Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Role of the State

Because conservative support for the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court seems to hinge on whether she is likely to vote for the overturning of Roe vs Wade (which guarantees a constitutional right to abortion in America), I've been skimming around various news sources regarding the pro and anti-abortion arguments (I try and keep away from the terms pro-life and pro-choice; both of them are totally ridiculous). One link I followed threw up something that disturbed me quite greatly. Nothing to do with abortion - I still don't know exactly how you would characterise my position in two words, and to be honest, I don't ever want to get to that stage either. Instead, it was what the comment implied about the role of the state:

It is indefensible for government (which can legally require parental involvement) to, by default, encourage girls to exclude their parents during this time in their lives.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it. Simply by the fact that the government claims competency to legislate in this area, its failure to legislate means that it is actually encouraging a certain type of behaviour. This is an obviously fallacious argument - by that token, government encourages alcohol consumption after 18 in the UK; government, by failing to ban the sale of automobiles, encourages their purchase.

If this is taken as read, how can George Bush actually claim that he believes in smaller government? It goes back to a regular theme of mine; no matter which side of the Atlantic, or which party you support, they all believe in big government, just directed towards their own interests.

That is not the point of the state. In the case of abortion, the state is there to protect the rights of a pregnant mother. There's no blanket solution - any solution in this case has to be one of shades of grey, and anyone who pretends the issue is black and white is an idiot. The state is not there to take sides to encourage or prevent an abortion; to encourage or prevent parental involvement.

By not legislating in a certain area, the government does not promote or discourage anything. It simply butts its nose out of where it isn't in the right position to make a judgement. That's as it should be. There is no hard or fast answer as to whether parental involvement in decisions on abortions is right or wrong. Circumstance is everything, and thus just about every state that has introduced a parental involvement law does allow exceptions in certain circumstances.

The reason this worries me so much is because if the argument is accepted here, the principle could seep into a broader political culture and become intensely damaging; seeing a far more interventionist government because the state is seen as a moral arbiter rather than a force that is there to provide a safety net where it is needed most.