McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–Jan. 22 marked the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in the Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion on demand throughout the United States. In the three decades since that infamous ruling, human life in America has become exceedingly cheap.
Allow me to illustrate:
In January 2000, Joseph R. Henderson of Bend, Ore., was sentenced to serve seven years in a juvenile detention facility for killing a dog. The then-17-year-old confessed to stealing a woman’s pet and tying it to the bumper of his car and dragging it for almost a mile before stabbing it to death.
After announcing Henderson’s sentence, Judge Stephen P. Forte commented directly to the teen, “The harm you did to another life form is inconceivable. You need treatment.” The judge added that the dog’s demise was comparable to the 1998 murder of James Byrd, the African American man who was dragged to death in Texas.
Contrast Henderson’s crime and punishment with that of Brian Peterson and Amy Grossberg. In the spring of 1998 the pair pled guilty to causing the death of their newborn son two years earlier. The baby’s body was found wrapped in plastic and lying in a dumpster outside a motel in Delaware.
The couple, who both were college freshmen in November 1996, the time of the crime, said they believed the child was stillborn when they placed him in the trash bin. However, the medical examiner’s report indicated the baby had died of skull fractures.
Peterson and Grossberg both pled guilty to manslaughter. As a result, Peterson received a two-year sentence but served only 18 months. Grossberg was sentenced to two and a half years and was released after serving not quite two years. For the record, the judge could have given a maximum sentence of 10 years to each.
So, a young man admits to killing a dog and receives a seven-year sentence. A couple pleads guilty to causing the death of their own flesh and blood and they are sentenced to less than three years. What’s wrong with this picture?
The mutilation of the canine in Oregon was a horrible crime and indicates a twisted mind in need of help. I do not quibble with the seven-year sentence Henderson received. However, when a parent takes the life of his or her innocent infant, even seven years behind bars would seem like a lenient sentence.
Even if you buy Peterson and Grossberg’s story that they thought the child was dead at birth, their cavalier attitude toward their newborn son is appalling. Simply tossing a lifeless baby in the trash like a dead rat seems to deserve more than a minimum sentence.
If the judicial contrast between these crimes is not disturbing enough, the public reaction should be. People from around the country reacted strongly to the dog’s death. The result was a three-foot stack of e-mails, faxes and letters condemning the killer and calling for an even harsher punishment. One official handling the response to the canine killing said, “Without a doubt, this is the most public reaction we’ve ever had to a crime in the 15 years I’ve been here.”
How did American society arrive at a place where taking a dog’s life is tantamount to the killing of a newborn infant? It began 31 years ago when the Supreme Court slithered out on a slippery moral slope and legalized abortion on demand. The value of life has been sliding downhill ever since.
There are signs the worth of human life is making a comeback in the United States. Abortion rates have declined in recent years, young people by the scores now espouse a pro-life philosophy and abortion-performing clinics continue to close. However, don’t expect life in America to regain its true value until Roe v. Wade has been repealed.
Kelly Boggs is pastor of Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Ore., and chairman of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Committee of the Northwest Baptist Convention. His column appears in Baptist Press each Friday.