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Marjorie Cortez: Preserve choice, leave judging to higher power

In his parting words in this life, Paul Hill urged others to do what they had to do to stop abortion. He wasn't referring to mass demonstrations or lobbying for change. He was talking about violence.

His words were calculating and chilling, but what was more disturbing was his demeanor. He was hours away from execution by injection for the shooting deaths of a Pensacola, Fla., abortion doctor and his bodyguard. He seemed completely satisfied with himself and spoke of how he would be rewarded with glory in heaven for his actions.

I'd heard that kind of talk before from Osama Bin Laden, in relishing the Sept. 11 attacks. He, too, appeared very satisfied and smug.

As far as I'm concerned, they're both terrorists. Instead of seeking a peaceful means to overturn a policy they disagreed with or a belief system they didn't share, they executed innocent human beings. Worse, they showed no remorse.

While Hill perceived his actions as justifiable homicide, mainstream anti-abortion advocates condemned the killings and spoke out against violence against abortion clinics that Hill had encouraged. Rational human beings understand that Hill's actions stand to set back the forces that attempt to change the law through legitimate means.

How Hill believed that murder would advance his cause escapes me. In his way of thinking, killing a doctor who performs abortions would save the lives of innocents, never mind that he killed and wounded innocents in the process.

Hill, a former Presbyterian minister, had certainly spent more time reading the Bible than I have, but I don't recall any political or philosophical exemptions for murder. It simply says, "You shall not kill."

I recognize that some people view abortion as murder. However, our laws differentiate between abortion and premeditated murder. The former is legal, the latter is not.

That said, I've always been somewhat conflicted about the issue of abortion. I believe in choice. I also believe in personal responsibility.

When I was in college, a dear friend confided that she was pregnant and she had elected to end the pregnancy. She asked me for a ride to an abortion clinic about 40 miles from campus.

It was the longest car trip of my life. Part of me wanted to grab her by the shoulders, shake her and demand to know how she and her boyfriend had allowed this to happen. Another part of me wanted to wrap my arms around her and weep with her. I could tell she felt guilty and ashamed. But she was poor and her family had sacrificed greatly so she could attend college. She didn't feel as though she had any other choice.

I had mixed emotions about her choice, but I knew it wasn't a decision arrived at lightly. Any moralizing about abortion being a terrible form of birth control wasn't going to change her mind.

I still feel that way, though. It's not as if we're living in the 1950s and contraception isn't widely available. Beyond that, the dangers of unprotected sex are greater than ever before. Sexually transmitted diseases can kill or compromise a young woman's child-bearing ability, which seem to be pretty compelling reasons for young people to abstain from sex altogether.

But that's wishful thinking. Unwanted pregnancy is a fact of life. There's a need for a public policy that permits women to have safe, legal abortions. There's also a need for women to fully understand the alternatives.

When I hear of challenges to Roe v. Wade and state statutes that permit abortion, I worry how women would deal with unwanted pregnancies if abortion was outlawed. Would they buy RU-486 on the black market in an attempt to terminate their pregnancies themselves? A certain number of women who take the drug still require surgical abortions. What would they do?

As much as abortion is a litmus test for judicial candidates and politicians, I have a hard time imagining that the United States will return to a place where abortion is outlawed. Even the staunchest opponents concede that victims of rape or incest should have access to these procedures. Some even concede that when a woman's health is jeopardized, abortion should be an option.

Abortion is a private matter between a woman, her health-care provider and her God, if she so believes.

Unlike Paul Hill, who took it upon himself to judge women who sought abortions and the practitioners that performed them, I believe judgment is best left to a higher power.

As I recall, the Bible says something about that, too.


Marjorie Cortez is a Deseret Morning News editorial writer. E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com