Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Child That Might Have Been

I read today that Ohio legislators want to ban abortions if the reason is the fetus has Down syndrome.

It’s a life after all.

Well, of course it is. A potential life anyway. But aren't there many potential lives? Potential doesn’t mean egg must have met sperm and snuggled up to the swelling uterine wall. Potential as well can mean boy meets girl. Why are those other potential lives not entitled to consideration?

Why make parents have a child with Down syndrome? Why not let them try again? Why make parents have children of any kind, genetically normal or not, before they are ready? Perhaps before they can afford to pay for the child’s care and education. Why not let them choose another time? Another potential life.

What about the rights of those not-yet-conceived children? If their parents are free to make their own choices, they will likely come into the world healthy and normal, born into a family that wants them and is ready for the emotional and financial responsibility of parenthood.

What about those potential lives? What about the parents who will cherish them when their times come?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Civil War II

This year is the one-hundred-fiftieth anniversary of the end of the American Civil War, a great battle fought over the enslavement of blacks. I wonder when we might have Civil War II (at the voting booth, this time) between women and the men who insist upon controlling their reproductive choices.

As long as Roe v. Wade holds, women with money are like black freemen in 1850, not treated equally to men in all respects--there are still widespread pay gaps and glass ceilings--but at least in control of their bodies. But women who are poor are chained to their biology. They need free contraception because they’re barely scraping by to put food on the table. They need abortions to undo a teen mistake or avoid the poverty of an unwanted child, but they might live in Texas or one of the other states that have passed abortion clinic requirements so onerous that all but a few have shut down. They need reproductive counseling and healthcare from Planned Parenthood, which Republicans are determined to deny them.

Women want affordable contraception and gynecological care. They want to break free of unwanted pregnancies. They want to break free of men’s control of their bodies. They don’t want to be told how to live their sexual lives by old white men in Rome or old white men in Congress. Or by the new Hispanic Pope. Or by Marco Rubio. Hispanic male chauvinism is nothing new. Hispanics in a position to make the rules for women are. Still men, though. Always men.

Why do these men care so much about what women do? Religious doctrine commands it, you say. Okay, fine. If a woman wants to be in that church and chooses not to use contraception, that’s her choice. It’s worth pointing out, though, that not many women in America, even those who think of themselves as good Catholics, for instance, don’t use birth control. They’ve made their peace with their religion.

That choice, though, that personal accommodation of faith and practicality, shouldn’t be theirs to make, according to the men in charge. Women must be saved from their heresy by restricting their access to birth control. It’s the same urge behind keeping the whiskey locked up when there are teenagers in the house. No, it’s more like leaving the whiskey within easy reach and then letting the kid rot in jail when he gets a DUI. Do the crime, do the time.

Maybe it’s Puritan morality that beats in the hearts of men who would deny women a right to choose when they have children, but I don’t think so. I think that’s just their excuse. I think it terrifies them for women to be free agents. To be able to say with whom they have sex, and when. 

Too many old white men (and their Hispanic successors) want to keep their women barefoot and pregnant and in the kitchen. They don’t want to lose the power over women that pregnancy affords them. They don’t want to lose the dependence of women on them. Like the plantation owners of the first Civil War, they don’t want to free the unpaid servants who’ve been shackled to them by the economics of having a baby.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Rights We Give Ourselves

I’m having a debate with my sixteen year old grandson about gun rights. He’s pro, I’m con. He’s smart and articulate, and he has spent a lot of time reading about the issue. He has his facts about the correlation between gun ownership rates and the incidence of gun violence, and I have mine. We are at something of a stalemate.

On this, as with so many policy issues, though, the debate isn’t really so much about facts, which can be tortured into many shapes—“Lies, damn lies and statistics”—as it is about what we value as a society. Guns kill people. No dispute there. The question is whether having them around is worth that undeniable cost. Gun owners have an interest in being able to own guns, and we all have an interest in not being shot. 

Balancing competing interests is the primary tool on the workbench of a constitutional law scholar. The more fundamental the individual interest (or "right," as we commonly refer to it), the more compelling must be the state's interest to justify abridging the individual interest. The state has to have a damned good reason to censor the press, for instance, because we value freedom of speech so highly.

The abortion debate comes down to the same thing. Science cannot deny that a life, or at least a highly likely potential life, is being aborted any time after conception and implantation. The question is, do the interests of the parents and society in not having an unwanted child outweigh the interest of the embryo. One can reasonably take either side of that argument. It's a question of what you value.

With guns, too, this is the proper analytical approach. How important is the individual interest in owning a gun compared to the rest of society's interest in avoiding gun violence? Like abortion, like free speech, this is a value judgement. For me, guns are unnecessary and ineffective to protect us either from crime or from government tyranny. This is why I support the considered judgment of a community that seeks to limit their incidence, as both Chicago and D.C. did before their local laws were struck down by the Supreme Court.

Frankly, I can't think of an important individual interest that is advanced by forbidding communities to try to keep themselves safe from handguns and assault weapons. That's my value judgment. As a people, collectively, we have to reach our own. 

We have the “rights” we permit ourselves. No others. They are not ordained. They continue by common consent. I have to assume at this point that we have so many guns, and so much gun violence, because that’s the balance of interests we want. If not, we ought to do something about it. What to do is no mystery. Vote for change. It’s not going to happen any other way.