Paul Greenberg

So what's the significance, if any, of the latest decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in the never-ending legal seesaw that began with Roe v. Wade and isn't about to end any decade soon?

Gonzales v. Carhart is neither the Great Triumph for the forces of light that the pro-life camp was celebrating last week, nor the End of Women's Rights that pro-choice organizations were bemoaning.

It is just one more slight move of the legal marker that determines the degree of barbarity now permitted in our "civilization."

The high court's decision Wednesday wasn't against abortion on demand but just one particularly abhorrent form of it that's more like semi-infanticide; it involves half-delivering the child before Š well, even the antiseptic medical description of the procedure should be enough to revolt anyone with minimal moral or aesthetic sensibilities.

As for the simpler-to-understand description offered by a nurse, whose testimony is cited in the majority opinion, it could have come from one of the more lurid anti-abortion tracts. But this kind of thing has been standard operating procedure in American medicine, and perfectly acceptable American law, until last Wednesday.

No wonder the doctors who do this thing prefer to use Latinate euphemisms like Intact Dilation and Evacuation rather than partial-birth abortion, which comes entirely too close to accuracy for comfort. The simple meaning of words must be blurred before the unacceptable becomes routinely accepted in society. Much better to call killing termination, and abortion choice. Verbicide, said C.S. Lewis, always precedes homicide.

Now the nation's highest court, which has come to double as our moral arbiter, has solemnly decided that the several states may indeed bar this atrocity. By a vote of 5 to 4.

The majority opinion by Justice Kennedy was a finely reasoned effort to make sense of a slight retreat from anything-goes abortion law to almost anything goes. The minority dissent, by Justice Ginsburg, was the legal equivalent of jumping up and down and yelling. If doctors cannot end life in this particularly gruesome way, according to the Ginsburg Doctrine, it's clearly the end of Western civilization rather than what it is: the smallest possible gesture of respect for what remains of it.

This ruling is scarcely a landmark, but it does have a certain significance. It may indicate that the pendulum has finally reached one extreme in this debate and begun to swing back, however slightly. At least let's hope so.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.