tuesday, Dr. Tiller’s family announced that his clinic, one of only three facilities of its kind in the country, will close its doors forever. Tracy Clark-Flory writes in Salon that the terrorist got exactly what he wanted:

A lesson in the effectiveness of terrorism: Dr. George Tiller’s Kansas clinic is closing permanently,
according to his family’s lawyers. In a statement Tuesday, the family
said: "We are proud of the service and courage shown by our husband and
father and know that women’s healthcare needs have been met because of
his dedication and service." They will continue to honor his memory
"through private charitable activities" – in other words, the type of
activism that is less likely to get a person killed.

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Of course, the intimidation won’t stop at a single act. As James Ridgeway notes in Mother Jones, the alleged assassin is inciting further violence from his jail cell:

The fact that the family made clear that it would not be
involved "in any other similar clinic" suggests that they are
traumatized and fearful-in a word, terrorized. And no wonder, since
Roeder, as I detailed yesterday,
has issued warnings from his jail cell of further attacks on abortion
providers-an act which, coming from just about any other comparable
source, would certainly be deemed terrorism, and treated accordingly.

Making explict the link between Tiller’s murder and larger political goals, the Associated Press headline calls the closing a "tainted victory" for the larger anti-choice movement.

Professional anti-choicer Ross Douthat sparked controversy in an op/ed for the New York Times, insinuating that Dr. Tiller might still be alive if pro-choicers didn’t make such a big deal about protecting late-term abortions. Hilzoy of the Washington Monthly
tackles some Douthat’s errors, starting with his misleading implication
that third trimester abortions are unregulated. Without that premise,
Douthat’s argument falls apart, since he’s arguing in effect that
pro-choicers have created a free-for-all in which anyone can get a late
term abortion for any reason.

Amanda Marcotte of Rewire
does a great job exposing the misogyny behind the anti-choice myth of
frivolous late-term abortions. If you think that women are flighty,
irrational, fundamentally unserious beings, you expect them to opt out
of pregnancy on a whim after months of gestation. The imagined problem
of casual late-term abortions reveals what anti-choicers really think
of women, that they are lesser beings who need to be controlled by the
state. Dr. Tiller’s motto was the exact opposite: Trust women.

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