Commentary: Less vitriol needed in abortion debate

The pro-life community is not to blame for the murder of Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller, which it has strongly condemned. Scott Roeder, who was charged Tuesday with the crime, reportedly has had mental health problems in the past and is prone to extremist views that an overwhelming majority of pro-life supporters reject.

But the murder should give pro-life groups and activists pause. Rather than merely praying for Tiller's family and worrying about how his murder might hurt their cause, they should reflect on whether their rhetoric and tactics are helpful or harmful.

For years, many pro-life groups and commentators have used inflammatory language to demonize Tiller and pro-choice politicians. Talk show host Bill O'Reilly, for example, referred to Tiller as "the baby killer" and said he had "blood on his hands" and deserved "a special place in hell." Others have called Tiller a "mass murderer" and likened his clinic to Nazi Germany.

Perhaps such language is effective at raising money or boosting ratings. But it drives reasonable people from the debate and, many fear, might prompt some unstable person to take matters into his own hands.

"Our words are not spoken in a vacuum," conservative columnist Rod Dreher warned on the Web site Beliefnet. "In our media today, they are amplified to a degree previously unimaginable. It seems to me that this puts a special obligation on all of us, whatever our cause or political stance, to choose carefully what we say, and how we say it."

Gov. Mark Parkinson agrees. He called this week for less vitriol in the abortion debate. "People that are pro-life are not terrorists, and people who are pro-choice are not baby killers," he said. "They are people that have a different view on a very controversial issue."

To read the complete editorial, visit The Wichita Eagle.