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The Court Rules

The latest U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the prohibition on partial-birth abortion is a healthy correction of an earlier court’s overreach in establishing a legal right to abortion. In his opinion for the majority in Gonzales v. Carhart, Justice Anthony Kennedy argued that the state has an interest in protecting fetal life and in preventing the cruel destruction of human life. It is a reasonable limitation, consistent with the limits articulated in Roe v. Wade, but, more important, with unprejudiced moral reasoning and humane sentiment. Partial-birth abortion, or intact dilation and extraction as it is known in the medical community, calls for the partial delivery of a fetus before extermination. It is a grisly procedure that the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan labeled infanticide, and two-thirds of Americans (according to polls) support its prohibition.

The recognition of fetal rights may not spell the end of Roe, as some have predicted. It seems unlikely that the court will move from upholding a ban on a procedure performed in a small minority of cases to overturning a decision that conservative and liberal justices alike have called a matter of settled law. Yet perhaps the court’s decision will force the discussion of issues that have too long been ignored. Thanks to advances in neonatal care, there are cases in which second-trimester babies can live outside the womb, yet 10 percent of abortions are performed during this period. We hope the court’s reaffirmation of fetal rights signals a willingness to consider the validity of other late-term abortions.

The Passion of Blacksburg

Liviu Lebrescu, 75, a Holocaust survivor, was a senior researcher and a lecturer in engineering at Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Va. He blocked the doorway to his classroom in Norris Hall so that his students could flee from a rampaging gunman on April 16. Some leapt from the window of Room 204, where Mr. Lebrescu was teaching solid mechanics on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Derek O’Dell, 20, a biology student, helped to block the door and prevent the shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, from entering Room 207, despite the fact that Mr. O’Dell had been shot in the arm. It was just amazing to me that he was still up and leaning against the door, said a fellow student about Mr. O’Dell. The darkness in Blacksburg, where 32 people were murdered in the space of a few hours, was illumined by the actions of people for whom the threat of death was very near.


There is no satisfying explanation for such suffering. By now, Americans have grown used to hearing of such horrific events, even in bucolic places like an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., and at Columbine High School in Colorado.

But the common thread running through these tragediesstories of supreme courage shown by many victims and would-be targetsis always astonishing. Average people are revealed to carry within themselves an infinite capacity for good. So perhaps the readiest answer to questions of God’s presence can be located in the actions of those motivated by what Jesus called greater love.

Perils of the Press

Four months after the horrific 2002 kidnapping and beheading of the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl, Tim Lopes of Globo TV suffered the identical fate without a similar outcry. He had been investigating drugs and under-age sex in a Rio de Janeiro slum. So begins Sir Harold Evans, former editor of The (London) Times, in his Foreword to a new 10-year study conducted by the International News Safety Institute. Titled Killing the Messenger, the report documents not only the sobering fact that 1,000 journalists have been killed between January 1996 and June 2006, but that three out of four were, like Tim Lopes, murdered during peacetime while reporting news in their own countries. The cost of telling the public the truth has risen markedly in peacetime. It is being paid in blood by both the unknown beat reporter and the star war correspondent.

Note this: nine out of 10 of these murders have never been prosecuted. Richard Sambrook, chair of the I.N.S.I. inquiry and global news director for the BBC, explains that killing a journalist is virtually risk free. The murder of Anna Politkovskaya, the Moscow journalist who reported abuses by Russian soldiers in Chechnya, raised an international furor, but most murdered journalists die unacknowledged, without public outcry. They die quietly while investigating criminal, political or financial scandals.

The report urges governments and international organizations to do all they can to protect journalists. It advises lenders (like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) to consider a country’s record on journalists before granting assistance. And it insists that governments prosecute those who silence the press by violence. Free societies must protect a free press. Without that protection, who will inform the public about abuses of power that threaten to silence society itself next?

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