Recently, Kansas has become a center of controversy between conservatives and liberals on the topic of health care regulation. The Kansas state legislature has passed strict regulations on doctors and clinics threatening to prevent them from providing services to patients, thereby severely limiting the freedom of patients to choose services available to them.
One would expect that conservatives who oppose government intervention in the health care industry would oppose such legislation. Interestingly, it is conservatives who have backed this regulation. The regulated service is abortion.
After decades of increasing opposition, three clinics providing abortions have managed to remain in operation. The few doctors left who provide abortions have faced serious, even violent opposition. But the new legislation, which imposes strict new facility standards, could only be intended to shut down these last holdouts:
The new requirements require facilities to add extra bathrooms, drastically expand waiting and recovery areas, and even add larger janitor’s closets, as one clinic employee mentioned—changes that clinics will have a heck of a time pulling off by the deadline. Under the new rule, clinics must also acquire state certification to admit patients, a process that takes 90 to 120 days, a staffer explained, which makes it impossible for clinics to comply. And clinics that don’t comply with the rules will face fines or possible closure.
Additionally, the health department must issue new licenses every year, and health inspectors may show up unannounced, at any time to perform inspections. Because of these rules, the state has already denied licenses to two of the three remaining clinics, putting their future operation on shaky ground.
This suggests a serious ideological contradiction. Conservatives have branded themselves as champions of freedom from intrusive government and campaign based on their dedication to it, yet it is they who are dedicated to shutting down these clinics. Why is abortion an exception to such a significant conservative principle? The answer lies in the ultimate political end pursued by many conservatives: service to a higher power. Conservative opposition to abortion rights derives from the premise that human fetuses have a soul from conception, and are therefore considered citizens with full protection under the law.
Should such a premise be a basis for government policy? If conservatives were truly dedicated to the principles of our Founders, as they so often profess to be, they would realize that the answer is “no.” They would see that a government should not impose laws based on religion, lest it sacrifice the autonomy of conscience guaranteed by a separation of church and state. In the case of abortion, any government action to restrict its practice amounts to a government mandate to conform to the religious teachings of Christianity, regardless of differing opinions on the matter.
Kept free of religious influence, government must act to enforce policy based on publicly accessible facts. The religious view of rights is a matter of private faith, and thus cannot form the basis for government action. In the case of abortion, it follows that rights can only be regarded as pertaining to an actual human life: a fully autonomous, individual human being. Conservatives, if they are in fact, champions of liberty, should understand that the sustenance of a potential human being not yet individuated from its mother cannot be of greater importance than the life of its mother, an actual human being. Leonard Peikoff explains this point:
The status of the embryo in the first trimester is the basic issue that cannot be sidestepped. The embryo is clearly pre-human; only the mystical notions of religious dogma treat this clump of cells as constituting a person.
We must not confuse potentiality with actuality. An embryo is a potential human being. It can, granted the woman’s choice, develop into an infant. But what it actually is during the first trimester is a mass of relatively undifferentiated cells that exist as a part of a woman’s body. If we consider what it is rather than what it might become, we must acknowledge that the embryo under three months is something far more primitive than a frog or a fish. To compare it to an infant is ludicrous.
If we are to accept the equation of the potential with the actual and call the embryo an “unborn child,” we could, with equal logic, call any adult an “undead corpse” and bury him alive or vivisect him for the instruction of medical students.
To be consistent with the image they have built, conservatives should respect the right of a woman to exercise her own free will with regard to her body. This right applies to abortion in two respects: to her right to rid her body of a mass of cells or bundle of tissue, and to her right to participate in a private transaction in the free market that conservatives otherwise champion.
The conservatives fighting the battle against abortion rights in Kansas are showing the nation that they do not truly value the rights of the living: of the woman who is entitled to the right to purchase such services, to value her own life over a potential life, and of the doctor who is entitled to put his services on the market. These conservatives only defend individual liberty when it suits their religious purposes. Conservatives who truly value individual liberty and who wish to show the nation that they will fight for the principles they campaign on, must take a stand in Kansas. They must show the nation that they will battle government regulation of abortion with the same intensity as they have Obamacare.
The Undercurrent is a magazine distributed at college campuses and communities across the country. We release a print edition once per semester, and in the interim, regularly post additional articles, blog entries, and campus media responses reports to our website.
The Undercurrent's cultural commentary is based on Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism. Objectivism, which animates Ayn Rand's fiction, is a systematic philosophy of life. It holds that the universe is orderly and comprehensible, that man survives by reason, that his life and happiness comprise his highest moral purpose, and that he flourishes only in a society that protects his individual rights.
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