The whole Rush Limbaugh “slut” incident has brought to the forefront the issue of “reproductive rights.” The woman whom Rush called a slut was speaking at a congressional event. Rush later apologized. She called for the Catholic university Georgetown, where she is a law student, to pay for her birth control. She considers this one of her “reproductive rights.”
When somebody says they have a “right” to something, I think it behooves all people to consider what a right is and a right isn’t. Is there such a thing as “reproductive rights?”
The answer is yes and no.
The first step should be to define “reproductive rights.” If we go to Wikipedia, we find the following:
Reproductive rights may include some or all of the following: the right to legal or safe abortion, the right to birth control, the right to access quality reproductive healthcare, and the right to education and access in order to make free and informed reproductive choices. Reproductive rights may also include the right to receive education about contraception and sexually transmitted infections, and freedom from coerced sterilization, abortion, and contraception, and protection from gender-based practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and male genital mutilation (MGM).
As I say, some of these truly are rights, and others are not. I will get to that distinction in a second, but first let’s discuss what a right is and isn’t. When I discuss these rights, I would like to mention that I think these are natural rights that should apply to all societies at all times. Obviously we live in a fallen world where these rights often do not apply. But the purpose of this post is to point out what rights we should and should not have.
You have three natural rights: life, liberty and property. These are rights that are given to you because of your basic humanity. These rights are mentioned twice in the Constitution and are also mentioned in D&C 134:2. The rights in the Bill of Rights flow from these rights. So, for example, you have a right to free speech because you have a right to liberty. You have a right to bear arms because you have a right to liberty, a right to protect your life from aggression and a right to your own property. You have a right to protection from unjust “searches and seizures” because you have a right to liberty and a right to property. From a religious perspective, we have a right to belong to a minority religion such as the LDS church because we have a right to liberty. And so on.
There are certain things that you don’t have a right to. You do not have a right to your neighbor’s car, no matter how rich and evil you think your neighbor is. In fact, if you go confiscate your neighbor’s car, the police will likely throw you in jail, and with good reason. Anarchy is a state where people go around saying they have a “right” to other peoples’ stuff (this is essentially looting).
So, to sum up, you have a right to things that do not infringe on other peoples’ rights. Your rights to life, liberty and property do not harm other people. As a free person born into this world, you have the right to do what you like with your life as long as you do not harm other people.
It is also key to understand that you have a right to your own body. You should be able to treat your body as you will as long as you do not harm others.
You do not, however, have a right to insist that other people give you things (through force) or that other peoples’ money should be spent on your body. As I say, you can do what you please to your body, and we may make very different decisions about how we treat our own bodies, but if you insist that somebody else, through force, give you money so that you can do what you want to your body you are infringing on that other person’s rights.
So, for example, forcing somebody else to pay for your birth control is a violation of the other person’s rights. That person may want to spend his or her own money (property) on something else. You do not have the right to take money from another person for your own needs. This is no different than going over and confiscating your neighbor’s car. It is also worth mentioning that the person from whom you are confiscating money may have religious and/or moral objections to your using their money for birth control. You do not have the right to use another person’s money to do things to which they object morally. This is a double violation of rights.
So, let’s look at the different “reproductive rights” mentioned above.
Do you have a right to a legal or safe abortion? Yes and no. As I discuss in this post, we do not know when a human being becomes a human being. Logic dictates that it happens sometime after conception and sometime before the baby is a 2-4 month-old fetus. So, you should have a right to an abortion immediately after conception, and perhaps even up to 2-3 months after conception. But clearly you should not have a right to an abortion (except in the cases of rape, incest or the health of the mother) if the baby is eight months old. An eight-month-old baby is clearly viable, and killing it is harming another human being, which you do not have a right to do. Do you have the right to insist that other people pay for your abortion? No, you do not. Do you have the right to insist that a doctor give you an abortion if he has moral objections? No, you do not.
Do you have a right to birth control? You have a right to do what you will with your own body, but you do not have a right to force other people to pay for your birth control.
Do you have a right to access quality reproductive healthcare? You have a right to access any care you can, but you do not have a right to force other people to pay for your healthcare.
Do you have a right to education and access in order to make free and informed reproductive choices? You should have the freedom to study whatever you want, but you do not have the right to force other people to pay for your education.
Do you have a right to freedom from coerced sterilization, abortion, and contraception, and protection from gender-based practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and male genital mutilation (MGM) Definitely. Any coercion is a violation of your natural rights and should be condemned by all people.
I would like to add in another right that is not usually considered in terms of reproductive rights. This is the right to reproduce, meaning the right to have as many babies as you want. This right is regularly violated in some countries, but this truly is a reproductive right.
The basic principle here should be clear: you cannot coerce other people to do things for you against their will, and they cannot coerce you to do anything against your will. This principle of nonaggression should be the basis of all societal interactions. Is the world like this? Definitely not. People will always find reasons to justify coercion against others. But this does not make it right.
Note to commenters: if this post makes you angry, it’s probably best not to comment. Your comment will never be seen by the public anyway. If you have a polite disagreement, comment away. All comments will be moderated.
My whole issue with this debate is that the people who are screaming for free birth control are the same people who scream, “Get your rosaries off my ovaries” and similar bumper sticker mantras. They cannot have it both ways. The govt is either in your life, telling you what you can and cannot do, or it is out.
My personal wish is that women like Sandra Fluke really take a minute and drop the “victim” mentality that is so everpresent among feminists. Take charge of your sexual behavior by making responsible choices and accepting the consquences for all of your choices. The choice is not to have the abortion, it’s not to get pregnant in the first place…and that means if you choose to be sexually active, take responsiblity for your own actions — don’t expect others to do for you — abstain or use contraception that you’ve paid for.
As for the cost of contraceptives, having been with and without insurance over the course of my adult life, I can truthfully say that generic brands of the pill are out there for as low as $10 a month. If you can afford coffee at Starbucks or lunch out once a week, you can afford the pill without insurance.
First off, this is an excellent post. I don’t agree with all your conclusions, but it is well reasoned and a rational conservative approach.
I think you could refine your first paragraph a bit in order to be more accurate. Ms. Fluke has not demanded that Georgetown pay for her birth control. From her testimony it is not clear if Fluke takes birth control or desires to, because she never discussed anything regarding her own healthcare.
My understanding is that students at Georgetown are required to be covered by health insurance as a condition of enrollment. Georgetown allows students to buy insurance through them in order for the students to comply with this requirement of the university. Students bear 100% of the cost of the plan, not the university and not the Catholic Church. She is asking that the plan be altered to provide for birth control.
These are small nuances, but I believe they are important in this discussion.
Finally, many people in this debate, including Joyce Anderson above claim that birth control is incredibly inexpensive. In many cases this is true. But we shouldn’t be fooled by the phrase “the pill.” There are a variety of different birth control pills, which have different side effects and some of which are used to therapeutically rather than simply for reasons of birth control. Some of these can indeed cost over $80 a month retail. If you doctor determines that such a formulation is medically necessary for you, then the $10 a month retail option that is frequently cited might simply be a canard. Anyone going on medication should discuss it with their physician and get the medicine that is right for their situation.
In the FWIW department, Planned Parenthood says the pill costs between $15-$50 a month. Most people spend a lot more than that at Starbucks and certainly on their cell phones. I don’t think other people should pay for the Starbucks trips or for other people’s cell phones either.
A box of condoms is pretty cheap (get the jumbo size). The IUD works out pretty cheap over time, as does a diaphram.
Perfect libertarian answer, Geoff. And I wholly agree with it.
I also should not expect others to pay for my hip replacement surgery, my sex change (no, I’m not doing it anyway), or anything else.
Rights do not cost anyone else anything. Inventing “rights” or “freebies” has nothing to do with real rights or real freedom. Ms Fluke is a product of our age, and that is a generation of selfish, self-centered people that insist the world owes them a living. And that there should be no consequences to their choices.
I’m just speaking from my own experience. A generic Rx of Ortho-tricyclen, which is a very common oral contraceptive, is about $8-10 w/o insurance depending on your pharmacy.
What Geoff is describing is the philosophical difference between negative and positive rights. And he is wholly correct in his analysis — the right for you to do something does not compel me in any way to pay for your choice.
Good on you, Geoff.
a random John, I agree the nuances you present are small, but I do not see how they are important.
If Fluke wants birth control as part of her health care, she needs to go to a school that provides it, get a job that provides it, start a business and choose to provide it, or buy it outright herself.
The whiners who constantly complain that their employers don’t provide all the things they are tantrumming about is astonishing. Why doesn’t she just become an employer and provide her magical wish list to everyone? Oh, what? It’s not so easy? Exactly.
This whole theory only works if you are paying out of pocket for your healthcare. If you purchase health insurance, you are helping to pay for other people’s healthcare. Your premiums help to pay the cost of the obese person’s hypertension and diabetes, the smoker’s asthma and the preemie’s stay in the NICU. Do we really want to discuss how people who are overweight should pay more for their premiums…or the parent that chooses to keep their brain-dead daughter on life support? I certainly think that anyone who has a health insurance plan they have to subscribe to (my employer has one choice), should be active in advocating for preventative care. Frankly, I’m all for preventative care (birth control), it makes my premiums a lot cheaper.
“A box of condoms is pretty cheap (get the jumbo size).”
You’re talking about a volume discount, right?
In addition to whatever one agrees are natural rights, there are also legal rights. That is, as an example, if a country decides that there will be universal free primary education, then all children will be eligible, and all taxpayers will contribute whether they like it or not. So there are many rights which arise out of what our elected representatives decide, and in this way they “force” us to spend our money in many ways we might not necessarily choose.
Singleinthecity, health insurance is no longer insurance. It is about government-controlled health mandates. If it were truly insurance, people would simply buy a catastrophic policy, that would be relatively cheap, and would pay out of pocket for doctors’ visits. Your auto insurance doesn’t pay for oil changes, nor should it (auto insurance would become too expensive). If we are discussing pooling risk, which is what insurance really should be about, I have no problem paying for other peoples’ Ferraris crashing because they are paying higher rates than I am. The same thing would apply to a true health insurance risk pool (if we had such a thing, which we don’t).
Bill, #9, the answer is: both.
Bill, #10, yes, as I note in the OP, we have lost all touch with what rights really are about. I am against our current public education system, which is not at all about rights and is all about government force. The worst thing about a system of force is that inevitably the poor suffer the most (note that the worst schools are in areas where people have no other choices but the public system, whereas a truly market-based system would create other choices). I would like to return the power to the people to make their own decisions with their own money.
I want to say a word in defense of Sandra Fluke. What she was prepared to testify about at the congressional hearing was a fellow Georgetown student who had a problem with Ovarian cysts. One of the best treatments for these type of cysts is taking oral contraceptives. Georgetown refused to pay for the contraceptives, the condition got worse and the individual lost an ovary.
This is an excellent illustration of why mandating isnurance companies paying for preventive care is wise policy on medical economic and moral grounds. A shout out to singleinthecity on that point.
Preventive medical care is not like an oil change, regular oil changes will not keep you from crashing your car while preventive medical care may keep you out of the hospital and incurring higher medical bills.
I know most people who comment on this blog oppose health care reform. However an annonymous poll by the American Bar Assocation shows that 85% of expert supreme court watchers believe that the individual madate will be upheld.They are correct if stare decis and respect for precedent mean anything to the Supreme Court.
As I mentioned on this blog a few weeks back the U.S. Supreme Court case from 1982 of U.S.v. Lee held that an Amish small businessmen must pay social security taxes even it went aqainst his religous principles. Again if precedent means anything the mandate that insurance companies pay for contraception for employeees of religously affilated isitutions sucah as hospitals and schools does NOT violate the free exercise clause of the first amendment.
I am confident that when the dust settles in a few years, the indivdual mandate to purchase insurance and the mandate that insurers cover contraception will be seen as blessing to the nation and individulas and no threat to personal and/or religous liberty.
John’s meme is common on the left, but a red herring. Sandra Fluke did mention a friend who needed birth control for cysts, but Georgetown’s own policies allow for such medication (which actually leads me to think this friend may not exist or may be lying or was the victim of a bureaucratic error).
Your comment implies that you do not have any health insurance. I hope that you do. You have work for the government or a government contractor, right?
Allison Moore Smith,
I think they are meaningful distinctions. People have frequently inaccurately characterized Ms. Fluke, her testimony, and the situation regarding students at Georgetown. I am not talking about Rush Limbaugh in this case. I am talking about people claiming that she’s insisting that the Catholic Church pay for her birth control, or that she personally is demanding birth control for herself.
I don’t think that Geoff did anything egregious here, and the minor inaccuracy in his first paragraph doesn’t really affect his argument. I was just trying to inject a few often overlooked facts because to me they are meaningful. I am not demanding that you agree on that point, simply asking that you consider them and hoping that people will remember them in future discussions of this issue.
This post is about an issue much, much bigger than Sandra Fluke, but for the sake of accuracy, here is what Wikipedia says about the issue:
“Speaking to a meeting of Democratic members of the House of Representatives, organized as the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee in an event that was recorded but not televised, Fluke argued in favor of requiring religious institutions, including those with moral objections to some or all contraception, to provide free contraception in their health insurance. She said that over the three years as a law student, birth control could cost $3,000 or more. She also stated the 40% of Georgetown Law School’s female population suffered financial hardship as a result of the fact that birth control was not covered by the student health insurance plan, and that Federal free contraceptive programs such as Title X could not meet this need. She continued that the lack of free contraception coverage in the university insurance plans would induce many low income students to go without contraceptives.
She then discussed the consequence of such policies, anecdotally citing a friend with polycystic ovary syndrome who needed contraceptive hormones for non-contraceptive purposes to treat this disease and whose out-of-pocket cost was over $100 per month. While the condition was “covered by Georgetown insurance”, the insurance company repeatedly denied coverage of her prescription based on the idea that the true purpose of the medication was contraception, despite the doctor’s verification of her condition. She also added that this is not a rare event for women with these medical conditions under insurance plans that did not cover contraception. She then stated that she wanted equal treatment for women’s health issues and did not see the issue as being against the Catholic Church.”
ArJ, if she were only demanding free birth control for herself, it would be one thing. But she is an activist (who went to Georgetown knowing about its religious concerns) calling for free birth control for all women, which is much, much worse, in my opinion. If your concern is that she didn’t say she wanted birth control just for herself (therefore the “slut” charge), this is not the subject of this post. The subject is, in the words of Mick Jagger, “you cain’t always get what you want.”
There is no such thing as “free birth control,” just as there is no such thing as “free Starbuck Capuccinos” or “free Iphone cellular plans.” Somebody must pay for it. If Sandra Fluke and her friends want birth control, they should go get jobs and pay for it themselves, just as most people must pay for things for themselves in life.
I would like to ask commenters to move on from the “defending” (or attacking) Sandra Fluke meme. That is not the subject of this post, and we have beaten that issue to death. Thanks.
Hi Geoff, thanks for the post. You and I disagree about what constitutes natural rights, as I believe that natural rights don’t exist. The scripture in D&C 134 states nothing about natural rights, but only that governments should grant certain legal rights in order to keep the peace. At other times, God’s prophets have upheld government’s granting rights to slave owners, so how could right to property be a natural right? At other times God’s prophets have advocated war, so how could right to life be a natural right?
The only unalienable right I can see is the freedom to choose. But this freedom exists even in the darkest dungeon, as a basic component of our human nature (what side of the prison bed should I sleep on tonight?) It’s also the freedom of men to organize governments, consolidate power, and abuse, or bless their constituents according to their desires. Of course we are not given freedom from consequences. He who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword. But still, he is free to live by the sword if he wants to.
So I believe that governments grant all rights, based upon the wisdom of their leaders, and their correct understanding of human nature.
Sandra Fluke believes government should grant reproductive rights in addition to others already granted. Lawmakers who support reproductive rights shouldn’t support them because they are “natural” but rather for the social engineering benefits they might have: discouraging out-of-wedlock birth, or providing broad financial assistance to the populace.
The right to an abortion is obviously one granted by the US government, but I’m unclear whether Geoff feels this is a natural right included in the right to liberty, or a legal right. Since God’s prophets have discouraged the government from granting abortion rights, on what grounds do they do this, if it is a natural right (at least until the fetus becomes viable)?
Nate, polite disagreement is a wonderful thing. This is how we learn and grow, if we are open-minded to other viewpoints. The view that “government grant all rights” is exactly the opposite of what the Founding Fathers believed. They believed that rights were inalienable, meaning they could not be taken away by anybody. The purpose of the Constitution was to prevent government from assaulting your inalienable rights. If you read how the people who wrote the Constitution explained it to the 13 states during the ratifying discussions, they made this point over and over, ie, the purpose of the Constitution is to protect inalienable rights.
As for abortion, I am personally pro-life. My wife and I would not have an abortion, and if people ask our opinion I would counsel not having an abortion. But the Church does allow for some exceptions, for rape and incest and health of the mother. The Church does not tell members not to use a day-after abortion pill, nor does it counsel against using the pill. So, the official church position is NOT the same as the Catholic church’s, ie, the LDS church is not against birth control and is not against abortion in all cases.
Church leaders have repeatedly counseled members not to have abortions. A recent Conference talk says abortion is an “assault on the defenseless”:
However, Church members are also counseled not to drink alcohol or coffee, but the Church does not currently support prohibition of these items. (Yes, most Church leaders supported Prohibition during the 1920s, but I think today’s Church leaders have seen the errors of such a policy for today — I have seen no official Church call for the reinstatement of Prohibition).
So, to sum up: the Church counsels against abortion but does not tell people never to have an abortion (unlike the Catholic church). The Church is not involved in political discussions on this issue, but would presumably oppose making all abortion illegal in all cases. My position is right in line with the Church’s position.
How can we assume that prohibition is regarded as a mistake by the prophets? Because they stopped talking about it? If the people choose to outlaw certain toxic substances from being sold or distributed that doesn’t sound like a violation of natural rights. There is a big difference from a majority of the people deciding certain harmful substances are off limits than a court, mayor, or prophet declaring it by fiat on the population.
This is a question of what we consider healthcare. Dismissing birth control as a lifestyle choice consequence and not as healthcare is wrong. To me, as a 41 year old married-for-19-years woman, the subject of birth control and pregnancy and childbirth has historically been almost my entire healthcare (that plus my hyperthyroid, my shoulder, and now my plantar fasciitis that won’t go away). I can’t separate sex from my healthcare mentally and I think it is a male view to not truly understand that. It isn’t about me wanting to be a slut and make other people pay for my birth control for my lifestyle. This is about how wrong it feels for people to offer health insurance but then not cover pregnancy (yes, this had to be government mandated RECENTLY that you can’t exclude pregnancy anymore) and it is the same with other healthcare. I’m not saying birth control should be free…..but it should be covered in the same way other healthcare things in a healthcare plan are covered. But I don’t mind the free and I won’t quibble about it. Speaking as a married adult woman, there is a huge burden on women regarding reproduction and it is wrong for society to ignore that. And it is wrong to claim that these things are not basic healthcare and should be required to be included in a health insurance plan.
“Logic dictates that it happens sometime after conception and sometime before the baby is 2-4 months old.” You should be more explicit when you say 2-4 months old. I am pretty sure you mean 2-4 months after conception.
“You have three natural rights: life, liberty and property.” This is simple, and awesome.
Rich, #23, Yikes! Thanks for the correction. I will make that change.
Chris, I will admit that the whole issue of natural rights for personal use and natural rights regarding what the law says is problematic from a prophetic standpoint. We know that all prophets accept the idea of free agency, which means people *should* have freedom of choice. We also know that prophets regularly counsel us not to do certain things, including not drink alcohol or coffee. But we also know that prophets have argued for the natural right for two consenting adults to carry out polygamy if they want to, while at the same time arguing against same-sex marriage today. So, this area is fraught with “on the one hand” and “on the other hand” discussions that could go on to infinity. Suffice to say that I do feel the prophets during the era of Prohibition made a “mistake.” The Church never came out with a “Proclamation on Prohibition” like they have come out with a “Proclamation on the Family.” Nearly all religious leaders supported Prohibition during the heady days of the Progressive era. Many of them recanted in the 1930s after they saw the effects of Prohibition were worse than allowing people to drink alcohol if they wanted to. President Grant did NOT recant and supported Prohibition during the 1930s. Them’s the facts.
I still feel that supporting the natural right of people to do what they want with their own bodies is the right position and support the idea of free agency. Meanwhile, I counsel my family and friends to follow the Word of Wisdom on a personal basis. I don’t think those positions are contradictory.
What is your take on vasectomies or other sterilizations? Similar to your position on abortion? Do children not yet conceived have a claim on those that have covenanted to multiply and replenish?
Rich, this is a perfect case to study how natural rights should work in a real-world environment and from an LDS perspective. The Church encourages us to have children but does not FORCE us to. Nobody is told: “you need to have 10 kids to be a member of the Church.” In fact, birth control issues are not even on the temple rec interview, and of course the Church has not come out asking for government to prohibit birth control. So the lesson is: private encouragement to have children, public neutrality on the issue from a govt perspective.
What I take from this is: forced sterilization is an abomination. Voluntary sterilization is a personal choice and is allowed. This perfectly supports my viewpoint on natural rights (ie, you have the freedom to do what you will with your body). I would also like to add that the word “vasectomy” makes me want to cross my legs in horror. Just sayin’.
Geoff, I completely agree with you. I mostly posted that to hear you articulate it.
My view on inspired family planning is here.
And I have the same visceral reaction to the word vasectomy. Eeek!
“They believed that rights were inalienable, meaning they could not be taken away by anybody. The purpose of the Constitution was to prevent government from assaulting your inalienable rights.”
I’ve heard this before, and it still makes no sense to me. If they believed the rights were inviolable, there would be no need to protect them.
I believe they probably thought that the rights SHOULD be inviolable, but then you’re getting back to a matter of moral opinion.
SR, the point is that Jefferson, Madison and most of the founders read Locke and other philosophers and considered these right inalienable, but when they looked around the world they say that these rights were not respected. The British and French kings certainly did not respect inalienable rights. Nor did the various other emperors and rulers around the world. So even though the rights were not respected, they felt the should be. So if your point is that they thought these rights should be inalienable, you are correct, but it is also true that they thought the American experience should be unique and different than what existed elsewhere in the world.
I have to admit that I agree with some of the philosophy of “inalienable rights,” but not necessarily the practical application of it. For every right, there is a situation where the individual can abdicate that right.
And, I wager, the founding fathers also believed that, or there would be no need to enumerate the consequences when an individual abdicates their rights. I think much discourse on the topic ignores that fact.
Geoff and SilverRain,
Funny thing, but Agellius and I are having practically this same converation (though from a different point of view) on the other thread right now.
I guess I’d have to say that ‘rights’ are not ‘inalienable’ so I agree with SilverRain on this. There is a subjectiveness to all concepts of rights. They are always a statement of how we believe the world should be rather than how it is.
However, I’m not being cynical here. I accept that the way we make the world that way is by first believing and having faith in the concept. Only then can we choose to change the world wto here the ‘inalienable rights’ (which are in fact in no rational sense inalienable) come to be respected and even enforced by law (i.e. by the violence of the state.)
And, of course, I’m sure LDSP here would want me to put a plug in for a society that enforces it through mutual love. That is the ultimate goal.
But that is why I think SR is right that there is always going to be confusion about inalienable rights since they are simultaneously not inalienable and also subjective. You have to convince your neighbors that *theses* are the inalienable rights before they will come to be respected. They rights do not just objective exist and those that disagree are in denial of facts. The real truth is that all rights are something we morally decide we want to do because that is what we believe is the right thing to do. And everyone is bound to have somewhat different opinions on the subject for the foreseeable future.
Over on the other thread, I stated that I don’t believe there is such a thing as ‘natural rights.’ I think that natural rights a false concep if by ‘natural’ we mean rights that rise out of mother nature (i.e. physics). There are no rights whatsoever that rise out of physics as we currently understand physics.
But I’m very open to the idea that there is something that we might call ‘theistic rights.’ Theology is actually an explanation of what the true (but not currently observed) nature of reality is. So once you make the necessary leap of faith to belief in God then the idea of ‘God-given rights’ (i.e. Theistic rights) seems very rational to me. They are then the rights God commands of us and that must be given if we are to ever become a Celestial society.
Given a specific theological explanation for reality, I can easily see how a case can be built for God-given rights. But such an explanation will always be tied to a specifical theological explanation and therefore be faith-based, not rationally provable. So the idea of a rational argument for any rights is always an oxymoron. There are no rationally based rights, only faith based ones.
And this is what I think SR is really saying when she says “I have to admit that I agree with some of the philosophy of ‘inalienable right,’ but not necessarily the practical application of it.” I perceive her (and correct me if I’m wrong SR) as saying she agrees that God intends for us to behave in certain moral ways thare are described through the concept of inalienable rights, but she can’t accept that there *really* is such a thing as an inalienable right in practice. (i.e. it’s easy to take then away, so they weren’t inalienable by definition.)
Interesting argument Bruce, on inalienable rights possibly coming from a theological reality. But when I look at life, I see the opposite. “The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away.” You see God constantly taking away people’s right to life and property through death and disaster. Then you have the Biblical God whose prophets advocate for slavery, genocide, etc, the Christian God of grace, who saves everyone from the eternal hellfire, which is the only thing mankind really deserves, and the prophets of the Mormon God who advocate for prohibition, polygamy, and denial of a woman’s right to choose.
But I can see how in the natural world, a humanist philosopher could see in human nature, that human beings respond positively within the paradigm of certain inalienable rights. Civilization, peace, and prosperity flourish within this paradigm, and the humanists and deists of the Enlightenment created a humanist God of inalienable rights. But this is a God of reason, science, and philosophy, not revelation and sacrifice. Thomas Jefferson’s God was not the God of the Bible, and he certainly wasn’t the Mormon God either.
Yet millions of conservative Americans who spout the doctrine of Christian grace on Sunday, practically adopt the Constitution as sacred scripture, without recognizing that it’s philosophy is completely antithetical to the doctrine of Christian grace, and Old Testament sacrifice.
Bruce, there are several points to make on your claims. The first is that clearly you believe in agency, right? You believe that God gives us the right to make choices rather than to be robotic automatons, right? So there *are* clearly natural rights that are given to us. Now, agency is a different thing than governmental rights, but bear with me here.
If we believe in agency, we can believe in the concept that we are born with certain rights. Let’s move from theology to what I call our “basic humanity.” Do we have any rights when we are born? It seems to me there are three choices: 1)we have no rights at all. 2)we have rights to do things that do not interfere with other peoples’ rights and 3)we have rights that other people, through the use of force, decide to give us. In the case of 3), brute force wins and the only rights allowed are the rights of the conquerors. Which is it, 1, 2 or 3?
If we have no rights at all, then you should feel absolutely no remorse at all in going to steal your neighbor’s car. But you do feel remorse because in addition to it being illegal it is *wrong* to steal. You have violated something belonging to your neighbor. This sense of immorality is not something society imposes on you. You really would feel bad (except if you were a sociopath) because, frankly, your neighbor bought the car with his own money and he has more of a right to it than you do. You also understand that if somebody took your car you would also feel pretty upset because, again, you feel like you have a *right* to it. If you don’t feel you have a right to your car, please go sell it tomorrow and send me the money. Thank you.
Is it three, do rights depend on whoever is in power? No, they do not. This is why we recoil at the idea of living in the Communist Soviet Union or in Nazi Germany — rights are decided by the powerful without any regard to true justice. It simply is not *just* or right from Nazis to come and steal property from Jews simply because of their religion. From the Nazi perspective, the Jews were part of a massive conspiracy and deserved to lose their property (which was in effect stolen from the Germany people), so in a twisted way you can see that the Nazis had their own crazy logic for stealing from the Jews. But we know that this logic is indeed crazy. It was not just to do this — it was simply the most powerful group taking from the less powerful. Clearly, this is not a just way of setting up a society, so we must reject number 3.
How about number 2? This seems much more reasonable, right, especially compared to numbers 1 and 3? You should be able to do what you want with your life as long as you don’t harm others. I guarantee you that you, Bruce, live like this with your neighbors. You don’t go steal their cars and you don’t take a gun (making you more powerful) and go take stuff from the less powerful. No, you live in peace with others and expect them to live in peace with you. You have adopted the principle of nonaggression (which is a libertarian principle) in your personal life because, frankly, it is the only sane way to live with others. In addition, if you have nosy, busybody neighbors who spend all their time getting involved in your personal affairs, you don’t like it. The whole idea of “mind your own business” comes from the fact that you have a right to your liberty (and privacy), which means you have a right not to have other people spying on you. And you don’t go spying on your neighbors either.
The fact is you must choose: either 1, 2 or 3. The only rational choice is 2. This is the natural state of affairs that all sane people adopt in practice. But when government gets involved, as I say in the OP, people start losing their sanity and thinking they can start telling other people what to do. They start turning into busybodies and involving themselves in other peoples’ lives. It is sad to see.
Did you see that you started the whole discussion with a reference to God and to an appeal to my theology? And do you see the significance of this? (i.e. that you proved me right right off the bat and the rest was agreeing with me because you were actually now talking about theistic rights rather than ‘natural rights’.)
The problem is that the rest of the post was written more like a proof of natural rights arising from Mother Nature even though you were actually arguing for Theological and Faith-based rights from the outset.
So I’m not sure what to say until you either rewrite your argument as an actual defense of ‘natural rights’ (as opposed to God-Given rights) or until you say “I agree with you that there is no such thing as natural rights in the (limited) sense of rights arising from physics” or something like that so that I know you were actually meaning to agree with me.
I confess, also that as far as *I* am concerned, you are right about all yours assumptions. But I also confess that Genghis Khan would disagree with you and he’d be right to do so. He pretty much proved that a person in the right set of circumstances can live by violence and force and be wildly successful in every category imaginable: sexually/reproductively, financially, political power, intimacy of family and friends (for some), size of family (billions!), even honor of the world for being a great man, etc.
The problem is that #2 is actually only the ‘sanest’ answer on average and only for certain types of settings. It’s not the ‘best choice’ in every circumstance by a long shot — depending on what you are trying to accomplish with your life. Such is the reality of the mortal world. Genghis Khan’s anti-#2 strategy was just too effective and he enjoyed it too much to really say it’s the only possible option. And Genghis Khan was also not a sociopath as he went on to be a rather benevolent and revered leader once he had conquered the world and took all his (now slain) enemies wives and daughters as his mates.
The idea that Genghis Khan doesn’t count because he was morally wrong is really a re-assertion of the premise and thus a circular argument. Therefore, I confess that the only sense in which I believe Genghis Khan to be wrong is the one in which I start with the assumption there is a God and it’s God that gives us our rights and they don’t arise from nature after all.
Bruce, of course I started out with a theological answer. This is a Mormon blog (most of the time), and I believe in God, and I believe rights come from God so I started from that shared presumption.
There is a very long explanation for natural rights from an atheist’s perspective (there are many, many smart atheists who believe in natural rights), but I am not an atheist and don’t have time to go into it right now.
Bruce, yes, that is what I mean.
And it is important because of this:
In so much discussion of rights, particularly LDS political discussion, people judge quickly and harshly those who do not agree with them. I can’t tell you how many times my righteousness has been called into question by LDS members from ALL political sides because I argue that there are certain times and places when the government (meaning the community) is correct in revoking so-called inalienable rights from a person because of their actions.
If, to contrast, all sides in a discussion agree that these rights enumerate how things SHOULD be, rather than how they ARE, it opens up the ability to discuss when and how those rights SHOULD NOT be. If someone says that a particular right is inalienable, never-to-be-taken-away-no-matter-what, they are operating in a world so idealistically different from the one I’ve experienced, that I have no basis from which to discuss it any further with them.
(Completely beside the point, though, I will say that sociopaths can be quite benevolent when it fits their agenda.)
SilverRain, Inalienable rights refers to rights that that Exist. The fact that a person has the right can never be destroyed. That someone is denied the fruits of an inalienable right is temporary. God will correct all things through justice and mercy.
That is what is meant by inalienable. When someone denies another her or his inalienable right, he does it against Nature and Nature’s God.
I do, however, get your point. The practical balancing of these inalienable rights is and will continue to be messy.
SR, I think we are quibbling about definitions of words. A right is by its very definition inalienable. Jefferson added the word to the Declaration to emphasize this, but we say “the Bill of Rights,” not the “Bill of Inalienable rights” because the social contract that we call the Constitution was a reminder of the limits of federal power.
Here is how I see it.
1)Rights. Can never be taken away. Usually ARE taken away by government and tyrants. So, if you say they “should” not be taken away we are saying the same things in different ways. To be absolutely clear: I said way up in he top of the OP that this is what rights SHOULD BE but usually are not. If you go to the top of my post you will see the following: “When I discuss these rights, I would like to mention that I think these are natural rights that should apply to all societies at all times. Obviously we live in a fallen world where these rights often do not apply. But the purpose of this post is to point out what rights we should and should not have.” As I say, we are saying the same thing in different ways.
2)Privileges. Things the government allows you to do. Can be taken away by government edict, majority rule, etc.
You have a right to your life. People cannot kill you as long as you don’t harm somebody. You are born with this right. Do people get killed when they shouldn’t be? Yes, they do. This should not happen. It is a violation of your natural right to life.
However, we have decided that something like driving a car is a privilege, not a right. You need to get a driver’s license to go drive. You cannot just get in the car when you are 12 and take off.
More on the different between rights and privileges here:
“Dismissing birth control as a lifestyle choice consequence and not as healthcare is wrong.”
I have a hard time with this proposition. In most cases, birth control is just that — a choice to abort or “control” birth. It’s true that in a minority of cases, there’s a nexus between birth control and good health. However, those cases are rare, not to mention the fact that there are health care plans that cover such contingencies. Birth is not the same thing as preventing disease. The health care industry is the business of preventing disease and prolonging life — the Hippocratic Oath, if you will. The natural progression of disease is death; the natural progression of pregnancy is life. It’s true that those who pay premiums for health insurance plans are paying for their own and everyone else’s ailments collectively, including the ailments people have brought on themselves. However, I cannot look at Type-II diabetes and heart disease in the same light as pregnancy. So I don’t believe “free” birth control for all aligns very well with the health care objective. Birth control could be part of select health care plans paid for by participants, but it shouldn’t be mandated by government to be paid for by all.
Geoff and Rich, it may be that “inalienable” means as you say when connected with the word “right.” But it is a connotation that is utterly detached from the denotation of the word. I do understand the information in the link.
I point out that even in your example of an “inalienable right,” vs. privilege you concede a “but” and a “we have decided.” That is all I’m asking for. Unfortunately, the use of the word “inalienable” means that many people actually believe it. And in most of the conversations I have had with LDS political people, they accuse you of evil if you don’t draw the subjective line at the same place they do. They like to think that THEIR line is natural, inalienable, and if you think the line should be different, you are fighting against God.
This, by the way, is why I refuse to join a political party. Parties dictate where you are supposed to draw the line. Most of the persuasion I have heard to join a party basically amounts to, “If you don’t join one, you’re an enemy of all.” I have decided I’d rather be an enemy to all than sell my soul to a political party and make it more difficult to exercise my own reason and agency when taking sides on individual issues.
This is the dynamic that is seen in the situation addressed by the OP. Each person is accusing the other of moral vacuity because they don’t agree where the line between “right” and “privilege” should be drawn. I agree with you, that it should be where one person’s right does not infringe on another’s. But people who don’t think that aren’t necessarily void of morals or sinners against God. They just prioritize differently.