Writings and observations

The Portland Oregonian was among the 50 or so newspapers around the country that last week declined to run the scheduled Doonesbury cartoons, which had to do with abortion and the proposed, in some places, transvaginal ultrasound procedure.

You’d think the strip would have little problem in the pro-pro-choice Portland area, and most of the letters to the editor printed on the subject were critical of the decision not to publish.

The editors might also want to take a little at a blog post today by Kevin Richert, editorial page editor of the Boise Idaho Statesman. The Statesman runs Doonebury on its editorial page, but it did run last week’s strip intact. It did that in a state that was just undergoing a massive local debate about a law on the ultrasound, in an area far more socially conservative than Portland. (The fact that was happening at the same time, Richert said, was one factor in deciding to run the strip.)

Here’s what else Richert wrote: “The reader response was startling. I expected complaints, even some cancellations. I didn’t field a single complaint (and we actually did have a subscription cancellation over our Sunday editorial on the ultrasound bill). Instead, we heard from readers who thanked us, sometimes effusively, for running the cartoons. Here’s an excerpt from one e-mail. “Once again, Trudeau makes us squirm and confront our society’s demons. And once again, The Statesman has the journalistic courage to let us, the readers, make our own decisions about reading it — or not.””

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Been rolling “life” matters through my mind of late. I always do this time of the year because March marks the third anniversary of the implementation of Washington’s physician assisted suicide law. I was among the leaders in the fight against Initiative 1000 which allows doctor assisted suicide especially if one is deemed to have less than six months to live.

I took exception to the state getting involved in such a personal issue and encouraging premature suicide as an answer.

In periodically reviewing “life,” I am struck anew by how complicated, ambiguous, highly emotional and personal these issues are. I am supportive of protecting “life from conception to natural death.”

Life begins at conception: All one’s possibilities are present in the embryonic child. There is a constitutional right to life and society has a responsibility to protect it, especially the weak, the infirm, the disabled and the innocent within the womb—those that are most vulnerable.

One, however, also has a right to privacy. Despite the tragedy, in cases where the life of the mother is at stake, a woman’s right to make that decision in consultation with her doctor trumps the child in the womb’s right to life and society’s interest in the child. There are few dads in the real world that aren’t glad the law recognizes their daughter’s right to make that call.

Additionally, in cases of rape or incest most dads are glad daughters have a right to choose innocent though the child in the womb is.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. Ours is full of messy, tragic struggles between conflicting rights. Bill Clinton’s “formula” about abortion is correct: It ought to be safe, legal and rare. The problem is abortion is not that rare and pro-choicers have a hard time dealing with the fact that some women use abortion as contraception.

That’s just plain wrong.

People also should be held accountable for consensual choices. When one engages in heterosexual sex there is a possibility of a new life for which they should be held accountable. Society sends a horribly mixed signal to young people. It says be responsible, but you can abort that mass of protoplasm because it is inconvenient to you.

That’s just plain wrong also.

So modern medicine comes up with the morning-after pill, forcing one to deal with whether taking it is comparable to an abortion.

There is not one simple morally correct answer. Access to the morning-after pill can and has provably saved the life of distraught, suicidal women victimized by rape. To be denied that pill can be tantamount to sending a person over the edge. Does the pharmacist really want to be responsible for someone’s death?

But a pharmacist also has the right not to be forced to sell a product he or she has moral objections about. We have a long tradition of respecting conscientious objection. So a state says it will acknowledge that right but it also has to ensure access for others within a reasonable distance.

So, how does society, then, handle equally valid constitutional rights in conflict?

The answer is not well.

Protecting life should be and most often is an absolute value for society—the first law of the social contract. However, in reality it is only an ideal because society in practice acts differently.

We sanction the right of a woman to kill her child in the womb under the guise of it being within her reproductive freedom. We sanction the state also to take the life of criminals convicted of heinous crimes. We sanction an individual being able to prematurely kill themselves and do not allow suicide to be listed on the death certificate. We sanction killer missile hits on American citizens outside this country, without the benefit of a trial, if we believe they are engaged in terrorism.

We are especially inconsistent with our views on abortion not matched by our views on the death penalty.

All of these, no matter how one dresses them up, constitute legal murder.

The conclusion is inescapable: there are matters which defy being neatly defined in legislation. Have you ever noticed how the more carefully one tries to define all possible contingencies the higher the probability of unintended consequences and exceptions arising? The Catholic Church, for example, even has a “hierarchy of life” matrix.

Society should state as a goal but understand it is an ideal the protection of life from conception to natural death. Society should also recognize it cannot legislate morality nor should it plunge ever deeper into trying to make moral distinctions regarding medical matters. Individuals, families and their doctors are the ones best involved in such personal matters.

Some things are best left unsaid, undefined, and outside the political arena, even something as sacred as the sanctity of life.

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