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Jewish World Review Feb. 25, 1999/ 8 Adar, 5759

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg Open season on the fetus, and a good word for the pagans

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) HERE IN ARKANSAS, the Legislature is in session, and its members are being taught the facts of life, or rather of death. They're learning that in these United States in 1999, any attempt to protect children still in the womb must be oh-so-carefully drawn --- lest it offend Roe v. Wade and all the other artifacts of our culture of death.

Look what happened the other day: A state representative from little Sulphur Springs up in the hills, Jim Hendren, was pushing a bill through the Arkansas House that would recognize the fetus as a person in order to afford the unborn some legal protection. But he had to be sure to specify that the unborn would be protected against only illegal acts -- in order to assure that his bill would be constitutional. For it is now perfectly legal, indeed it is now a constitutionally protected right, to destroy life in the womb.

Some may shy from the word, but abortion has become almost a sacrament of political platforms, speeches and mailings, though the more fastidious euphemize it as a Woman's Right to Choose. No need to go into detail about just what is being chosen. (Death.)

The law may protect the eagle's eggs in their nest, or provide damages if a cow loses its calf in utero, but legislators are told they dare not provide the same protection for homo sapiens.

Legislators like Jim Hendren disagree. Consider, for example, the pregnant woman who is hit by a drunken driver and loses her baby. Under this bill, prosecutors would be able to hold the drunken driver responsible for that loss of that life.

But at the end of the 20th Century in America, such a law must be crafted so that it does not apply to those who take human life cold sober, who destroy it willfully, deliberately, scientifically, with the blessings of the laws and courts and Constitution of the United States. The methods of abortion may vary, but they are all beyond legal question -- whether by dismemberment, burning in a saline solution or perhaps even by extracting the baby partially from the womb, then plunging a scissors into the base of its skull and draining the contents.

Such acts are not only constitutional, but any attempt to limit them must be opposed by the true believers. For to question abortion is not merely to engage in political debate, but to place oneself outside the bounds of received wisdom in very late 20th Century America; it is to doubt an article of faith, to commit an ideological heresy.

Indeed, abortion is so untouchable a doctrine that any law which sets some value on human life in the womb must be denounced as a threat to women. The abortion lobby is very high on the rights of women, at least after they're born. Before birth, like males, they may be destroyed at will and with the full support of the dominant culture.

Sometimes this culture is called neo-pagan. But that is scarcely fair -- to the pagans. Anybody who thinks of today's culture as heathen is doing a grave injustice to the heathen, who did have their standards. For one thing, their doctors recognized the value of unborn life. See the Hippocratic Oath, which today would surely run afoul of Roe v. Wade.

"I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.''

When I went to find the exact quote in my copy of Bartlett's, it wasn't there. It had been excised, censored, cut out as neatly as a baby. I felt like Winston Smith in "1984.'' Our own Ministry of Truth had erased every trace of the words but a simple ellipsis, the only sign of life.

How quaint the unexpurgated Hippocrates now sounds --- and how unconstitutional. Today he'd be dismissed as a voice of the pre-Christian Right. If he traded in his toga for polyester, he could probably pass for just another Republican legislator down from the hills of Arkansas. And his famous oath would doubtless have to be amended to stand a chance in the state legislature.

This attempt to protect fetal life did get past the Arkansas House, just barely. It also cleared the state Senate, easily, but only after it had been gutted. A clause was added allowing partial-birth abortions in order to protect the mother's "health,'' a category that could include preventing anything from varicose veins to post-partum depression. In short, the senators found a way to ban this barbarous procedure without actually banning it.

During the debate in the House, Little Rock's Jim Lendall argued that banning such abortions represents an attempt to impose a religious belief on society. He has a point. For it is naive to think that one can separate politics from theology, from moral philosophy, from spiritual values.

Despite the common misimpression, politics isn't simply a matter of collecting taxes and meeting the government's payroll. Making public policy is fraught with moral questions, whether we're talking about taking the sales tax off basic necessities or protecting human life.

Edmund Burke once defined politics as morality writ large, and Lord Bryce famously summed up the Constitution of the United States as a reflection of the theology of Calvin and the philosophy of Hobbes.

Any number of ideas with a religious origin, like the sacred nature of life, have a way of being reflected in the world's civil codes. We can separate church and state (and certainly should), but it is futile to try to separate religious teachings or moral values in general from politics.

Still, man has been trying for a long time. Doubtless there were some among the ancient Israelites who bristled at the pro-life clause in the new code just brought down from the mountain, the one about "Thou shalt not kill.'' The legislators among them might even have echoed Representative Lendall's objection that this sort of thing was "a thinly veiled threat to impose one religious belief into law.''


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