Humility, introspection goes long way
It’s likely that sometime soon the U.S. Supreme Court will issue its opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
At issue in Dobbs is the constitutionality of Mississippi law restricting something that begins with “A,” and you know what the “A” word is.
The Dobbs parties agree that the question presented is whether all restrictions on the “A” word are unconstitutional pre-viability. A broader question that the court needn’t reach in Dobbs is: To what extent does the U.S. Constitution speak not just to the question presented but to the “A” word in general?
Both questions can affect previous court opinions, including Roe v. Wade from 1973 and Casey v. Planned Parenthood from 1992, which changed Roe’s analysis without changing Roe’s general direction.
Let’s go out on a limb.
Well, it’s not much of a limb.
It’s not really even a limb at all.
What’s the “limb”?
This: When the court issues its Dobbs opinion, a substantial amount – and perhaps much – of the public discourse, including the press coverage, will be abysmal.
It shouldn’t be, yet it will.
Not because of the side of the debate taken by those engaging in the discourse but because of the rhetoric they use to try to advance their side of the debate.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Western New York native, offered a preview of such rhetoric on June 13 when she predicted that overruling Roe will lead to “government-mandated pregnancies.”
It’s true that restricting the “A” word prevents or otherwise hinders termination of pregnancies under the particular circumstances that the particular restriction defines. Whatever the constitutionality or the merits of the restriction, that’s a purpose – if not the purpose – of the restriction.
To put it mildly, though, it’s hyperbole – and not constructive hyperbole, so “provocative” or “inflammatory” may be a better word – to say that preventing or otherwise hindering termination of pregnancies is a pregnancy mandate.
That’s like saying that preventing or otherwise hindering assisted suicide is a terminal-illness mandate.
And, no, that’s not a comparison of pregnancy to terminal illness. It’s an illustration of why it’s hyperbole to assert that restricting the “A” word mandates pregnancies.
Furthermore, such rhetoric is over the top. As such, it detracts from constructive discourse on the subject.
Among the possibilities for those using over-the-top rhetoric are these:
¯ They’re not bright enough to know better, which in Hochul’s case isn’t plausible, or
¯ They’re bright enough to know better yet do it anyway.
All who one way or another put themselves in the public eye – including, for example, elected officials and newspaper columnists – make mistakes. Even a careful, thoughtful person occasionally says, “I shouldn’t have put it that way.”
The trick is to be not just bright enough but humble and introspective enough to learn from the mistake and try to avoid it in the future.
Hochul and others should take care to keep discourse on the “A” word constructive, especially if the high court, to whatever extent, returns decisions on restricting the “A” word to the people’s elected representatives.
Can this be hard when one feels passionately about a subject?
Yes, it can. Yet a little humility and introspection can go a long way.
Small-r republican government – that is, small-d democratically-elected-representative government – needs no less.
From all sides.
Meanwhile, Hochul is running television-campaign ads advocating amending New York’s constitution to create a state-constitutional right to the “A” word.
If Hochul wants such a constitutional right, amending the state Constitution is what she should advocate.
Let’s have that debate.
Let’s hear her explanation of the extent to which the “A” word should be legal.
Let’s also hear her explanation of why the state Constitution, rather than state statutes, should address that. Constitutions, after all, are – or at least should be – about how citizens govern themselves, not what policy results they reach.
Can these two overlap? Yes, yet they’re mostly distinct. For example, prohibition, regardless of its merits, was a policy result, so it didn’t belong in the U.S. Constitution.
First, though, let’s read the Dobbs opinion.
Randy Elf’s November 2021 column on Dobbs is at www.post-journal.com/opinion/in-our-opinion/2021/11/high-court-considers-the-a-word and www.observertoday.com/opinion/peoples-column/2021/11/supreme-court-considers-a-word.
ç 2022 BY RANDY ELF