Deciding Issues of Rights, Responsibilities, and Governance
Two Topics Dominate the News – More is at Stake Than the Obvious
While Ukraine and other important issues continue to be important and visible, two new topics have seized the headlines and our consciousness: the sale of Twitter and the risks to reproductive freedom, especially for those without economic or political power, in today’s America.
Both issues have some components that often are overlooked but are key to why there is so much energy around both issues. Let’s take a look.
The still to be finalized but likely to go through purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk, a cash sale to a single owner, has generated a lot of discussion, as well it should. I have mentioned before that there is much to admire about Musk, but judgement on social and political issues is not on that list. Overall, this likely bodes poorly for the already disastrous social media landscape.
Musk has been loud in proclaiming the importance of free speech. Hard to argue with that. Of all the amendments to the constitution, the First Amendment is arguably the most important (followed perhaps by the Fourteenth Amendment, but that is another blog post to be created).
Of course, the constitutional guarantee of free speech is about government interference. It does not apply to private or commercial entities. That is both the good news and the bad news on this sale.
Because Musk will be a private, one-person owner, he can pretty well do anything he wants. Here is the first wrinkle in this purchase. By now we all recognize that social media is inconceivably powerful, with a lot of negative aspects.
We have yet to figure out how best to moderate this medium, almost all of which is owned and directed, largely at whim, but a small handful of billionaires.
This brings us to the second wrinkle in this event. While Musk can correctly cite the importance of free speech, he should not get a pass on neglecting responsible speech. Given the power of social media, it is irresponsible to say anyone can say anything at any time to anyone and everyone.
Musk has talked about Twitter being a town square. Bad analogy. It is more like a giant megaphone that reaches almost everyone, not just a handful of people gathered in the park around a soap box. Given the clear history of spreading falsehoods and encouragement of violence and other negatives, responsible speech is as important as free speech. We need, as a society, to break this conundrum and find a better balance. Some 21st Century version of the Fairness Doctrine is needed.
The leaked draft Supreme Court ruling is as bad as one might have thought, but certainly not unexpected. Seems like the last 3 Supreme Court nominees lied in their confirmation testimony about this issue. Shocking!
The not often cited wrinkle here is the question of where rights lie. Alioto’s draft (we are reminded again that he is the worst writer on this court) argues that this is not an area suitable for federal oversight, that it belongs to the states.
This is, in fact, a fall back to states’ writers. And it is fundamentally incorrect. The right to decide what to do with one’s own body, and whether or not to launch another human being into existence, is neither a state or a federal right – it is a human right.
It is so fundamental, so personal that it must be left to the individual. To force someone who does believe in this right to have an abortion or to force someone to have a child because you don’t believe in freedom of choice is as wrong as can be.
We Have Had It About Right
For decades now, the vast majority of the country has decided that abortion should be an available option, with some restrictions. Roe vs Wade hit the perfect balance, in its trimester approach, of honoring personal decisions while guarding society’s interests.
Forcing others to live by someone else’s beliefs on so personal and fundamental a matter is simply wrong. You are welcome to try convincing others of the logic and morality of your position. Forcing them to make lifetime decisions based on your views is wrong.
The other wrinkle here is the fall back to states’ rights. I am having a difficult time coming up with an example of where this assertion has gone well for our citizens at large. This was the foundational belief that underwrote slavery, then segregation. Most of the mean-spirited exclusionary legislation and policy in our history has been put in place under the banner of states’ rights. It has seldom gone well.
A Giant Step Backwards
If this is the basic approach, what would be next? State laws in the past have banned interracial marriage, gay rights, public health standards, and more. The draft court ruling seems to open the door for anything and everything any state legislature decides they do not like. Human rights be damned. This is a bottomless pit of evil that should be closed once and for all.
We can recognize what the constitution says about this, but in so doing we must also acknowledge the importance of the Fourteenth Amendment and why it has so often been cited top outweigh states’ rights as a governing concept.
It seems to me we are approaching a point in our history wherein states’ rights is about ready to join the Electoral College on the trash pile of ideas that did not work out very well.
A Few Encouraging Footnotes on Reproductive Freedom
For those in despair about the direction the Supreme Court seems to be heading, a few items of good news to consider:
- Most abortions in the US are now done by taking a pill. Not so much as in Europe but growing rapidly. Having access to medical help in case of a problem is important, but the need for surgical clinics is disappearing.
- No doubt there are people who want to ban such pills and their movement by mail. They hope to do so by state laws. This is interstate commerce and personal actions. No way any rational court would support such an effort to ban.
- The most agitated anti-choice people would like to see a Federal ban on abortions. Good luck with that, folks. Your supreme court is about to issue a ruling saying the Federal government should not have a roll in this.
- Several states are moving to be regional centers for reproductive choice, making it easier for out of state citizens to access abortions and reproductive care from them. Many will not have the means to travel to such places, but many will.
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