I appreciate Jim Capretta’s response to my First Things article, and especially his emphasis on the legitimacy of disagreement among pro-life people. (I tried very hard to avert the tragedy of mutual ostracism around Democrats for Life, to no avail. Let us hope that such own-goals can be avoided in the future.)
Let me start off by admitting that I am a reformed socialist. I used to think that compassion required the redistribution of luck by the government. I changed my mind and now think that holding the state (or any agency) accountable for most of the endemic misfortunes in life would create far greater misery and resentment than it would avoid. We should not come to think, as socialists tend to argue, that almost every deficit in our lives is at least indirectly due to a failure of state action. None of us are now unhappy because we have no wings with which to fly. But if we thought (or even suspected) a government agency that rationed wings to be responsible for our plight, we would be weighted down with resentment. Far better to limit the responsibilities of government and to facilitate the freely given generosity of priivately organized churches and other charities.
Still, there are advantages to “state action.” Where state action is involved, community decisions can be legally addressed and limited. If abortion and euthanasia are returned completely to the private market, given our widely pro-death courts and culture, I fear that they could easily continue to creep into our psyches without a good way to combat them. Only legal prohibitions would sometimes remain as a possibility. But the Supreme Court has made prohibitions nearly impossible with regard to abortion and, in any event, I am not sure prohibition is always the best way to seek cultural change, at least in our libertaran society. Better, perhaps, to teach the wrongfulness of abortion via its exclusion from public funding, and even better, via government campaigns against it along the lines of the anti-smoking campaign.
However, I do agree that we should never be willing to give up “exit” in order to get more “voice.” I would like us to fight the good fight for life in the public square with regard to health insurance. But if we lose, if death remains the favored option in our public health insurance plan, I want to remain free to purchase pro-life insurance with my own dime. We must be careful to resist the totalitarian pretensions of those who would pull the plug on all public assistance for anyone who dared to seek additional support, or even dared to spend his/her own money for care not covered by the public plan. We need a public insurance to give pro-life greater voice, but if the other side shouts so loudly that we can no longer be heard, we will need an emergency exit by which to escape.
Richard Stith is professor of law at Valparaiso University School of Law and the author most recently of The Legal Validation of Sexual Relationships (Wm. S. Hein & Co.).