This is an election year. I was going to say that it is a political year, but they all are, aren’t they? And it seems like each election year things get just a bit worse. More millions are spent from the deepest pockets that can be found on increasingly slanted and vile propaganda—and that’s on both sides of the political coin.
But that’s not what this is all about. I want to touch on a couple of things which most might think have nothing to do with one another and yet I think that there is a fundamental connection between them vital to us all.
Here’s two things: 1) Last week U.S. Judge Richard Leon ruled that the labels that the FDA was going to require to be put on all packages of cigarettes violate the First Amendment. 2) The Legislatures in Virginia along with Alabama, Pennsylvania and others are passing legislation requiring sonograms prior to a woman being able to secure a first trimester abortion.
So here’s a bit more background on each:
Leon was ruling on a suit brought by tobacco companies against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s requirement that cigarette packages contain an explicit and graphic warning covering a minimum of half of one side of the package. Leon said that the government mandate amounted to an “impermissible expropriation of a company’s advertising space for government advocacy.”
Essentially what Leon is saying is that the government is forcing cigarette companies to advertise against themselves on the packaging of their own product. Here’s some information from the LA Times article on March 1:
The warnings that were to be put on cigarette packages, Leon wrote were …“neither designed to protect the consumer from confusion or deception, nor to increase consumer awareness of smoking risks. Rather, they were calculated to evoke a strong emotional response calculated to provoke the viewer to quit or never start smoking…”
“…Leon suggested, in effect, that if the federal government wished to press its case against tobacco, that it should do so on its own nickel. It could step up its own advertising campaign against smoking, raise taxes on tobacco in a bid to induce smokers to quit or toughen efforts aimed at blocking access to tobacco products by those younger than 21…
“…in his ruling Leon acknowledged that the line between providing factual information—a legitimate government role—and seizing private property—in this case advertising space—to carry on a campaign of advocacy is “frustratingly blurry.” “But,” the judge added, “Here the line seems quite clear.”
Multiple states including Virginia, Alabama, Pennsylvania and Idaho are voting on bills to require ultrasound procedures on all women who seek a first trimester abortion. Some bills would require that the pregnant woman view the procedure, listen to the heartbeat and receive a copy of the “picture” of the fetus.
Several states have gone so far as to attempt to require the use of a “vaginal ultrasound” because that is what would provide the clearest “picture” and heartbeat in the case of many first trimester pregnancies. This has sparked some of the sharpest debate because it’s an “invasive” procedure with limited therapeutic or diagnostic benefit.
And there has been sharp debate over the role the state should play in requiring procedures as a pre-requisite to a woman’s decision to have an abortion rather than leaving it, as the U.S. Supreme Court said in Roe v. Wade “between the woman and her physician”.
Virginia Senator Ralph Northam is a pediatric neurologist. “That’s telling me and my colleagues how to practice medicine.”
And here’s a summary from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on some of the other proposed legislation:
In Alabama, the sponsor of a bill to strengthen an existing ultrasound requirement said on Monday that he would seek a revision softening the bill. The existing bill mandates that the screen must face the pregnant woman and requires use of the scanning method that provides the clearest image—which would mean vaginal ultrasounds in most cases.
The bills under active consideration in several states, including Pennsylvania and Mississippi, require detailed fetal images that would in practice require many patients to have vaginal ultrasounds.
In Mississippi, a bill working its way through committee requires and ultrasound that provides an image of high quality, which cannot be achieved with abdominal procedures in the initial months of pregnancy. The woman must be offered a chance to see the image and hear the fetal heartbeat. She cannot avoid hearing a description of the sonogram unless, among other things, she is a victim of sexual assault or incest or the fetus is medically compromised.
The Pennsylvania legislature is considering a law with some of the country’s strongest provisions. It would require vaginal probes in many cases, display of the swcanning screen to the patient and a printout of the image for inclusion in the patient’s medical records. It would also impose a 24-hour waiting period between ultrasound and abortion that critics say would be a burden for some women.
So, what does all this mean and how do these 2 things connect? In both instances the government (one federal and the other state) are imposing upon people a requirement to deliberate in a certain way.
It is legal to smoke. It is stupid to smoke. The FDA is trying to require that purchases of cigarettes be exposed to graphic depictions of the potential results. (Smokers already know those potential results). This is government sponsored “scare tactics” and the government is trying to require the tobacco companies to foot the bill for it.
As far as the requirements of sonograms prior to an abortion, it’s pretty much the same thing. State governments are attempting to dictate the manner in which a totally personal and private decision is made.
Here’s the “bottom line” as I’ve always perceived it when it comes to our personal freedoms and liberties: “our freedom extends to the limits of our alternatives and no further.” For an alternative to exist it must be viable and possible. What I see government attempting to do here is to make these alternatives more onerous and difficult.
Most certainly, smoking is bad for individual health and the environment. Nicotine is one of the most insidiously addictive chemicals known to mankind. Government has not seen fit to declare it a substance on the same order as an opiate and ban its commercial sale. What government would like to do is to intimidate people from smoking and force the companies manufacturing the product to foot the bill. Seems to me that’s kind of like making Trojans pay to print an abstinence message on condoms.
These abortion statutes are nothing less than state sponsored intimidation and the imposition of a religious point of view disguised as a “Woman’s Right to Know”. Some people have even gone so far as to suggest that it is state sponsored rape when it comes to vaginal penetration for achieving a “clear” sonogram.
I have long agreed with what Bill Clinton famously said about abortion, “it should be legal and rare.”
I get really worried when government at any level uses devious tactics to restrict liberty. It’s not much different from the Jim Crow laws of the mid 20th century where poll taxes were imposed disenfranchising the poorest voters along with literacy tests and all sorts of other initiatives to deny the vote to African Americans.
It’s reminiscent of totalitarian regimes which brag about voter turn-out and the lop-sided victories of candidates. Is an election in which there is only one candidate a free election? Does the right to vote mean anything? Are there alternatives (i.e. the ability to vote for this candidate over that candidate)? Or is the alternative to vote and keep your mouth shut knowing that it is a hollow exercise?
This is an example of government thinking that it is oh so very clever. The courts mandate and defend certain rights and legislative bodies come up with devious ways by which the “free exercise” can be denied.
How I deliberate is up to me. It’s none of the government’s damned business. Whether I factor in that smoking may give me cancer or may produce second hand smoke is up to me. Whether a woman has an ultrasound is up to her and her doctor. It’s none of government’s business.
How I make up my mind for whom to vote is my own business. The fact that I might read about candidates and their stance on issues compared to the person who says “I always vote straight ticket Republican or Democrat” is irrelevant. Our votes count the same.
Which takes me back to smoking issue. It is within federal government’s power to establish a compelling interest to severely restrict or even ban the consumption of cigarettes. This is an “executive powers” area. The FDA hasn’t shown the will or gumption to do it. And in an election year, it’s not likely that anyone will—with the exception of a Federal judge who has called the FDA to task for trying the type of back-handed approach that these state legislatures are taking with reproductive rights.
Our freedom extends to the limits of our alternatives and no further. The actions of these legislatures would eliminate this alternative and eliminate this aspect of the “right to be left alone” by government.
And that’s just flat out wrong.