Bernie Sanders, the socialist senator from Vermont, has scolded conservatives for being hypocritical by talking about “getting government off the backs of the people, deregulating everything,” yet opposing abortion on demand. The once and future presidential candidate played his gotcha card this way in an October 27 campaign debate:
"But when it comes to a woman’s right to control her own body, they think that state government and federal government should be right in there telling every woman in this country how she can control her own body.” (Audio here, go to 23:45.)
Though Sanders’ comment went unchallenged during the debate, the limited-government case against abortion is solid. Before making that case, though, let’s note that Sanders doesn’t even frame the issue with any intellectual honesty. Here’s why:
First, because there are at least two lives in every abortion, and they must both be considered.
Second, because framing the question as solely a women‘s freedom issue is disingenuous. There’s plenty of data to show that abortions are pushed far more by men, who want sex without responsibility, than by women wanting to abort their children. Threats and abuse toward women, already trying to navigate a stressful situation, are both real and widespread.
And third, because as wrong as it is to overlook the "hidden" lives of the unborn, the real issue is: Where does human life, any human life, get its value?
Abortion supporters give the state the greatest power possible, which is setting the scale that determines the relative value of human life. While the state may not be “pulling the trigger,” by removing itself from its most important duty to protect innocent human life, the state becomes fully culpable. Often the state actually encourages the killing by paying the killer.
That’s why ensuring government does not have the power to choose what innocent lives are and are not expendable is very much a limited-government position. It is keeping the ultimate power over life and death out of the hands of government as much as possible.
In terms of our federal government, setting the value of innocent human life is not among its enumerated constitutional powers. A government empowered to arbitrarily legalize killing of innocent life is actually an unlimited-government.
Our aim should be that our government equally protects all people, which is in keeping with our national creed, "… that all men [persons] are created equal, ...". Let that be the goal we strive for, rather than Sanders’ low view of humanity, where some people are created more deserving of "the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness [truth]" than other people, as determined by those wielding the power of government.
Once the door is opened to treat some lives different than others, there is nothing holding that line in place. It is all arbitrary.
Five state governments have now taken on the power of determining when a person’s life is of such little value that suicide, with the state’s blessing, is promoted. To see where this road can lead, we only need to look at the Netherlands and elsewhere, where the practice of euthanasia is decades old.
Consider the implications of Sanders’ dream of government-controlled healthcare with healthcare being a “human right.” Unlike the right to own property, which is limited by availability and personal finances, Sanders’ healthcare right is being sold with no such limitations. Government will pay for everything.
Yet raising taxes enough to cover unlimited access to healthcare will never be politically or economically viable. How will that right, or entitlement, be reconciled with the reality of a limited budget? Real pressures will force real solutions, and while suicide might start as an option for those whom government deems low-value, as pressures build, that option will turn into the “responsible” choice.
What then keeps the line from moving from the "terminally" ill to the disabled or any other group deemed to be more of a liability than an asset to the state? Who defines disabled? Is it not only a physical but sometimes a mental condition? At that point, what about people who challenge the direction of the state or those who do not stick to “politically correct” scripts?
Giving government the awesome power to set value to human life undoes the very concept of unalienable human rights. Rights become totally at the will of those wielding government power. Government can do no wrong because government is the definer of right and wrong. There is no higher authority.
The concepts of innocent until proven guilty and due process become a façade, used when it serves those in power, and otherwise disregarded. Nor is there any longer a rational case for the Second Amendment. Government is on the way to being supreme — and we made it that way by elevating the state above individual human life.
While the limited-government case against abortion is solid, getting to that point from where we are is no small task. It requires a fundamental cultural shift toward valuing the individual person regardless of his or her station in life.
While government can coerce behavior to a large extent with its use of force, it cannot move hearts — and a cultural shift is truly a heart shift. A heart shift can come only from the free marketplace of ideas.
Political campaigns and debates, such as the recent one where Sanders expressed his confusion, can be a great place to stir deeper thinking. But that’s only a start.
The level of change needed requires all of us who value human life to help those within our sphere of influence better understand how elevating government above individual human life truly undermines all human rights.
Mark Shepard writes from Virginia. He was a state senator from 2003 to 2006 in Vermont, his former home state.
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