JoT re
Brianna re "Courts"

You seem to make the generalization that because the courts deal with principles they are superior to whatever the majority believes. Why?

Because these principles are the majority's own principles. The courts hold the majorities to the principles that they themselves espouse. My rant is meaningless to those who think that liberty, equality, and privacy are bad principles. Anyone who thinks the government should, by default, tell people what to do, treat people differently according to category (race, gender, etc.), or make private decisions on behalf of citizens (whether to marry, whether to have children, etc.), will find my rant worthless.

My rant is that people espouse the principles of liberty, equality, and privacy, but we would like these principles not to get in the way when we want to pass a law against a minority. For example, we appreciate freedom of religion, but we still want to say that those pagan Santerians can't sacrifice animals in their worship services. (Not all of us, but a majority of us.) And what the courts do is take our principles more seriously than we do ourselves. They hold us to them.

But in order to adequately defend the courts you need to defend the particular principles which they uphold. For example, consider the principle that women ought not be compelled to remain pregnant

The ruling that the government is not to force women to remain pregnant is not a principle, it's a policy. That policy is based on the principle of privacy. If you want to criticize the principle of privacy and say that private decisions belong in the hands of the government, then go for it. Senator Rick Santorum doesn't believe in a right to privacy. He believes, for example, that it's the government's place to regulate private sex. He means that we should be able to throw sodomites in jail, but this government prerogative could also extend to banning sex during menstruation or oral sex between a husband and wife.

4. Pregnancies in which the fetus is likely to live a full normal human lifespan ought to be compulsory because the resultant human lifespan is more valuable than the harm done to the mother even in cases of rape and incest.

My first legitimate response to your conclusion is that the government doesn't generally force one individual to do what's best for another even if the algebra of benefit is for the better. For example, the government doesn't force everyone to be an organ donor. It doesn't force childless couples (or couples with children) to adopt parentless children.

My second legitimate response to your argument is that we don't grant the fetus the legal status of a person. Your argument is based on treating the unborn child as a person whose interests and rights are to be weighed against those of the mother. But that premise wins the argument all by itself. Our nation's struggle with abortion includes the issue of whether to treat the fetus as a person, so there's no point in having an argument whose premise is the desired conclusion. (In philosophy, this is what we call "begging the question.")

Here's my illegitimate response, which is unfair but fun. Your basic point is that a baby gains more by being born than a woman loses by carrying the baby to term, and that the government should therefore craft laws that force women to carry their babies to term. Why not take the next logical step and force women to get pregnant? After all, a woman's got to be pretty selfish not bring a new life into the world when she has the chance to do so, which is about once every year or two.

Finally, let me switch gears and express some sympathy with your opposition to abortion, if not with your argument. The courts have overturned some laws that are simply untenable in light of our Constitution's liberal principles, such as those against contraception. But abortion is admittedly trickier because liberal principles, going all the way back to Jesus and beyond, ask that we extend our concern to the powerless. There are two parties with which one can sympathize in the abortion issue: the mother and the child. Resolving the issue means denying rights to one or the other. As a materialist, I don't think there's a "right" answer in the Heavens that we can discover. I don't think that the fetus is "really" a person or not. It's a policy issue, and policy is all about balancing competing claims. The way I want to see these claims balanced is that the government can't force women to remain pregnant.

It's precisely because abortion means killing a living being that liberals want abortions to be rare. That's why it's so important to hand out condoms in schools and to teach students to use them.

January 2004


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