Paul Greenberg

It's the besetting sin of American opinion writing. I've lost count of the number of opinion pieces I see that have no opinion. Instead they weave all around some controversial question -- like abortion, for example -- without ever taking a clear stand.

Our conflicted columnist's big problem, his ethical dilemma, was symptomatic of those who don't go back to first principles and think the abortion issue through. They don't make the connection between the right to life and all the others subsidiary to it, like the right to equal treatment under the law.

The right to life must come first or all the others can never take root, much less flourish. As in the Declaration of Independence's order of certain unalienable rights, among them "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Note which one is mentioned first. And for good, logical reason. Deprive the most innocent of life and they will never be able to exercise any of the others.

Yet we condone snuffing out human lives so the rest of us can get on with debating Title IX or Affirmative Action and all the rest of the equal-rights agenda. Something seems to have gone terribly wrong with the American capacity for reason itself.

All of which brings me to the story of Ruth Pakaluk of Worcester, Mass., diminutive housewife, homemaker, mother of six, beloved by neighbors and friends and all who ever had the good fortune to come into contact with her. Dead of breast cancer at 41, she left behind a shining memory. She was one of those people who brightened the life of everyone she came into contact with.

Ruth Pakaluk was also a figure in her state's pro-life circles, and stated her position with such eloquent, unpretentious, convincing clarity that after a while pro-choice speakers declined to debate her. A Harvard graduate, she must have had some classical education, too, because she tended to express her position on, or rather against, abortion with the irrefutable simplicity of a Socratic syllogism. As she would sum it up in plain English:

"Human rights are rights that pertain to us simply because we are human, not for any reason above and beyond that; the fundamental human right is the right to life, and if that right is denied, then all human rights are in effect denied; the thing growing in the mother's womb is surely alive (otherwise it would not need to be killed by an abortion), and it is human, thus to deny that it has the right to life is to deny that anyone has any human rights whatsoever."


Those who think of abortion as an oh-so-complicated question pitting many equal, competing rights against one another don't see -- or maybe just don't want to see -- that a society that can abrogate the right to life can abrogate any right. For if we don't have a right to life, we have no rights whatsoever.

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.