- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 20, 2008

Years ago, near the end of the semester, some college professors enjoyed handing out to their students a mock examination called “The Ultimate Final.”

The test called for responses to absurdly over-the-top essay topics covering every academic discipline, such as:

“Astronomy: Define the universe, and give two examples.”

“History: Estimate the impact of human life.”

Ridiculous as it sounds, those last two “assignments” are what come to mind, as I contemplate the 35th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.

Granted, it is not what most people will remember. Jan. 22 marks a sobering occasion, one that inevitably will be drenched in a flood of staggering statistics. About 48 million babies killed, for instance — more, across these 3½ decades, than the entire population of Canada. Or of California, Oregon and Washington, combined.

But, of course, numbers like that only underscore the horror — they don’t define it. Court-sanctioned abortion would be no less horrific, no less of a stain on American law, no less of a sin against the soul of our nation, if only one unborn baby had died.

That sounds, perhaps, like hyperbole. But, in reality, it’s the essential point of disconnect between those who defend and those who oppose abortion — the philosophical fissure that worms its increasingly unstable path through the moral and legal foundations of our whole society, like some kind of spiritual San Andreas Fault.

For in fact, no one argues against the idea that, in some sense, life is sacred. And no one debates whether lives are important.

But what about a life? One solitary soul. Is that worth fighting for? Dying for? Even if it isn’t your mother’s, your brother’s, your child’s … your own? Do we lose anything — as a society, and as individuals — if we forfeit a life that didn’t have to die? Is life really sacred, if every life isn’t?

That question is at the root of our most divisive, emotional issues, from the proper response to terrorism to stem-cell research to the fight for Terri Schiavo. It cuts to the very essence of the democratic process and its reverence for a single vote … to the heart of the law and its holy defense of civil liberties and “reasonable doubts” … to the deepest soul of a nation founded on “self-evident” truths about “inalienable” rights, not just of a people, but of every individual.

That is what makes court-ordered abortion not only an outrage but a humiliation to our nation. And, after all these years, it’s what makes the statistics, however shocking, ring so hollow in our ears.

Because, in the end, the price of abortion is not how many babies have been killed. That’s only the crime. The cost of that crime, though, is something we all pay, every day, in what might have been.

Suppose, out of all those millions upon millions of unborn children, had come the scientist whose insights could have cured cancer — or AIDS. The teacher who might have inspired your whole life. The visionary leader whose courage and wisdom would have transformed or surmounted the bitter politics of these last few years.

Oh, come on, you say. Let’s not get sentimental. OK, sentiment aside. You really don’t think out of those millions and millions and millions, there was not one single mind and soul whose individual achievements might have ignited some vital corner of our courts … our classrooms … our corporations … our cathedrals?

How could you — gazing on its mother, counting the weeks, studying the sonogram — have decided which life was the anointed one? What earthly discernment would have persuaded you that this and not that child was destined for greatness, or fated to grace and greaten your own?

Out of all those shattered, shortened lives, can you really be sure not one of them might have touched yours … become your friend … your co-worker … your mentor … your mate?

What empty place in our society … our community … our own hearts … might have been filled if some man had taken responsibility for his unborn child? If a terrified woman hadn’t placed that child and a check in the hands of a Planned Parenthood abortionist? If the foremost legal authorities in the nation hadn’t twisted the Constitution into a license for infanticide?

No, the costs of Roe v. Wade ripple on and on across time and history and eternity … far beyond the limits of cold numbers and hard legal arguments … beyond even the most fervent imagination.

What if, among all those lost lives, there was just one more Johann Sebastian Bach? One second William Shakespeare?

Impossible, you say. In all human history, there could be only one Bach. Exactly. In every quivering sonogram, in every new-beating heart, the beginnings of one unique universe of human experience.

Estimate the impact.

Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor who held various posts in the departments of Justice and Interior during the Reagan administration, is president and CEO of the Alliance Defense Fund.

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