There were lots of young people in the crowd, and at the microphone, for Monday evening’s spirited rally in Union Square to honor Dr. George Tiller. It was quite a contrast with the last gathering occasioned by the murder of an abortion provider, the candlelight vigil at Columbus Circle in l998, after the murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian. Back then, the crowd was small and middle-aged and rather dispirited. This time, people were awake and angry.

It’s about time. Time to demand federal legal protection for abortion rights. Time to demand that law enforcement take seriously the violent anti-abortion underground. Time for doctors to show some spine, defend their colleagues who perform this necessary service to women and reintegrate abortion into normal medical practice. Time for women to come out of the closet and talk about their abortions, so that people will realize that the woman who terminates a pregnancy is their wife, their mother, their sister, their friend.

It’s time, too, to stop the pretense that the “debate ” over abortion consists of two equally extreme positions, and that wisdom resides in the mushy middle, where everybody disapproves of abortion except when they want one for themselves or someone they care about. There’s only one set of extremists here, the one that uses language like “babykiller,” ” Nazi,” “murderer,” and “death mill,” kidnaps and murders providers and clinic workers,burns and bombs clinics and drives cars into them, posts pictures of clinic workers and their families on the internet, and harrasses patients on their way to get care.

Only one side writes like this about the murder of Dr. Tiller:

“But I also know joy. Not the shallow type of joy but a deep resonating joy. I feel joy that no longer will this wicked man slay the judicially innocent. I feel joy because justice, albeit of a rough variety, was visited on someone who so thoroughly opposed a culture of life and who worked so assiduously to spread the culture of death. I know joy because the truth of Scripture that those who take up the sword shall die by the sword is seen as authoritative. I know joy because I know that no longer will Dr. Tiller be sucking out the brains of people, or torturing people with saline or dismembering people in utero. How could a sane person not feel joy at the death of a mass murderer and a terrorist?”

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That’s Bret MacAtee, Michigan pastor and Constitution Party activist.

People mock the word “choice” –it’s consumerist, euphemistic, wimpy, calculated. But one thing you can say for it: It honors the individual conscience. If a desperately ill pregnant woman wants to risk her life to give birth, if she wants to carry an anencephalic fetus to term so it can die in her arms, or have her rapist’s baby, or become a mother at 14, or produce octuplets, pro-choicers are not going to compel her to abort. Pro-choicers don’t go around lecturing girls and women that they will blame themselves forever if they have a baby they may not be equipped to raise well. They don’t paint gory pictures of the horrors and dangers of childbirth to scare pregnant girls and women into ending their pregnancies with a quick and safe termination. They don’t tell women Jesus is going to send them to Hell if they sacrifice their futures to the whims of a wayward sperm — although they might mention from time to time that the Bible nowhere mentions abortion. Pro-choicers don’t blow up churches or assassinate the leaders of Operation Rescue.

Only one side wants to force women to live by its so-called morality, and only one side murders and bombs to make its point. Only one side has a terrorist wing.

In the days to come, let the public discussion acknowledge that.