Compass: Columnist has selective regard for sanctity of life

Recent columns on abortion and the death penalty by regular columnist Christine M. Flowers propose a double standard on the value of human life.

In her May 3 column ("Lockett suffered far less than his victim did"), Flowers dismisses concerns about the recent gruesome execution in Oklahoma as misplaced sympathy for the condemned. She suggests that the botched lethal injection process, which caused a man to writhe in pain for the forty minutes it took to kill him, was only "troubling from a procedural standpoint." She acknowledges our laws against cruel and unusual punishment, yet ridicules the notion that we should truly care about them. Proudly detaching herself from humane concern for what was by all reports an anguished and torturous event, she urges us not to worry about any discomfort the scene might have brought. "Even a rabid animal elicits sympathy when it's in the final, foaming agony," she reasons. Clearly, Flowers believes that government is justified in taking the lives of its own citizens - in engaging in state-sponsored homicide - in response to a heinous crime. And if it does so inhumanely? So what.

Then comes Flowers's May 10 column ("Abortion is never a cause for celebration"), in which she decries a young woman's decision to film an early trimester abortion and post it on YouTube to assuage the fears of others facing the process. "Repellent" is the word Flowers chooses for the woman who went public with her calm three-minute procedure. The woman's action makes her "stomach turn" and her "head spin;" makes her "question humanity;" and gives her "evidence that the world is filled with ... the 'banality of evil.' "

"I reject on principle," she says, "the idea that a human life, even one so infinitesimally small that it can fit on the head of a pin ... is disposable ...." She laments that the young woman is not only unashamed but "absolutely delighted with her ability to destroy human life..."

Reading her columns side by side, it is strikingly apparent that Flowers's views are not grounded in any innate respect for the value of human life. A tiny fetus matters. But a grown man - deeply flawed but still a living, breathing human being with family and friends who care about him - doesn't. A three-minute procedure to exercise a woman's legal right to terminate a pregnancy is "repellent," but forty torturous minutes of state-sponsored killing isn't anything to "weep crocodile tears" about. Life is sacred, except when it isn't.

Countless arguments exist on all sides of the abortion and death penalty debates, and people's views don't sort out neatly. Some oppose both the death penalty and abortion based in part on the belief that life begins with conception and should end at a time one's creator, not humankind, determines. Others oppose the death penalty but support abortion rights, based in part on the view that government should not have the power to invade the most personal of individual liberties - control over one's own body.

While stemming from widely different rationales, these positions are principled and consistent. Yet it is difficult to find similar integrity in a stance that condemns abortion for taking life yet celebrates the death penalty as justice. Judgment of the behavior of others, rather than a consistent moral theme, seems most at play here. Women should pay for their "roll(s) in the hay" and "fun in the sheets" (Flowers's words) by carrying their pregnancies to term. Murderers should pay for their crimes "on an 'eye for an eye' basis" (again Flowers's words) with poison in their veins.

While some see such judgments as righteous, there is no righteousness in deriding mercy and compassion, dismissing basic decency, trivializing suffering, or dictating who is entitled to fundamental human dignity and who is not. Those who would attack a young woman for not showing appropriate shame for an abortion while feeling no shame defending a brutal execution offer a chillingly selective view of humanity. They can't have it both ways if the premise for their outrage is respect for life.

Barbara Hood is a founding member of Alaskans Against the Death Penalty. She lives in Anchorage.