Friday, June 15, 2007

Missing the Point of Roe v. Wade--By a Mile

Andrew Sullivan had me nodding in agreement . . . right up until the final sentence:
The genius of America, it seems to me, is its capacity to include people of radically different worldviews within a loose, flexible and constantly adjusting constitutional system. Given the huge differences between, say, a born-again evangelical in Georgia and a pot-smoking post-boomer in Seattle, no single cultural strait-jacket can ever hold America together. That's why we mercifully don't have such a strait-jacket, despite the excesses of the cultural left and right. We have a constitution that allows us to live together and even learn from each other in a morass of competing life-choices. This kind of politics eschews the dictatorial uniformity of Roe vs Wade and of the Federal Marriage Amendment.
Roe v. Wade represents "dictatorial uniformity"? Who was ever forced to do anything--or to not do anything--by Roe v. Wade? What sort of "uniformity" did it impose?

The only logical construction one can put on this sentence is that Andrew must have been referring to the impact of Roe v. Wade on state legislatures, which were indeed enjoined ("uniformly," if you like) from passing laws that imposed undue restrictions on a woman's right to choose.

But by the same logic, the First Amendment imposes "dictatorial uniformity" by forbidding (among other things) the passage of laws that establish a state religion. If this is objectionable, then, logically, Andrew ought to be calling for repeal of the First Amendment so that the states could revel in the cultural diversity of fifty different state religions. Utah, Mormon! Massachusetts, Congregational! Maryland, Catholic! Alabama, Baptist! Nevada, Unification Church! Minnesota, Scientologist! New Jersey, Zoroastrian!

But to be serious for a minute . . . Andrew's description of the American constitution as a system that allows people of many cultural backgrounds to co-exist more or less peacefully is exactly right. And the way it works is by strictly limiting the power of government (at the federal, state, or local levels) to impinge on personal freedom. This "dictatorial uniformity" controlling what governments can do creates the maximum possible liberty for individuals. And that is precisely how Roe v. Wade has worked.

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