Government in the Bedroom

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A middle-aged man seduced his twelve-year old niece. Perhaps "raped" would be a better word, as there was more pressure and badgering than romance to it. When he was done, she was overcome with feelings of remorse and guilt. As she lay sobbing, he casually sat back and smoked a cigarette. But when to his shock she turned up pregnant, he started to panic. Finally he made some excuses to her parents, bundled her into his SUV, and drove down to the local family planning clinic where he got her a secret abortion. Then he dumped her back off at home with dire warnings not to tell anyone about this.

A conservative reads a story like that and says, "That man should be dragged out and beaten to death! Imagine, forcing himself on an innocent child and killing a helpless unborn baby. Has he no respect for sexual morality and innocent life?"

A liberal reads the same story and says, "That man should be dragged out and beaten to death! Imagine, smoking a cigarette in front of an innocent child and driving a gas-guzzling vehicle. Has he no respect for health and the environment?"

Okay, I'm being sarcastic. I apologize to any pro-life liberals who find the joke offensive. But I have a serious point.

Those who defend abortion often say that anti-abortion people are trying to "impose morality" and "the government should stay out of the bedroom". Pro-life people say that we should have laws against abortion because we must protect innocent children from being deliberately killed. Pro-choice people denounce this as an intolerable attack on the freedom to choose. Yet ... many of these same pro-choice people also believe that we must have laws against smoking, and the most common argument is that we need laws to protect innocent children from being harmed by "second-hand smoke". If it is good to protect children from the accidental harm that might come from their parents pursuing an unhealthy habit, why it is bad to protect children from the deliberate harm that might come from their parents killing them? Smokers say that they enjoy smoking and should have the right to live their lives as they please. People who want abortions say that they enjoy sexual activity but don't want babies and should have the right to live their lives as they please.

Similar things could be said about many laws. People who are pro-choice on abortion often believe that there should be laws saying what kind of car you can drive (no SUVs!), where you can send your children to school (no homeschooling or charter schools!), or what kind of electrical appliances you can use (no incandescent bulbs!). They don't believe the government should be allowed to tell you what to do in the bedroom when you turn the lights off, but they think the government should tell you what sort of lights you can have!

Indeed, all laws are a restriction on freedom, by definition. The government says that you are not allowed to do this or the police will come and put on the handcuffs and take you off to jail. This is true of even the most non-controversial laws, like those against robbery, murder, and rape. There are some people who like to do these things, and the government tells them, No, that is not allowed.

Why do we have laws? Because some group of people -- perhaps representing the will of the majority, perhaps not -- believe that certains actions are not just wrong, but so wrong that they cannot be tolerated. "Wrong" is a moral word. If people didn't believe something was morally wrong, they wouldn't make it illegal. I cannot imagine any reason to have laws against violence or racism or child abuse or insider trading other than that these things are morally wrong.

The question is not whether our government will impose morality. The question is what position it will take on controversial moral issues and which moral offenses are judged serious enough to require laws.

Personally, I have libertarian leanings: I think this country has far too many laws. I think we should reduce the areas controlled by government to the near-universally accepted basics: thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill, a handful of others. Maybe you disagree and believe that we need laws regulating the efficiency of our electrical appliances and the healthiness of our diet and banning hate speech and whatever. But unless you believe that we should have no laws at all and that everybody should be allowed to literally do whatever they want -- including beating up their neighbor and burning down his house -- don't tell me that you are opposed to "legislating morality". The question is just what morality you believe is appropriate to legislate. Now that that's settled, let's get back to the discussion of what abortion is and why it should be illegal.

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Jan 29, 2008.

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