The Corner

Melinda Henneberger

has an interesting column for Newsweek online. She is arguing for a kind of updated seamless-garment approach to “life issues.” She writes, “If it is above our pay grade to opt to terminate life in the womb—and, for the record, I think it is—then it is also wrong to decide when inconveniently comatose spouses or brutal murderers should be ‘terminated.’ Either life and death is up to us or it is not.”

Also: “A number of readers have said they disagree with my view of the environment as a powerful moral issue and argue that ’saving the babies’ is more important. But why should we have to decide between the two? Isn’t saving children who are already in this world from mercury poisoning our responsibility as well? We should never have to pick and choose which lives to value, or when. But while we’re mulling the options left to us, we do have to worry about saving the planet, too … or we’ll have nowhere to fight about abortion.”

I share Henneberger’s opposition to abortion and the death penalty, and her belief that protecting the environment is morally obligatory. But I don’t think that it is true that the death penalty and abortion are the same issue–that is, that it is somehow inconsistent or hypocritical to oppose abortion but not the death penalty (as she suggests elsewhere in the column). The religious tradition from which she is drawing (and which I share) does not analyze these issues identically. If the statement that “either life is up to us or it is not” were enough to resolve these questions, it would also be enough to yield pacifism.

One gets the impression, also, that Henneberger is treating the moral imperative to protect the environment as the end of an inquiry rather than the beginning of one. But it’s so refreshing to read something like this in Newsweek, of all places, that I shouldn’t nitpick. It would be nice if somebody like her were writing a column in the New York Times. People would certainly talk about her columns.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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