First principles, Paul Greenberg, and “The Root of Confusion”

By Dave Andrusko

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg

We are rapidly approaching the 2016 National Right to Life Convention which will be held in Virginia July 7-9. (See shop.nrlchapters.org/Convention-Registration_c3.htm for details how to register.)

One of my favorite speakers from years past is Paul Greenberg, the Pulitzer Prize-winning the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Over the decades I have learned from many great pro-life writers. I would begin to list them but I would leave more out than I included, which would be grossly unfair.

But Greenberg is at the head of the class. Here’s an example, based on a column Mr. Greenberg wrote that a friend passed along to me.

The headline read, “The root of confusion.” The heart of the opinion piece is illustrating the pretzel-like shape defenders of sex-selection abortion are forced into when they justify taking a child’s life for one reason and one reason only: she is the “wrong” sex.

Greenberg uses a fellow columnist who tried to have it both ways (be a good “liberal” but bow down to Planned Parenthood which came out strongly against a congressional bill to ban sex-selection abortions). The man eventually weaseled out, expressing no opinion of his own and asking what his readers thought. Greenberg observes

“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.”

Greenberg went on to eloquently reinforce that foundational principle: if you “Deprive the most innocent of life”—if you abort them, regardless of reason, — “they will never be able to exercise any of the others.”

With relentless logic he drives home what ought to be obvious, but is often overlooked:

“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.”

Ronald Reagan once said something I will never forget: “There are no easy answers but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right.”

Greenberg adds his own flourish to this insight in his final paragraph:

“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.”