FAIRFAX, Va., Sept. 14 (UPI) -- Another summer has ended. America's children are reluctantly returning to school. For most of them, summer is understandably the best time of the year, those precious carefree months away from difficult homework assigned by demanding teachers in dreary classrooms.
This summer, perhaps more than any other, reminds us that childhood has lost much of the freedom from care that it once promised, for this summer might be called the Summer of Missing, Molested, and Murdered Children.
On June 5, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped at gunpoint from her Salt Lake City, Utah, home; she's still missing, and police say that the Aug. 30 death of suspect Richard Albert Ricci, 48, might make it even more difficult to find the girl.
Also in June, U.S. Catholic Bishops met in Dallas to cope with the decades-old scandal of priests molesting children that continues to rock the Church.
The District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency has been plagued in recent weeks by reports of foster children being sexually assaulted in city-funded group homes.
On Aug. 21, seven-year-old Danielle van Dam's 50-year-old San Diego neighbor David Westerfield was convicted of her kidnapping and murder, as well as of possession of child pornography; Danielle's little naked body, found nearly a month after her Feb. 1 disappearance, was too decomposed to provide evidence on whether she had been molested as well.
Within a week, the remains of Miranda Gaddis and Ashley Pond, both 13, were unearthed in the Oregon City, Ore., back yard of prime suspect Ward Francis Weaver III.
The list goes on. Children appear to be unsafe at school, on playgrounds, even in their own beds. Those who escape molestation and murder nonetheless grow up in an increasingly coarsened culture. The factors that contribute to this coarsening no doubt are many, but surely one of the most significant is the 1973 legalization of the ultimate child abuse -- abortion -- which many believe holds up the sanctity of life up to public scorn and reduces reduces children to something less than human status.
Alan Guttmacher, then president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, hailed the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 verdict in Roe v. Wade as bringing the nation "a step further toward assuring the birthright of every child to be welcomed by its parents at the time of its birth".
The experience of the last 30 years refutes Guttmacher's bizarre notion that abortion protects children's rights. His noble-sounding vision of a society where all children are wanted and welcomed simply masks the selfishness that has flourished over the last several decades.
Of course, all children should be wanted and welcome, but public policy that sanctions destroying those who aren't makes adults' desires paramount as it reduces children to the objects of those desires. Is it really any wonder that child molestation and murder plague a society with so vacuous an understanding of their value and their rights?
The law is a teacher; legalized abortion teaches that children are, from the moment of conception, something akin to second-class citizens without the same basic rights accorded to humanity.
It teaches that adults who don't want children, or don't want handicapped children, or don't want female children, or don't want children right now are morally free to reject them or terminate them. The Guttmacher vision teaches that children exist for adults' enjoyment. It follows that they may be disposed of when they are no longer needed for or provide that enjoyment.
While most people can at least stumble through the moral minefield of a society that treats children as objects for enjoyment without molesting and murdering them, for some, particularly those who are mentally unbalanced or who were themselves abused, the lines between acceptable and unacceptable behavior are more blurry.
Law exists to protect the vulnerable from those who would place their selfish desires over others' rights.
When it instead sanctions the selfishness of the powerful over the lives of the powerless, it perverts its own function and compounds the moral confusion of those who lack regard for the rights and dignity of others.
A nation cannot uphold selfishness as a virtue supreme over life without seeing increasing numbers of its citizens refusing to control their own immediate felt desires, including those to injure or exploit the vulnerable. It cannot treat children as disposable objects before birth without suffering the scourge of people who treat them as such after birth.
-- Leslie Carbone is the author of Slaying Leviathan: The Moral Case for Tax Reform (forthcoming).
-- "Outside View" commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers who specialize in a variety of important global issues.