Saturday, March 3, 2012

Liberty and the Pill

Arguing about contraception and freedom is a little like dating. I have the same conversation over and over and I only occasionally get something out of it.


I thought it would be a great time saver to have all my arguments on this topic (freedom that is, not dating) in one place.

Any discussion of freedom (or any other subject for that matter) requires a solid intellectual foundation. Once the principles are in place, their application becomes obvious.

The right to freedom is a limited license. It is not the right to do anything you want. It is merely the right to do what is consistent with the rights of others. You are free to move your fist – but not if someone else’s face is in its path. This is because no system of rights can be self-contradictory - you cannot have some rights that violate other rights. Rights must be universal.

It follows that even though you have the right to do something, you do not have the right to force others to pay for it: that would violate their freedom to spend their own money. You have the right to travel to Hawaii. You don’t have the right to make someone else buy you a ticket (That's called a "nuance". Remember when Kerry criticized Bush for being impervious to "nuance". We don't hear much about "nuance" anymore). Another way of saying this is that there is no such thing as a “positive right”; there are only “negative rights”. I addressed positive and negative rights in my earlier blog entry, The “Right” to Health Care.

“But wait,” you say. “Doesn’t forcing pacifists, via taxation, to pay for the military violate their freedom?" No. A strong military is a pre-condition for freedom – as the French found out in 1940. It is therefore a contradiction in terms to talk about freedom from the obligation to pay for the military (A similar argument can be made for the police). The history of the world is littered with the corpses of free societies that had weak militaries. I can think of no example of a free society that stopped being a free society because its birth control program was weak.

I didn’t invent these ideas. They are the product of a long intellectual tradition, which starts with Aristotle and the Bible, and runs through the words of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson to Milton Friedman and Ronald Reagan. One of the best presentations of them is Ayn Rand’s essay “Man’s Rights” which I highly recommend for a more in-depth treatment than is possible in a blog. It can be found in her collection The Virtue of Selfishness.

These thinkers created arguments that are devastating to the Left. Instead of refuting the arguments, the Left responded with a campaign of character assassination: the great voices of freedom were dead white men, or slaveowners, or fascists, or racists. In logic, this type of “argument” is called the Fallacy of the Abusive Ad Hominem.

It is a bad omen – both for freedom and logic – that this campaign has had remarkable success. These ideas - and why they’re important - are not widely understood. If they were, we would not see so many people lining up to throw away their liberty in exchange for the promise of free contraception - a promise that won’t be kept, by the way. There’s no such thing as a free birth control pill (but that’s an economic discussion, not a philosophical one).

It is clear from the principles I set down how the Obamacare contraception mandate impacts our freedom:

  • It is a violation of religious freedom to require someone who objects to contraception on religious grounds to pay for it, either directly or through their insurance companies.

  • If we do not mandate that insurers cover contraception, it does not follow that they won't. It simply means that insurers, employers, and patients will be free to work out among themselves what sort of insurance policy is best for them. There would probably be many choices, rather than the one-size-fits-all policy that the Obama administration is trying to force upon us.

  • It is not a violation of freedom to expect someone who wants contraception to pay for it - or purchase an insurance policy that does. If it were, that would violate the rights of those who have to do the paying. This does not prevent "access" to contraception. It is still a legal product, widely available at drug stores (that's another "nuance").

  • It would be a violation of freedom to ban contraception. Having said that, I don’t know anyone who wants to. Although my left-of-center friends accuse Republicans of harboring plans to outlaw the pill, when I ask them to name a major Republican politician (Senator, Governor, or Presidential candidate) who advocated this, they say they can’t, it’s just an “impression” they have. I asked some conservatives I met at CPAC what they thought of banning contraception. They either rolled their eyes or told me they were enthusiastically in favor of contraception - for liberals. The Republican “War on Women” is a myth.

  • Since it's an issue of universal rights, one of the arguments used by the left to defend the mandate - that few people are affected - is highly irrelevant. There's no quorum required, fortunately, for the exercise of our liberties.

  • All of the above applies equally to male and female contraceptives.

  • I think that covers it. I’ll add more from time to time.

    Now if only I could master that dating thing.

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