When America’s political right wing talks about individual liberty they aren’t talking about autonomous individual freedom. They are talking about their freedom to tell others what to do, their right to curb the freedom of others.
It’s an obvious point, but it’s a point often missing from our public political conversation. Instead, conservatives are framed as the champions of individual liberty and the left defined as advocates of the collective over the individual.
The conservative hunger for authority over others is perfectly visible in their ongoing war on women. Consider the pending legislation in Arizona that would require women to get the permission of their employers before insurance policies would cover birth control pills prescribed for health reasons other than preventing pregnancy. Or consider the wave of so-called “sonogram” bills initiated by conservatives so fanatic they mandate non-medical, trans-vaginal violation of women seeking pregnancy terminations.
The controversy over the Obama Administration contraceptive policy is all about the Catholic Church’s authority over its non-church employees. All their indignant and misleading talk about the loss of religious liberty disguises their real agenda: perpetuation of their “natural” order in which they get a free hand to diminish the liberty of their inferiors.
Not long ago the media referred to these right-wing officeholders and their backers as “value voters.” Their opponents’ struggle for individual liberty was somehow viewed as an immoral pursuit.
You want to see a picture of immorality? The Texas Observer has a poignant, first-person piece by Carolyn Jones in which she tells of her harrowing encounter with Texas’ new sonogram bill.
Doctors discovered the baby she carried suffered from a molecular flaw that meant his brain, spine and legs would not develop correctly. Physicians recommended termination to prevent a life of terrible, inhuman suffering. Ms. Jones and her husband then encountered the consequences of the state’s mandatory sonogram law.
My doctor went on to tell us that, just two weeks prior, a new Texas law had come into effect requiring that women wait an extra 24 hours before having the procedure. Moreover, Austin has only one clinic providing second-trimester terminations, and that clinic might have a long wait. “Time is not on your side,” my doctor emphasized gently. For this reason, she urged us to seek a specialist’s second opinion the moment we left her office. “They’re ready for you,” she said, before ushering us out the back door to shield us from the smiling patients in the waiting room.
Ms. Jones goes on to detail the anguish suffered at the hands of right-wing legislators who think nothing of the harm they do others as long as their own authority is maintained.
…after a moment’s pause, she told me reluctantly about the new Texas sonogram law that had just come into effect. I’d already heard about it. The law passed last spring but had been suppressed by legal injunction until two weeks earlier.
My counselor said that the law required me to have another ultrasound that day, and that I was legally obligated to hear a doctor describe my baby. I’d then have to wait 24 hours before coming back for the procedure. She said that I could either see the sonogram or listen to the baby’s heartbeat, adding weakly that this choice was mine.
“I don’t want to have to do this at all,” I told her. “I’m doing this to prevent my baby’s suffering. I don’t want another sonogram when I’ve already had two today. I don’t want to hear a description of the life I’m about to end. Please,” I said, “I can’t take any more pain.”
I urge you to read the entire story.
Last week my colleague, James Moore (co-author of the book, Bush’s Brain) and I published a piece at Huffington Post urging men to stand up on behalf of women. Men have a moral responsibility to defend the rights of women, especially when it’s women’s bodies and their rights to make their own health care choices. I also think that those us of committed to individual freedom from coercion and oppression must defend our values anywhere and everywhere they are under assault.
I’ve included the ad we made to draw attention to the fight in Texas, but it’s a fight that needs to be fought everywhere. As we make the fight it’s important to frame the terms of the debate accurately: champions of individual freedom versus the advocates of authority, obedience and hierarchy.