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What is Justice?

On abortion and the death penalty.

by James Leroy Wilson
September 11, 2003

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What is Justice?_James Leroy Wilson-On Abortion and the Death Penalty The execution of Paul Hill in Florida, who murdered an abortion doctor, has finally linked the death penalty and abortion in reality.

Rhetorically, they've been linked for a long time. You know how it goes: why would someone be "pro-life" yet support the death penalty? Or the other way around: if you support executing innocent life, why not murderers?

It doesn't take too much reflection to conclude that this connection is absurd. The very same people, on both the left and the right, don't seem to agonize so much over the innocent people dead because the FDA delays approval of life-saving drugs. Or the death toll when criminals can prey upon the law-abiding who have no legal means of defending themselves because they're not allowed to carry a gun. But the very possibility of an innocent person being executed induces horror not felt when Iraqi children stumble on live shells. ("The unfortunate consequences of war. How tragic ... Did you see the Giants game?")

I say that, but not to mock the self-satisfied and conscience-free, but to admit that I used to feel that way myself, particularly during the first Persian Gulf War. At the time, I thought myself as being "consistently pro-life," being both anti-abortion and anti-death penalty. But I supported that war. I was wrong: war - any war - kills more innocent people than the death penalty in the United States ever will.

I still oppose the death penalty. And, short of resisting invasions, I oppose all war. And I oppose all drug regulation that prevents risk-taking among willing adults, though as in all industries I would support a law code that condemns fraud. And I support the right to life for adults, namely, the right to defend oneself from violence through gun ownership.

All of these policies would save lives and limit the power of the State. Legal, unregulated, and therefore less expensive, drugs (of all kinds) would save more lives. No one would be compelled to take a drug, nor be denied it. What right do I, or a politician, or a health bureaucrat, have to make such a decision for another individual? The decriminalization of narcotics would "normalize" industries now controlled by murderous gangsters. More innocent people are killed by Drug War-induced gangland shootings, and of federal and state policemen shooting innocent people by mistake in their hunt for drug dealers, than are killed by the death penalty.

Criminal violence would be curtailed if criminals were unsure if their targeted victim was carrying a gun. The right to life is the right to defend oneself, and can't not be so. Where more people are allowed to own guns, violent crime rates plummet. And even if they did not, I have no right to tell other people that they should not be allowed to defend themselves as they see fit.

But in all of these areas in which I'm "pro-life," there is the added bonus that all of these powers would diminish the role of The State in our lives. That's always a good thing. The less we the people have to support the living of the soldier, the cop, the politician, and the bureaucrat, the better off we will be.

But then there is the abortion question. Leaving aside the Constitutional argument, the question becomes: should the state prohibit abortions?

To understand how topsy-turvy this issue is, the typical Democratic politician says stuff he doesn't even believe, like a "woman has a right to her own body" and "government should stay our of our sex life." Oh, you believe that, Mr. Democrat? But you won't let a woman dying from cancer to have the pain-relieving drugs she desires. You won't let her carry a gun and protect herself from domestic violence and rape.

More than that: you would force the woman who didn't get pregnant to pay taxes on threat of imprisonment, to fund the abortions of women who did get pregnant. Where is the woman's "right to choose?" in that, Mr. Democrat?

The Democratic Party's core philosophy is to live off the wealth created by others, in the name of compassion. It hates freedom, and advocates socialism at every politically-safe opportunity. It is not "liberal" on social issues. Otherwise, it would stand for ending the War on Drugs. And it would call for, not the State intervention into homosexual marriages, but the abolition of all State-licensed marriages. (Another case in which Democrats want to intrude into the bedroom while pretending they're not) And in that lens, to the extent that it is "pro-choice" on abortion is only proof that it wants the votes of people who like the idea of abortions. Otherwise, it has no principled stand for it, or for a woman's body. There is nothing about a woman's body, or beliefs, or the product of her labor, or the property that she owns, or any choice she makes, that a Democrat doesn't want completely looted, regulated, or banned - except her right to an abortion.

Whereas many conscientious libertarians agree that, if the State should prohibit anything at all, it would be abortions in order to protect innocent life, Democrats hold abortion as the one and only thing that shouldn't be regulated.

Nevertheless, I have to side with the "pro-choice" argument, and I support the general libertarian position on this issue. Ultimately, if abortions are right or wrong, there's nothing that legislation can do on the matter. If abortions are wrong, in the sense that it violates the laws of Nature and of Nature's God, the woman, and the abortion practitioner, are ultimately going to suffer or "pay" for it somehow. And if abortions are never wrong, than to prohibit them is to fight against the laws of Nature of and Nature's God, and the State, and everyone under its rule, is going to suffer. And finally, if abortions are sometimes justified and sometimes not, there is no mechanism within the State's government, legislation, or bureaucracy that can guarantee a more just result than would a mutual agreement between a woman, who thinks aborting the baby is just, and a doctor who might agree and perform the abortion.

And if abortions are always wrong, because they take innocent life, and should be prohibited, then we find ourselves in the same place where death penalty advocates are: leaving it up to the politicians to decide just punishments. So, upon further consideration, maybe these two issues should be linked.

My position on the death penalty goes like this: if it is justified to use lethal force to prevent the crime, then lethal force is a just punishment if one is convicted of the crime. But even in that case, who decides? My opinion on what would be justified lethal force may not be the opinion of those who control The State, who may have more stringent standards, or more lax ones. The problem with the death penalty, aside from the possibility of executing the innocent by accident or political cover, is that the very time and expense of maintaining it, through elaborate and expensive appeals processes ostensibly to avoid an innocent conviction, is that it robs the taxpayer as much or more so than would life in prison for the convict.

In the matter of life and death, no universal standard of "justice" can apply, for the same reason that justice can't calculate choices in the marketplace. Just as each person's choices are different from each other, so are each person's talents and deficiencies. A talented medical doctor with some weird perversions who kills a lot of women, may deserve a different punishment than a border-line retarded man who may have raped (not thinking it was rape) and murdered (out of rage) an innocent woman. A uniform punishment for particular kinds of crime may aid The State's reputation for integrity and equality, but doesn't promote "justice."

In fact, The State, no matter its form of government, can not possibly enforce justice. That is the last thing it is capable of doing. It can't even equitably distinguish between retarded men and evil geniuses. It gives an automatic ten-year sentence to the 18 year-old drawn into drug dealing, as the 33 year-old veteran gangster.

So how in the world can it choose which abortions are "just" and which are not? More importantly, as with the death penalty, who is qualified to mete out the punishment? Is the abortionist mainly at fault, or the woman seeking an abortion?

There are means of dealing with violent criminals, short of extorting from the people the funds to pay for their imprisonment or execution. Shunning, and exile, come to mind. But we will not likely see the dismantling of the prison-industrial complex anytime soon. The question is, should we add abortionists and the women who seek them to its ranks, or just leave them alone?

Women who seek abortions, and the doctors who perform them, do not appear to otherwise be of a criminal mind. They do not go around robbing and killing other people. Instead, they view their actions as a free exchange: the woman, sovereign over her body and the regulator of what comes in and out of her body, can be judged before God's Laws if she seeks an abortion. The doctor, who is free to refuse his services, is not compelled to perform the abortion, and if he chooses to do it, he too, may be judged before God's Laws. Human-created "legislation" is but a joke and a waste of taxpayer money when compared to God's Laws. Responsibility for upholding God's Laws are up to God, not to us. No human legislature can repeal and replace God's Law of gravity. How foolish to think we can legislate human behavior, as if it was different from the laws of Nature's God. Those who believe in God have a responsibility to live by his Laws. We don't have a responsibility to cram our own opinions of what is "just" through our votes down the throats of other people.

What do we as a society, or as a State, to say about abortion? Nothing at all. We can, and should, withdraw government funding of abortions. But trying to regulate and prohibit abortions themselves is far too problematic. We are unable to discover justice even in the cases of juvenile and adult human actors, people of society. How can we discover justice when the victim in question is inside a woman's womb?

What right do we have to be the "government" of a woman's body, or anyone's body? We don't have the right because we don't have the competence. We don't know what justice is. And The State is the last place to find it.

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