Immediately on hearing of the brutal murder of Buffalo abortionist Barnett Slepian, pro-life groups across Canada and the U.S. did what they’ve done in response to similar crimes in the past: they condemned the shooting, sincerely, firmly, and unequivocally.

On the one hand, it seems strange that pro-life groups should have to issue such extraordinary statements. Any well-informed and fair-minded person would have to agree that the pro-life movement has been consistently and remarkably peaceful throughout its 30-year history (especially when compared with other social movements, both now and in the past). It must also be acknowledged that pro-lifers are sincerely and profoundly opposed to killing, and that protecting human life is, after all, the pro-life movement’s reason for being.

On the other hand, not everyone is well-informed and fair-minded. Abortion advocates and their media sycophants insist pro-lifers are behind every act of violence against abortionists, regardless of the evidence. Pro-life groups find they have no option but to respond with a firm denunciation of such violence: Murder is murder.

Apart from such practical considerations, however, we believe pro-lifers are motivated to condemn violence against abortion providers simply because they truly believe such violence is wrong. Neither the fact that abortion is a singularly abominable crime, nor the wrong-headed notion that murdering abortionists might “solve” certain problems, can sway pro-lifers. We’re used to standing on principle, and refusing to make even the slightest exceptions.

But here lies the rub. It appears there may be a very tiny number of individuals who consider themselves pro-life but who tolerate or even support acts of violence against abortionists, on the grounds such violence is not an exception to pro-life beliefs. It seems these individuals believe that since abortionists are not innocent as preborn children are, and since they commit acts of lethal aggression against helpless babies, they should be executed, vigilante-style if necessary.

We have to be ready with an answer to this argument, as foolish and as dangerous as it is. As long as the “mainstream” media are able to dig up even one yahoo who actually believes it (we counted two such yahoos in all North America in the enormous coverage of the Slepian murder), they can maintain the vicious caricature of pro-lifers which they are using to such great effect.

Briefly, our response is this: while we may be justified or even obliged to use force to protect an innocent human being from a violent aggressor, we may use only that amount of force which is necessary to repel the attacker. Any use of force beyond this is disproportionate, and therefore immoral.

How does this apply to the notion that it is permissible to shoot abortionists? The media’s two yahoos might argue that the only way to stop an abortionist from killing babies is to execute him, and that lethal force is therefore proportionate and justified.

The trouble is, the principle of double effect (the ethical principle we’re talking about here) applies in this sort of situation only when the threat posed by the aggressor is immediate. (Immediate here is understood literally; that is, a person would have to catch the abortionist in the act, as it were.) We must also be morally certain that our use of force will actually save the life of the person being attacked.

The media’s two yahoos would be wrong on both counts. An abortionist is not posing an immediate threat to babies when he’s in his kitchen with his wife and sons; and strictly speaking, he’s not posing an immediate threat even when he’s entering his office.

Moreover, even if one could imagine a situation in which immediate intervention would be possible, one could never be morally certain that using force to stop the abortionist would actually save the life of the threatened child. Don’t forget, the abortionist is just a hit man. Although we must regard the abortion-minded mother with humility and mercy, it is she, ultimately, who is making the decisions. Even though some dramatic operating-room intervention might cause her to think twice, one could never be morally certain she would finally choose life.

These criteria—that the threat must be immediate, and that the intervenor must have moral certainty his action will save the child’s life—are indeed very strict; so strict, in fact, that the very notion of “justifiable” violence against abortionists must be rejected absolutely. Obviously, the circumstances in which it is permissible to use violence to stop an aggressor are extraordinary indeed. But that is as it should be.

To return to the first principle of pro-life ethics: God is the Author of life, and He alone has the right to decide who lives and who dies. Apart from the Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” we are told, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” “Vengeance is mine,” He says, “I will repay.”

This might be tough for the media’s two yahoos to accept. Unfortunately for them, and for everyone else who thinks as the world does, we are not permitted to do evil, whatever good we think may come of it. Moreover, in many ways the end-justifies-the-means approach is exactly what’s brought us 45 million deaths by abortion every year in this great, but greatly troubled world of ours. How ironic that even one single person should buy into that old lie in the name of the pro-life cause.

David Curtin, Editor-in-chief