Liberty or Tyranny? Be Consistent

I recently asked friends on Facebook to reflect on who has always been consistent on the question of bodily autonomy and medical privacy. Because Facebook continually punishes me for the content of my posts by lowering them in the news feed (at least they tell me they’re doing it; Twitter just shadow bans), it took a while before somebody asked me who I was asking them to remember. The answer, of course is me. I am the person who has been consistent on the question of bodily autonomy and medial privacy. I say this not to pat myself on the back, but to isolate one of the core problems in today’s politics: the abandonment of principle for partisanship in the rhetoric of left versus right.

The person who asked about who I was talking about remarked that “it’s odd how the same people who felt wearing a mask during a pandemic was tyrannical overreach by the gubment but forcing a women to carry a child she does not want is perfectly fine.” He is an extreme partisan on the side of the Democratic Party who frequently mocks conservatives by portraying them as hicks. He suggested that “if men could bare [sic] children those same people would me amassing with weapons to attack SCOTUS or congress.” I responded snarkily: “Just like the people who oppose restrictions on abortion were okay with forcing people to wear masks, locking down society, and mandatory vaccination.” He liked that comment because he had missed the point.

Alas, my provocation failed. I wanted somebody to scold me for drawing an equivalency between abortion and the COVID-19 pandemic. The equivalency is undeniable. The counterargument I anticipate is the argument that proves the point. “Masks and vaccines save lives. You don’t have the right to appeal to bodily autonomy and medical privacy when you could be carrying a virus that may sicken and even kill others.” I’m not imagining this line of attack. We heard this from progressives for months. Well, what does abortion do? If the state can force people to wear masks, quarantine, and receive mRNA injections to save lives, then does it not follow that the state can force people to carry a fetus to term? Preventing abortions save lives. The fetus is alive. There’s no getting around that. The fetus is a member of our species. It only has yet to be born. The question of life, viability, etc., is beside the point.

Please don’t forget—or if you don’t know my stance, read by blog—I support a woman’s right to be free from the practice of forced childbearing. I support this right on the same grounds that I support a woman’s right to free from the practice of forced vaccination. The death of a fetus or a grandmother is not as important as the liberty of the mother and granddaughter. I work from principle and the same principle operates beneath both actions. Abortion isn’t the right. Abortion is an instantiation of the right in question. The right is freedom from state tyranny. The demand is the defense of life, liberty, and property—our lives, our liberty, and property in self. Think of all those who were killed because they tried to deny the life, liberty, and property of others. Those weren’t murders.

I told my Facebook friend that the sides have been misspecified. By that I meant that the partisan divide, the way politics is articulated, force the same contradiction on both sides, where the principle of liberty is corrupted by ideology. The right wants the state to force people to give birth to save lives. The left wants the state to force people to receive mRNA injections to save lives. Yet, almost for sure, failing to force women to carry a fetus to term costs lives. The source of the contradiction is failure to obey principe. If principle is the consideration, then the sides are these: either the state strictly controls our bodies and our liberties for the sake of others, which is a perverse form of humanitarianism (a culture of masochism), or bodily autonomy and medical privacy are excluded from state control except where the state defends and upholds those rights. The sides are authoritarianism versus libertarianism.

Partisan politics confuses the matter even more with the recklessly deployment of the word “democracy.” The Washington Post runs the headline “In draft abortion ruling, Democrats see a court at odds with democracy.” That’s a weird take, since one of the primary arguments against Roe v Wade is that it circumvents the will of the people in those states who have voted to end or restrict the practice of abortion; a majority in support of abortion rights in New York is not a majority opposed to abortion rights in Mississippi. In fact, Roe was at odds with democracy when it was handed down.

That is, in fact, the conservative’s argument and it’s profoundly hypocritical in light of the constant rhetoric from that side about how the United States is a republic not a democracy. Conservatives do want democracy, conceptualized in its worst form as majoritarian, to determine not only whether women have to carry a fetus to term, but whether gays have access to the institution of marriage. But these are not things society should ever subject to majority rule, as they are rights, and rights are for individuals to determine, not the collective. The collective is only obligated to defend rights. Reproductive freedom is not a matter of majority rule any more than slavery is. It’s not even an analogy.

One last thing. If there is no right to privacy, as we have heard conservatives say concerning the basis of Roe (see my recent blog on the problems with the 1973 decision), then on what principle does the Fourth Amendment rest? “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” If there were no right to privacy assumed in that amendment, then why would there be any problem with the state arbitrarily violating the security of my person, house, papers, and effects? Violation of personal security in the manner described in the amendment necessarily presumes privacy.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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