John C. Salvi III has been convicted of killing employees at two abortion clinics and sentenced to two consecutive life terms by Judge Barbara Dortch-Okara. The judge refused to let Salvi read a statement about his religious beliefs—or delusions, as his attorney pleaded—and the jury rejected the insanity plea. Yet it really ought to be conceded that if Mr. Salvi believes that the child in the womb is a human being, whose life ought to be protected, if necessary even by violent assaults on those who would “terminate” it, then our society ought to agree that he is indeed mentally unbalanced. As long as our society, with the President at its head, agrees that the unborn child is not human, at least not until it is more than three-quarters out of the womb, must it not regard those who believe otherwise as delusional?

The judge was evidently hostile to the defendant, which is understandable in a representative of a judicial system which has staked its entire honor and integrity on the fiction that the unborn child is not a human being. The prosecutor, John Kevlar, asking for the maximum sentence, stated, “We feel that the premeditation and cruelty in this ease was extraordinary” Indeed, but did Dr. Haskell not premeditate the “procedure” he pioneered and advocated? And is it not cruel to kill a not-quite-born human being by sucking out its brain, a procedure that would be criminal cruelty if performed on an animal? A society that rests easily with abortion on demand will find it increasingly difficult to engage in credible moral discourse on other forms of violence and killing, whether it be “physician assisted” at the bedside or performed with a pistol at close range.

The reading of the verdict and sentencing was accompanied by many emotional scenes. Mrs. Ruth Ann Nichols, the mother of one of the murdered women, had said to Mr. SaKi on the witness stand, “I hope you have sheer misery the rest of your life.” Her anguish is certainly understandable, as is that of Mrs. Ann Marie Salvi, John Salvi’s mother. Mr. Salvi’s crime has brought death to two people, misery to many, and a harsh judgment on himself. Biblically speaking, Mr. Salvi may be said to have deserved a death sentence, but then the same might well be said of those who commit infanticide. As the New Republic editorialized in July 1976, late abortion is hardly to be distinguished from infanticide, “nevertheless, we arc for it,” as the social cost of requiring women to bear unwanted children is too great to l)ear.

When we hear of violent crimes in the inner city, it is commonly said that society is responsible. Without agreeing that society is responsible, and certainly without denying the responsibility of the perpetrators of crimes, we might note that the same logic applies in this case: that if a callous society is responsible for crimes in the ghetto, then a society that protects and rewards those who kill a child emerging from a womb must share responsibility for the crimes of anguished abortion protesters such as Mr. Salvi. If the whole society is in any sense guilty of the one, it is surely not altogether innocent of the other.