‘This’ is not going to be a debate about abortion,” Sedgwick Country District Judge Warren Wilbert said recently. But even if with the best of intentions, what he’s presiding over will seem to a lot of people to be about abortion — the trial of Scott Roeder, the anti-abortion extremist who has confessed to shooting to death Wichita abortion provider Dr. George Tiller last May. Yesterday, the judge announced he would allow Roeder to plead “voluntary manslaughter,” that he murdered Tiller because he honestly believed he was saving unborn babies.
To say women’s rights activists find Judge Wilbert’s decision controversial is putting it mildly …In Kansas, voluntary manslaughter is defined by “an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.”
I’m no legal scholar, but I see Roeder’s “voluntary manslaughter” defense two ways. One the one hand, Roeder does has a long history as an anti-abortion protester and activist, so he undoubtedly believed what he was doing was justified.
But on the other hand, every person who kills somebody else would argue they committed “voluntary manslaughter” if they could—and that’s a slippery slope that could possibly condone future violence against abortion providers. If I were the prosecutor, though, my argument would be that even if Roeder believed he was “saving” unborn babies, his personal beliefs—which I’m guessing are religiously influenced—do not get to trump Dr. Tiller’s right to live.
What’s more, by performing late-term abortions for many years, Dr. Tiller undoubtedly saved some women’s lives; in many states, late-term abortions are only allowed if the fetus’ health or the health of the mother is at risk. Maybe Roeder honestly believed he was “saving” babies. But by murdering one of the only two doctors in America who perform risky abortions in the last trimester (Tiller’s clinic has since closed), he also put the lives of women at risk, women whose perhaps very-much-wanted pregnancies were going so wrong that it would have maimed or even killed them to give birth. Does a person who murders an abortion provider not realize that women have good reasons to choose abortions? Or is there misogyny involved, where they know but just don’t care? In any case, Roeder’s “voluntary manslaughter” argument is totally illogical and hypocritical.
Judge Wilbert recently told The New York Times that arguing voluntary manslaughter will be a “formidable and daunting task” for Roeder. I’ll be watching to see how this all shakes out. [New York Times]