Paul Greenberg

Today's column is drawn from Paul Greenberg's remarks October 27 accepting the Human Life Foundation's annual Great Defender of Life award:

Life is just full of surprises. What's an old boy from Shreveport, La., doing talking at the Union League club in New York City? In a hall adorned with portraits of Mr. Lincoln and members of his cabinet during The War.

Our newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has got to be one of the few left in the country, if not the only one, that still devotes a full editorial page every January 19 to celebrating the birth of Robert E. Lee.

Yet here I am, improbably enough, and feeling as if I am among more than friends. Each of us has followed his own personal path to meet here tonight. Some came to the cause early; they were present at the creation of the Human Life Review in 1975. Others, like me, the slow learners, arrived late.

When Roe v. Wade was first pronounced from on high, I welcomed it. As a young editorial writer in Pine Bluff, Ark., I believed the assurances that the high court's ruling was not a charter for abortion on demand, but a carefully crafted, limited decision applicable only in some exceptional cases.

Even Mr. Justice Blackmun, who wrote the majority opinion, assured us that Roe would not grant blanket permission for abortion. He seems to have managed to fool even himself. He certainly fooled me. I swallowed the line whole, and regurgitated it regularly in learned editorials. For years. Though it took more and more effort to rationalize that view of Roe every time. It can be a strain, sophistry. But editorial writers can develop an affinity for it.

I had it all figured out back then: The right to life need not be fully respected from conception, I earnestly explained. It grows with each stage of fetal development until a full human being is formed. (As if any of us are still not developing as full human beings.) I went into all this in an extended debate in the columns of the Pine Bluff (Ark.) Commercial with a young Baptist minister in town named Mike Huckabee.

I kept trying to tell the Rev. Huckabee that life is one thing, personhood quite another. He wouldn't buy it. Though it's an engaging argument. For a fatal while. As if those of us who would confer personhood on others couldn't just as easily revoke it.

Over the long course of history, whenever it has been decided that some category of human beings is less than fully human, and so their rights need not be fully respected, even their right to life, terrible consequences have followed.

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.