Child's play and the highest court

I’ve always thought of blogging as having a lot in common with talk radio, and I’ve tried to follow the example and advice of some talk-show hosts I’ve admired. And one of the greats was Jerry Williams, one of the pioneers of the format.

One thing Jerry said that has always stuck with me is that he would never do a show on abortion. He boycotted the topic, and he gave three reasons:

1) Everybody has an opinion on the topic;

2) No one is going to persuade anyone else to change their opinion;

3) Absolutely nothing new has been said on the topic for about 30 years.

I’ve always thought that profoundly true, and as such have avoided the topic here.

Until now.

The abortion issue is heading back to the Supreme Court, and this time it’s over a New Hampshire law. A few years ago, the legislature passed a law requiring parental consent for a minor to have an abortion, with the only exceptions being with a court’s permission or the life of the mother. Backers of the bill very deliberately skipped the “…or health” loophole, after seeing how in so many other states “health” was stretched to involve “emotional health” or other vague excuses, gutting the purpose of the law. They wanted this to be challenged in court, and now it’s reaching the Supreme Court.

Over my life, I’ve been on both sides of this issue. When I was younger, I thought it an incredibly stupid policy — if a family simply doesn’t talk with each other, then it’s no business of the government to force them to do so. It struck me as parents failing to properly oversee their children, and getting the government to back them up — and that offended the libertarian in me, who didn’t want to see the government playing such a key role in people’s private lives.

But now, though, I’m reconsidering that position.

The most important thing for a government to be is consistent. Laws and enforcement must be predictable, for the sake of the people. They must know exactly what principles govern the laws, and how they are enforced, if they are to comply. Otherwise, our system of laws risks degenerating into chaos, anarchy, or tyranny — we need only look at other countries to see the results.

As it stands now, the government is oriented towards reinforcing the bond between parent and child. Children cannot receive body piercings or tattoos without parental consent. Schools may not give children any medication whatsoever without the parents’ approval — not even an aspirin, in many cases. In divorce cases, the government decides who gets custody of the children, and how the non-custodial parent will support that child — and enforces those decisions with the full force of the law.

Likewise, the government expects the parents to live up to those responsibilities. Parents are legally liable for the actions of their minor children — if a child commits vandalism, for example, the parents are on the hook to make restitution. Children are required to wear seat belts when in a car, and if they don’t, then the parents are cited. And parents that neglect their children are often arrested and punished.

So, in the eyes of the law, children aren’t quite property of their parents, but they are legally an “extension” of the parents.

With that in mind, and setting aside the overall issue of abortion for adults, I have to say that I support the parental notification bill in New Hampshire. It’s a logical extension of the other laws regarding parent-child relationships and responsibilities, and it has the necessary exceptions for extenuating circumstances.

And I hope the Roberts court will agree.

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