- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2000

Abortion is surely one of the ugliest words in the English language. That's why advocates for and against it have reduced it to euphemism, like "pro-choice" and "pro-life." Such euphemism protects the sensibility, at least a little.

Nevertheless, abortion is legal, and likely to remain that way in the first trimester because large majorities of Americans want it that way. That doesn't make it right, but it does observe the reality. Many in this majority, probably most, would never have an abortion themselves, but they know about the back-alley abortions in the bad old days when women, such as a married aunt of mine, died at the hands of abortion butchers who prospered outside the law in the way of the bootleggers during Prohibition.

Many of those underground abortionists were sadists, often using no anesthetic, taking evil pleasure in sermonizing over the vulnerable young women who climbed into the stirrups on their bloody tables. Roe vs. Wade, in the reluctant view of most Americans, is the guarantee against a return to those days.

Partial-birth abortion is another matter. No euphemism has stuck to describe it. It's about birthing a live baby, no longer a fetus, whose legs dangle halfway out of the womb, sometimes kicking, before a doctor stabs his scissors into the skull and suctions out the tiny brains. It's gruesome, callous, evil.

As polarized as the abortion debate has become, it's nevertheless remarkable that pro-choice women cannot bring themselves to join their pro-life sisters in calling this what it is cruel and unusual. Men and women of good faith earnestly believe that capital punishment is a legitimate expression of society's revulsion at murder, but no one well, not very many defend the killing of an innocent man as an acceptable consequence of capital punishment. The debate over errors in applying the death sentence have inspired advocates of capital punishment to call for a moratorium until advanced technology eliminates all doubt of error.

Surely, I thought, partial-birth abortion would be another place for second thoughts among the majority who support abortion rights. That hasn't happened. Partial-birth abortion is still treated as a political issue, not the moral issue it is. The defenders of partial-birth abortion regard eliminating it as the first step on a slippery slope leading to overturning Roe vs. Wade. Logic does not compel such a conclusion any more than a moratorium on exacting the death penalty becomes a slippery slope toward evacuating death row.

Reasonable discrimination, it seems to me, ought to be possible in both debates. And sometimes it is, and in unexpected places. Columnist Richard Cohen of The Washington Post, the archetypical liberal male feminist, nods in agreement with Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy in their Supreme Court dissent to the decision overturning Nebraska's prohibition of partial-birth abortion.

"Late-term abortions may be necessary," he writes, "but you cannot read about them without feeling diminished as a human being. Something awful has happened, and simply as a matter of principle we ought to be opposed." Pro-choice women cheered the decision, he observes, "and talked as if late-term abortions affect only the woman no mention of the fetus-child with the collapsed skull."

In the chilling wake of such cheering, we can understand how Princeton could have awarded a prestigious chair in ethics to Peter Singer, the Australian professor who advocates killing disabled infants (including hemophiliacs) up to 28 days after their inconvenient birth. "Killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person," Mr. Singer writes. "Very often, it is not wrong at all."

What is there to add, for anyone with a shred of decency in his soul?

There's a message in all of this for pro-choice Republicans. In the Weekly Standard, Noemie Emery offers this advice to pro-choice Republicans: "They could say that while they are not willing to ban abortion, they're delighted to be in the pro-life party, the party that stands for restraint and for conscience, the party that says life itself must be valued and not carelessly thrown away."

No euphemisms required.

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