At the advent of a presidency that has been accused of being the most pro-choice in history, there’s some good news.
Wyoming is now considering jumping on the bandwagon of trying to make abortions more difficult. There are currently three bills before the legislature dealing with the topic of abortion. The first, and one that draws all manner of painful cries from NARAL and other pro-choice organizations, is the requirement that any pregnant woman seeking an abortion must have an ultrasound performed. The complaints here focus on the lack of equipment in some regions of the state, supposedly barring some women from being able to undergo the procedure. To this, I have to roll my eyes. There are people in Wyoming who have to drive two or three hours to reach a grocery store. You have to spend at least an hour on the road to go from one significant town to the next. I think travelling to Casper or Cheyenne or one of our other “large” towns for such an “important” procedure shouldn’t be beyond most Wyomingites’ ability. Of course, the real point is that if a woman sees her baby in the ultrasound, she’ll be smitten with a bout of guilt and won’t be able to go through with it. There’s a reason why we have the phrase “Out of sight, out of mind.”
The second is one that comes from the realization that Planned Parenthood has been accused of hiding sexual abuse committed against the girls coming in seeking abortions. Eager to avoid being thirty years behind on this issue, Wyoming is trying to pass a requirement that “anyone who performs an abortion…file[s] a state report specifying, among other information, whether the pregnancy resulted from sexual assault.” Surprisingly, this bill isn’t receiving the censure leveled at the other two. I wonder why?
The third bill seeks to expand the definition of homicide to, in some cases, include the unborn. I can imagine this will only apply to those cases when a pregnant woman is murdered, but it at least tries to set a precedent that might get people talking.
In other news, the Wyoming legislature has taken upon itself the task of rendering chewing tobacco—any any “moist” tobacco—more expensive by taxing the weight of the product, rather than the dollar amount. There is the hope that this tax, while generating more revenue, will also decrease the number of teens (and maybe even adults in general) who regularly use such products.
Now, I’m not particularly enthused with sin taxes myself. I know they work to some extent. In theory, market forces naturally decrease the demand (by making the product out of reach for more consumers) and naturally decrease the supply (by making it more costly for manufacturers to keep outputting the same supply). When dealing with products the government does not wish people to indulge in, these taxes do have a limiting effect. The same principles apply in other areas. Tariffs make local products more appealing; subsidizing a particular industry (think ethanol) leads to more people buying into it. So I’m not arguing that this will be ineffectual at limiting people using chewing tobacco.
Rather, I’m concerned more with the general implications. New York is passing an obesity taxes against sugary soft drinks. Many states have levelled huge taxes on cigarettes, and to a lesser extent alcohol. There has been talk of doing the same with fast food. Is this ever going to stop?
Yes, I understand. These taxes help the fat, lazy populace sodden with their material opiates to turn a new leaf and seek healthier means. The taxes on cigarettes, coupled with smoking bans, have helped to reduce the number of smokers, which in turn has reduce the number smoking-related illnesses. That in turn means fewer tax-payer dollars going to fund incredibly expensive procedures. True, it may be that hitting the soft drink industry will help with obesity and diabetes and will have benefits there, as well.
And yet, I can’t help but wonder. Is it the government’s role to beat us into temperance? On the one hand, Jesus stated that “Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) Mk 7:18-19. So we understand that these things we put into our bodies are not any moral evil in of themselves. On the other hand, temperance is a huge issue. Smoking a cigarette every now and then, while ultimately placing one at risk for emphysema and cancer, is a relaxing activity for those who engage in it. A pleasurable activity is not necessarily bad. Yet when we speak of substances that addict and drive some people to, say, smoke four packs a day, then there’s a problem. Addiction is something that crimps free will, impairs judgment, and is very difficult to overcome. The same can be said not only of cigarettes, but also of chewing tobacco, soft drinks (especially caffeinated ones), chocolate, shopping, and theological/political blogs.
The government exists to help protect its citizens, especially from exterior threats and interior disputes. But does the government have the leeway to dictate a person’s actions in this manner? Choice, in this matter, is not necessarily taken from a person (as it would be in the case making chewing tobacco illegal), so it is hard to suggest that liberties are being trampled. Maybe slowly trimmed down with a riding lawn-mower. But a person can, if the product is that important, invest even more money into it, supposing that does not present a dire financial problem.
In some ways, I can’t help but believe it prudent for the government to levy such taxes (assuming that ulterior motives like raising a bazillion dollars of revenue to cover budget deficits do not figure into the decision). When society as a whole becomes so decadent and corrupt, the government can either sit back and let its people self-destruct (all the while subsidizing that destruction through tax-payer-backed medical procedures), or it can act, like a stern mother with her willful children, to curb the excesses of the populace.
That then begs the following question. Are we Americans really that fat, addicted, and diseased that we’re starting to border on disaster? Or should our health prerogatives be left in our hands? Or is the veneer of benevolent concern on part of the government so thin that we can audibly hear the greedy dry-washing of hands?
As I said, I’m ambivalent on the issue. Temperance is important, but trying to legislate it doesn’t seem to be the appropriate method. But then, maybe I’m just worried that my beloved Mountain Dew will start to bankrupt me more than it already has, and this chewing tobacco tax is the first step in that direction.