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Why We Don't Do It in the Road
06/19/2003

Sheila Lennon runs a great blog for the Providence Journal from which I acquire many interesting links. However, whenever she blogs anything political or ideological, I find myself shaking my head. We just hold very different ideas about the world.

Today, however, she writes something that I can get behind fully:

I'm an adult, I don't want to be protected from life in the name of public health or somebody else's morality.

Hear, hear. Here is evidence that we begin from some common principles. Unfortunately, the first step away from the apothegm finds us diametrically opposed in application:

If I get hit by an SUV from the side, I'll die for sure if I'm wearing a seat belt. If I'm not, I might get pushed to the other side of the car and live. Why can't I let my instincts make the decision about which risks to take today?

Alright, maybe it takes two steps for us to separate, because I, too, find seatbelt laws to be the first swerve onto a dangerous road of public control of individual behavior. On the other hand, with the realities of health insurance what they are (let alone what the realities would be were the government more involved in the practice), the public has some justification in determining whether Sheila's particular scenario balances with other types of fatal accidents in which a seatbelt will diminish the physical harm to the driver.

This is, I think, the difference in point of view that causes conservatives, when frustrated, to think liberals (or "mostly liberals") selfish. To use Shiela's phrasing, not many people want to increase their vulnerability to life in the name of some other adult's comforts and convenience. There is, of course, a balance to be struck, and in the case of seatbelts, I'd say the claims are pretty much a toss-up as the facts now stand.

However, the underlying differences aren't so inconsequential across all issues, as Shiela brings to the forefront with this paragraph:

On the one hand, the socially conservative Republicans are touting sexual abstinence, anti-abortion forces would make women (and girls) who "fall" from abstinence bear children if pregnancy results, and they'd shoo us all into church.

Ignore the hyperbole about social conservatives' intending to make church attendance legally obligatory. What is protecting the "right" to abortion if not seeking to be "protected from life"? Now, I don't have the time to go in search of the statistics, but I'm pretty confident in suggesting that somehow — amazingly — a majority of women manage to avoid pregnancy where it is not sought, despite Ms. Lennon's appeal to the precariousness of responsible behavior. If a fall results in a bruise, we must bear that bruise. Yet, if the fall somehow intertwines us with another human being, then he or she may be killed and removed. She even protects such women (and, yes, girls) from life with her writing by shifting into passive voice.

Having Ms. Lennon's post several times, I can't shake the feeling that she believes the social conservatives to be against abortion because they want to punish the sinner through the imposition of parenthood. If Lennon wants to argue that I oughtn't seek to legislate her fetishes, I'll agree. But it isn't merely "somebody else's morality" at play when it is a third person's life that is put at risk in the name of life having no consequences. What if, when that SUV pushes Shiela Lennon to the other side of a car, there is a child sitting in the passenger seat?

Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:32 PM EST