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Choosing Life

How pro-lifers become pro-lifers.

12:00 AM, Sep 1, 2006 • By FRED BARNES
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A little over a decade ago, a friend of Smith, a 76-year-woman named Virginia, committed suicide. She had often talked about killing herself, telling Smith and other friends how painless, gentle even, it would be. They had tried to talk her out of it, but to no avail.

After her death, Smith went to her home in California and found stacks of literature by advocates of euthanasia, particularly the Hemlock Society. And he recognized some of things Virginia had said in the literature, such as tales of people supposedly enjoying death. Smith was appalled and it altered his thinking and his career.

Soon he was devoting more and more time to writing and speaking against euthanasia--until it became a crusade and his full-time work. Nader asked him at one point why he was "doing so much on euthanasia." Smith explained the issue to him. This led to a controversial statement by Nader during his presidential campaign in 2000. While in Oregon, he denounced the state's assisted suicide law as "Oregon's shame."

FINALLY, THERE'S MY OWN EXPERIENCE. For years, I rarely gave abortion a passing thought. That an unborn child was killed often as a matter of convenience--well, I just never thought about that. As a reporter for the Evening Star newspaper in Washington in 1973 covering the Roe v. Wade ruling, I considered the issue a legal matter, not a moral one.

The rise of the anti-abortion movement in the late 1970s and Reagan's stand on abortion caught my eye, but only a political matters. Then my wife Barbara's obstetrician recommended she have amniocentesis when she was pregnant with our third child. This involves injecting a needle into the womb to remove fluid so the unborn child can be examined for problems or defects.

We'd heard amniocentesis referred to as a "search and destroy mission" that often led to abortion in the case of a child with birth defects or Down's Syndrome. This caused us to think about what we would do in such a case--really to think seriously about abortion for the first time. As it happened, our child was fine. But as we left the doctor's office, my wife and I agreed she'd never do amniocentesis again. And she didn't when she became pregnant again three years later. Without recognizing it immediately, we had become pro-lifers.

So think for a moment about these five experiences: Reagan's deciding on signing an abortion bill, Hyde's mulling whether to co-sponsor a pro-abortion measure, Ponnuru's watching as the Summer of Mercy unfold, Smith's reading pro-euthanasia tracts as his dead friend's home, and our--my wife and I--adverse reaction to amniocentesis. One common thread is obvious. All of us, because of the circumstances we found ourselves in, were forced to think about the taking of a life and what that means in both practical and moral terms. Most people avoid thinking about troubling moral issues like abortion or euthanasia. We couldn't.

And the other common thread is that something happened to make us choose life and choose it firmly and reject death. I think it was our conscience that intervened or, if you prefer, the basic human instinct that favors life over death. Or it you are a Christian, as I am, it was God.

Now I'm sure there are many exceptions to our experience. Not everyone who contemplates abortion or euthanasia is bound to take the intellectual path that five of us--six, including my wife--did on the way to becoming pro-lifers. But I suspect there are many more than like us than not. And many more to come.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard. This article is a condensed version of a speech he gave to the National Right to Life convention in Nashville in June.