Abortion (part 2)

A commenter at Pharyngula responds to my comment:

(The italics are me.) The federal government secures the right of free movement so if California didn’t allow you to have an abortion, you can cross the border to Oregon or some other state that did.

That’s in theory. In practice, most people can’t because they can’t afford it.

I agree that some issues have resolutions that can (and should) be deemed to have universal truth (i.e. slavery is wrong or women should be able to vote). My point is that abortion is one of those issues that can be argued, persuasively, both ways. (Its an interesting question of how an issue goes from the latter category to the former!)

Slave owners and their apologists made some pretty strong arguments in their time. First they said that abolition of slavery was in violation of their property rights. Then they retreated to paternalism. Then they transformed this into a Southern identity. Similarly, with female suffrage, a lot of people believed it was wrong because it conflicted with women’s role as housewives. Incidentally, whereas things like taxes and labor law can be left to the states, abortion is a civil rights issue regardless of whether you’re pro- or anti-, so what happens is that both sides agree that the resolution needs to be on a federal level.

My preference is to have these decisions made as close the the people as possible.

Why? On some issues local decision-making is very good, but many times you have to have large-scale coordination, and as I showed above, local decision-making stinks with respect to treating minorities equally. Education is a prime example of where localism gets it wrong: you put the lay public in charge of an expert issue and expect things to go right. They go wrong when you let people vote on how doctors should operate, and they go wrong when you let people vote on school curriculums.

First, take the money I donate to Planned Parenthood and create regularly scheduled shuttles to and from states that allow abortion. (I know this is lame, but I’m just throwing out ideas here.)

Second, if you think abortion is murder, you don’t see it as a civil rights issue. You see it as a criminal matter. BTW, I’m arguing against the need to make it a federal case on both sides… Plus, I don’t think you can honestly defend the right to abortion with as much passion as the abolitionist and the suffragettes argued their strongly held beliefs. At least, I can’t.

Third, something like the belief in what is and what is not murder is core to the fabric of one’s world view. Having grown up in Northern California, among the redwood trees, I’ve seen what happens to a community when outsiders invade and begin to impose their world view. The tree huggers were and are right, but they destroyed my ancestors way of life in their heavy-handedness. Needless to say, my family, friends and neighbors resented the environmentalists, but ironically, most of them would agree, in one way or another, that the environment needs to be protected. To me, this indicates that my community would have been willing to change (e.g. to build alternative industries other than timber), but instead were forced to swallow a painful horse pill.

Change should happen from the bottom-up; it should not be imposed on a people. If you want to change the way people view the world, get involved in their community (i.e. live there) and give them alternatives. The answer is NOT to have a court, in some cases, thousands of miles away to dictate from above.

I don’t accept the contention that we experts should dictate to the local plebs; I trust people to do what is right for them… If not economically, then morally (and who am I to dictate morals to someone else?). We experts advise change; we should even give heavy incentive to change, but we should never dictate it.

Why? Well, the legitimacy of the system that allows for experts, that allows for courts and for a legislature depends on the will of the people. As Justice Breyer said in his recent debate with Justice Scalia, “[there’s] a very strong American belief that all power has to flow from the people.” And bad things happen when the people feel that flow has reversed (see US Civil War).


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