Inquisitions for Good Reasons
One problem with anti-abortion laws is that we can count on the state to use them as a new tool for privacy invasions, surveillance, and control—just as unconditional abortion leads to the debasement of human life. The government of the state of Georgia wants to prove that the first of these slippery slopes exists. (“Georgia Abortion Restrictions Spark New Debate Over Claims to Fetal Parenthood,” Wall Street Journal, August 27, 2022):
Ed Setzler, the bill’s Republican author, said the recognition of fetal personhood is the logical extension of abortion bans. “If at the point of detectable heartbeat we’re going to protect children from the violence of abortion, naturally that protections should apply across Georgia law,” he said.
Democrats and some legal scholars say the law opens the door for any of the dozens of local Georgia prosecutors to charge women with murder for taking abortion pills or traveling to an abortion clinic in another state.
But the state is benevolent and serviceable: Setzler said that pregnant women could be allowed to drive alone with their fetuses on commuter lanes reserved for cars with passenger. But here is the catch:
The state Department of Transportation said the issue would be one for local law enforcement to decide.
According to the Georgia Department of Revenue, parents of an unborn child “with a detectable heartbeat” will be able to claim a personal income tax exemption of $3,000. But there is a catch again:
The department declined to explain how someone would provide proof of an unborn child, or what should happen in the event a woman miscarries after claiming the exemption. The department will answer further questions about the impact of the law on taxes later this year, a spokesman said in an email.
This sort of invasion of the “protected domain” (as Friedrich Hayek called it) around each individual and his property is judged as illegitimate in much if not all the classical liberal and libertarian tradition. A general, impersonal, abstract principle would have to be found that both protects private property and allows checkpoints for women’s uteruses—a tall order, although the proliferation of checkpoints and decline of the Fourth Amendment have gone some way towards this Brave New World. In James Buchanan’s constitutional setup, such a rule would have to obtain, or be capable of obtaining, the unanimous consent of all individuals, which is even less likely. Philosopher Robert Nozick developed a Kantian theory of individual rights as strict constraints against what others, including the state, can do to an individual (Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Basic Books, 1974). It is interesting that both Hayek and Buchanan invoke Kant to buttress their otherwise quite distinct theories.
Whatever the goals of the state, there are barriers it must not cross. If checking women’s uteruses does not cross them, one wonders what would. The state has already breached many barriers, often with approving clamors from the mob.
On May 28, 2014, the Habersham County police in Georgia carried a late-night no-knock raid on a home where they thought a drug suspect would be. The SWAT rammed the door and tossed a flash-bang grenade inside. It landed in a playpen where a relative’s 19-month-old baby was sleeping, disfiguring him. Pardon the macabre joke, but the baby, called Bou Bou, had unfortunately been born 19 months before. No cop was criminally charged, except one who was indicted by a federal grand jury for lying on the affidavit requesting the warrant; she was acquitted. The parents received many millions of dollars in damages and settlements from municipal agencies. (See, for example, Mark J. Perry, “Baby Bou Bou Update, the Toddler Disfigured in a SWAT Drug Raid Based on a Warrant Obtained with False Information, AEI, July 24, 2015; “Ex-Georgia Deputy Acquitted After Flash Bang Grenade Hurts Toddler,” NBCNews, December 13, 2005; or google “Bounkham Phonesavanh.”. (Incidentally, that sort of story, which is not infrequent, suggests that Mar-a-Lago does not represent the most shameful home invasion in American history. Ordinary people get worst.)
Selling drug to adults is a victimless crime because nobody is forced to buy. Readers who have seen my previous post on abortion know that I don’t believe that abortion is always a victimless crime (“Economic Reflections on Abortion,” EconLog, August 8, 2022). The general lesson is that we must be conscious of the permanent danger of coercive government interventions; mission creep is part of the danger. Federalism and the liberty to move to another state attenuate the danger, but don’t eliminate it. And my apologies for the slightly tabloid image I chose for this post. It can’t happen here?