Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies. --Groucho Marx
The article I linked to in my post about abortion combined with JDHURF's latest post about drug legalization got me thinking. It seems that the disagreements I have with with social conservatives on both issues stems from one fundamental difference between how we think about the law.
Social conservatives think that if something is "wrong," it should be illegal. I think that the law is a tool societies should use to effect beneficial change.
AbortionLet's take abortion, which we will assume for the sake of argument is "wrong." Social conservatives say, "Well, it's wrong! Therefore it must be illegal!" However, there are several problems with this line of reasoning.
First, if you believe abortion is wrong, you must want to decrease the number of them. As I wrote in my abortion post, Democrat Bill Clinton was very successful in reducing the number of abortions: abortions declined by 17.4 percent during his time in office. (Compare George W. Bush, the "pro-life" politician, under whose rule abortions increased by 14.6 percent!
Second, you must consider the negative effects of criminalizing abortion. Based on pre-Roe America, it's obvious that women will continue to seek abortions, but that they will receive substandard care by non-physicians. Before Roe, there were anywhere from 100 to 1000 deaths of women per year due to illegal abortions.
Third, you must consider whether there are other "wrongs" caused by making one "wrong" illegal. Setting aside the fact that you would be enforcing a law on women which more than 50% of women disagree with, there would be a sharp increase of unwanted children. Note that this is where criminalization really lags behind other methods of reducing abortions, morally. Under Clinton's style of reducing abortions, they are reduced because potential mothers have more support. They have sufficient health care, sufficient money to support their children, and sufficient day care to watch their children. In other words, not only are abortions reduced, but the babies born as a result are wanted and cared for! If abortion were made illegal without enacting the typically Democratic system of providing for mother and child as well, you'd end up with a lot of unwanted children who couldn't be adequately provided for. Most likely, in twenty years, you'll have a whole generation of criminals.
DrugsSome liberals and most libertarians are in favor of drug decriminalization. Most conservatives, moderates, and many liberals are in favor of keeping them illegal. I believe that we should seriously consider decriminalization, because again, I believe the law should be used to effect positive results rather than to reflect simply what the people think is bad. I think we can do better.
Here are the problems with current drug laws: First, they don't significantly reduce drug usage. According to most surveys, almost half of all American adults have tried marijuana at least once. Any high-schooler will tell you marijuana is as easy to get as is beer. Second, they send a lot of otherwise innocent people to jail, which ruins lives, breaks up families, and possibly turns otherwise innocent people into criminals by reducing career prospects and convincing them that they are already criminals anyway. Third, current drug laws make drugs more dangerous. A heroin addict, for example, needs to get heroin, but has no idea of how pure the heroin he manages to procure is, what besides heroin is in the "heroin," whethere it even is heroin, etc. This leads to a huge number of deaths by accidental overdose. Fourth, drug laws sometimes prevent law-abiding citizens from the best medical treatment. Marijuana provides relief for glaucoma, nausea and lack of appetite due to chemotherapy, and some other medical maladies. Doctors sometimes want to prescribe it, but lawmakers overrule them.
So, what's the alternative? Luckily, we have some examples of legal drugs which are just as dangerous as some illegal ones. Tobacco is the number one cause of preventable death in America and is arguably more addictive than most of the illegal drugs. Yet instead of criminalizing it, America has taken more measured action, resulting in decreased usage, something which we can't say about drug use!
Americans smoked fewer cigarettes last year than at any time since 1951, and the nation's per capita consumption of tobacco fell to levels not seen since the early 1930s, the association of state attorneys general reported yesterday.
Using data the federal government gathers when it collects taxes on cigarette sales, the group found a 4.2 percent decline in 2005 alone and an overall drop of more than 20 percent since tobacco companies reached a legal settlement with the states in 1998.
Association leaders and other tobacco-control advocates hailed the decline as a sign that sometimes-controversial developments triggered by the $246 billion settlement have been effective. The drop was a result, they said, of factors that include the sharply higher cost of cigarettes, restrictions on cigarette advertising and a shift in public perceptions as the dangers of smoking are more aggressively and widely publicized. --Smoking In U.S. Declines Sharply: Cigarette Sales At a 54-Year Low