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The Root of Confusion

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,

And men have lost their reason.

- - "Julius Caesar," Act III, Scene 2

The other day I saw a syndicated column about sex-selection abortion. That is, a mother's choosing to abort her baby because it's the "wrong" sex, say a girl, when she really wanted a boy.

It happens around the world, particularly in Asia. And the one-child policy in still Communist China has only increased the practice. It would be hard to come up with a clearer example of sexual discrimination.

The pro-life faction in Congress has responded by introducing what's called the Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act to outlaw such abortions.

The columnist -- Ken Herman of the Austin American-Statesman in Texas -- seemed of two minds, at least, about this issue. He knew he was against unjust discrimination against women, the way any good liberal or just any fair-minded American would be. But he also seemed to be for a woman's right to choose, that is, to have an abortion. Which left him in a quandary.

So the columnist asked Planned Parenthood, that citadel of pro-choice opinion, whether it was for or against sex-selection abortion.

If he was seeking guidance, he got precious little. What he did get in response to his simple question was a load of boilerplate about how Planned Parenthood supported all the right principles when it comes to not discriminating against women. ("Planned Parenthood opposes racism and sexism in all forms; and we work to advance equity and human rights in the delivery of health care. Planned Parenthood condemns sex selection motivated by gender, and urges leaders to challenge the underlying conditions that lead to these beliefs and practices....")

Yadda, yadda, yadda. But was Planned Parenthood for or against this Prenatal Non-discrimination Act?

It wouldn't say, not at first.

But when pressed, it finally came out, like the Obama administration, against the proposed law. In short, Planned Parenthood is against all forms of discrimination on the basis of sex except when it isn't, and on this issue it isn't.

Planned Parenthood might be all against such discrimination in principle, but in practice it couldn't be bothered to save a single baby marked for abortion because of its sex.

Our columnist friend in Austin was left in his self-imposed quandary. He wound up spending a couple of columns of type deciding not to decide where he himself stood on the issue. He ended up by inviting any readers who disagreed with him to submit their opinions on the matter.

But what was there to disagree with? Or agree with, for that matter? He never took a clear stand himself.

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.

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