The Republican-controlled Texas state senate last week passed SB 16, which if made law would require women thinking of aborting their pregnancy to first perform a sonogram. Texas law already requires, unjustly I believe, a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion could be performed by a licensed physician. This new legislation would dictate what procedures doctors must perform on patients and that a patient’s medical history must be surrendered to the state health department. On closer examination, this law is in stark contrast to the stated principles of Texas Republicans.
Under the “Principles” header of the 2010 Texas Republican Platform, the first claim is that Texas Republicans support “Strict adherence to the Declaration of Independence and U.S. and Texas Constitutions.” As recent developments have proven yet again, the adherence to those principles by Republican politicians — despite their platitudes about freedom and liberty — are groundless. Never mind that those documents are themselves in contradiction with one another. Whether you believe abortion is necessarily murder or not, it would be a contradiction to adhere to the principle of the Declaration of Independence that the proper role of government is the protection of individual rights and then support legislation seeming to support the principle that a proper role of government is to codify the legal process of violating those rights. Particularly for those who oppose abortion, those two principles are mutually exclusive. It would be like passing a law mandating which guns are to be used in armed robberies; the law would undermine the idea that one has no right to commit armed robbery in the first place.
In addition, the law violates individual rights by imposing positive obligations on behalf of patients and doctors. As the French classical liberal Frederic Bastiat said, “When law and force keep a person within the bounds of justice, they impose nothing but a mere negation. They oblige him only to abstain from harming others. They violate neither his personality, his liberty, nor his property.” Yet, this bill would require that patients pay for these extra procedures and that doctors perform them and release private medical records to the state.
Range-of-the-moment conservatives might argue on consequentialist grounds that they must support these measures, however hypocritically, to increase the number of women having sonograms, with hopes of reducing the number of abortions. But even this is a false dichotomy and does not consider the unintended consequences of the policy. There are literally dozens of ways that abortions could be reduced by taking consensual actions in the absence of government control, such as holding fundraisers to pay for the sonograms of women considering an abortion. Anti-abortion doctors could offer their sonogram services for free or at reduced fees for certain patients.
Women who initially declined once they had seen their sonograms to perform an abortion are likely to suffer even greater emotional stress if they eventually decide to abort later in the pregnancy. That emotional toll might be manifested in the destruction of their own life or future pregnancies. Even if signed into law, which seems to be likely, the legislation will do little to affect the 43 percent of aborted pregnancies performed on women who have had multiple abortions.
Another means of reducing abortions would be to take preventative action to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies that took place and make adoption a more attractive option. Solutions might include making non-abortion forms of birth controls more widely available and increase the economic opportunities of women. Some grocery stores restrict the sale of contraceptives to behind the drug counter, which in small towns could make purchasing them socially awkward and downright impossible after the pharmacy has closed. It would also help to make contraceptive use more affordable by removing their sales tax. Medical licensing and intellectual property laws also increase the costs of medical procedures like vasectomies and equipment that reduce or eliminate chances of fertilization. If pregnant women were able to form contracts with prospective parents to sell the guardianship rights of the child, surrogate mothers would be less likely to find it necessary to abort. Finally, increased economic opportunities that would arise from repealing occupational licensing laws, burdensome zoning regulations, restrictions on labor organizing and all the other government-causing poverty policies could make parenting more affordable and abortion less necessary, in the eye’s of expecting women. This bill does nothing to address these other means of reducing abortions.
Far from having to abandon principles, conservative Republicans who wanted a limited government, a belief I do not happen to share, should rather re-examine their most basic principle: that life necessitates sacrifice, which mandates the existence of a welfare state to materialize. Since left-liberals have acted more consistently in that shared belief, they continue to have their goals implemented and expand state powers to counter-balance momentarily the unforeseen consequences of those expansionist policies. Once conservatives have gone so far as to reject the belief that life requires sacrifice, they will be one step closer to the idea that government is incapable of protecting anyone’s rights without first infringing upon them.