Attacks on our liberties are becoming more frequent and coming from all directions. The popular attack making the rounds on social media is accusing people who want to reopen the economy responsibly of purposefully putting live in danger. What is really troubling is some of these attacks are coming from a group who normally stand for liberty, more specifically, conservatives who strongly oppose the current administration. The claim is, "if you are okay with opening the economy during a pandemic, then you can't consider yourself pro-life."
I had recently published a piece on my website that covers this talking point and I think it applies here. We must be able to defend ourselves against these kind of attacks. The information below is taken from my article titled Pandemic 2020: Pro-Life Versus The Economy.
There is a popular meme and talking point going around making the claim that if you are for restarting the economy during the current pandemic, then you are not pro-life. To me, this seems blatantly silly and harmful to the pro-life cause, but this isn’t coming from the progressive Left, Hollywood, or the mainstream media (MSM). It’s coming from the Right, more specifically, the anti-Trump conservative movement that is still alive and well post-2016 election. Now, I don’t consider myself an “anti-Trump conservative,” mostly because being anti any person is inherently anti-conservative, but these people are still avidly pro-life. So, it’s troubling hearing that message from people whom I would consider highly intelligent and insightful. In this article, I will attempt to explain this position and where the logic breaks down.
I want to start by further explaining my beliefs on anti-Trump conservatism. Conservatism implies the conservation of ideas, principles, and values. Nowhere in the definition of conservatism do you find standing against a specific individual as conservative because a person is not an idea. This doesn’t mean conservatives don’t oppose certain politicians or cultural figures, take President Obama for example. Most conservatives opposed President Obama’s policies, principles, and world view, but they should have never considered themselves anti-Obama. This is because even though President Obama’s policies rarely lined up with conservative policies, this didn’t mean conservatives must oppose him no matter what he does. I would go even further by claiming being anti-fill-in-name-here makes you ignorant and often results in you abandoning your own principles in order to oppose that person. This is where Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) got its name. TDS is not an actual disorder but is an idea. Just like a disease or infection, a bad idea can infect the minds of rational people and make them irrational. I would add the anti-Trump conservatives to this category. On the other side of TDS, you have people who defend President Trump no matter what. The TDS people refer to this group as the Trumpkins, Trumpcons, Trumpicans, and many other almost clever names, and I would argue the TDS people have a point here. Just like making your stance in opposition of a person makes you irrational, making your stance in defense of a person no matter what also makes you irrational. They are two sides of the same coin. We should be objective observers of the truth and judge ideas as they come out, not pick a position according to the person who is taking it. I realize I may have no friends by this point in this article, but I do think it’s important to point out this intellectual dishonesty before continuing.
I also want to make the pro-life position clear. Many people believe the pro-life position is a restriction of the mother’s right to choose, but it actually has nothing to do with the mother at all. Pro-life has no greater impact on women as it does men in the sense of whose rights the position is trying to protect. Men and women are proportionately affected, meaning affected equally, by abortion because both males and females are aborted. The straw-man built by the pro-choice advocates is pro-lifers just want to control women’s bodies, but this is clearly not the case if you have spent more than 5 minutes with someone who is pro-life. Pro-life advocacy is meant to protect the life of the baby, not the body of the mother. The unfortunate circumstances, depending on how you see it, of the human condition and reproductive biology require women to carry the physical burden of pregnancy, but that does not make the life inside the womb an expendable parasite to be rid of out convenience. Viability or physical location (inside or outside the womb) does not determine personhood. I don’t like the phrase, “right side of history” because we don’t know how future generations will look back on us, but it is my firm belief that future generations will look back on our time, just like we do with the slave-owning generations, and see us as barbarians killing our own children out of convenience and lack of moral clarity.
The first argument put forth by the people sharing the idea of restarting the economy as a form of abortion is, they result in the same outcome, killing babies or killing the elderly and vulnerable populations. I would argue there is a huge difference between the two. Killing a baby in the womb is an action taken knowing the outcome, the elimination of the fetus. Restarting the economy comes at a risk of spreading disease to more people, therefore, likely increasing the deaths from the disease, but this is not an action with the intention of death. It is a better argument that it is an action to prevent death. Many conservative and libertarian politicians and commentators argue that an economic depression will lead to despair and suicide. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the suicide rates rise during a depression and fall during expansion. The suicide rate peaked during the great depression at 22.1 per 100,000 population for the general population and much higher for working-age men. According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC), the suicide rate as of 2018 is 14.2 per 100,000 population. The suicide argument makes sense, but I personally don’t like to cite this as the main reason to open the economy because it is very similar to the pro-choice argument for abortion.
This leads to the second, and more powerful argument for the opening the economy and abortion comparison, which is the arguments for both are the same. Pro-choice advocates argue one of the main reasons women get abortions is because they aren’t ready to be mothers or take on another child and being forced to do so will harm their mental health. To me, this argument makes sense but doesn’t justify killing babies. In my attempt to provide statistical data to back up the claim of abortion improving the mental health of the mother, I found more counter evidence supporting the opposite claim, an increase in suicides in women who had abortions. I won’t cite any sources here because those studies did not really prove a causal link, and for the sake of argument, I want to work on the assumption that the mental health of the woman remains unchanged. So, does that make these defenses the same? Not exactly.
Medicines and care must be provided to the sick during this pandemic. We also must continue to innovate to find ways to decrease the effects of this illness and find a way to prevent it in the future. These are all functions of a free economy, or a fixed market where government solves the problem. As I have explained in many articles before, a free market solves these problems much more efficiently and effectively than a centralized power can in the fixed market (see The Free Market Of Ideas article as an example). Luckily, in these times of government mandated shutdown, many of these companies and logistics services have been deemed “essential services” and remain operational. Most conservatives find a problem with the government dictating what is essential and non-essential because each individual’s livelihoods depend on that categorization. Deaths in an economic depression are not only caused by despair but also by lack of food and medicine. As prosperous of a country the U.S. is, these items will run out if manufacturers aren’t able to produce them and/or people don’t have the resources to buy them. The easiest solution for this dilemma is for government to step in and use taxpayer dollars to continuously subsidize the people and businesses in need. This brings us closer and closer to long-term redistributive policy that will remain intact after the pandemic is over. To fight this, we must not give into the government bribing us with our own money and digging a deeper hole for the next generation to get out of. The argument against reopening the economy because it will cause more death can be made if we don’t reopen the economy. At least reopening will give that choice to the people and allow them to take their own risks. Abortion doesn’t allow any decision or risks to be taken on by the unborn child because they will never have the opportunity.
This is where the third argument is made as a right to life for the unborn and at-risk populations alike. The unborn child has a right to life, and so does the people at higher risk of dying from this disease. Liberty comes into conflict with itself when the concept is taken far enough, but I think this idea comes from a misunderstanding of liberty and what our liberties are. We all have the right to life. This belief automatically disapproves of abortion in any circumstances unless the mother’s life is in danger which is extremely rare. But does it disapprove of risking other people’s health during a pandemic? I would say no. Your right to life does not extend to your right to not get sick. Unless someone gets sick with the intention of weaponizing their body to infect others, the “right to life” liberty does not apply. Intention in this case does matter. If we outlawed any action that does not explicitly cause death, but results in a measurable amount death, we would have to outlaw actions like driving cars.
A pushback on this understanding is a case of drunk driving that results in death. Even if there was no intention to kill, the drunk driver is still held responsible legally. This is a better comparison to opening up an economy when we know there is a dangerous bug going around, but it still does not make a strong argument. In the case of drunk driving, the driver knowingly drank to excess and drove a vehicle while impaired. Again, this is more similar to the example of someone knowingly getting sick and weaponizing their body. A more accurate comparison would be someone with undiagnosed epilepsy driving their car, having a seizure, and killing someone while driving. This is an unfortunate situation, but it is not illegal.
The final argument is these stay-at-home orders don’t appear to be unconstitutional or illegal. This is correct, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t push back on them because they can still have more negative consequences than the sickness itself. The problem is, we really don’t know as much as we would like to about this virus, but we do know about the human condition and what happens when government is allowed to control people’s lives in a way that restricts their liberties.
We can disagree on what the best policy is to control this situation. I did not write this article to influence or advocate for a certain policy. What I did want to accomplish is to disarm this talking point about how you can’t be pro-life and want to reopen the economy at the same time. Economics is the study of trade-offs. We evaluate risk and take chances hoping the benefits outweigh the consequences. This was true before the pandemic and is true during the pandemic. Comparing that risk to some passive form of abortion, especially by pro-life advocates, hurts the pro-life argument and is insulting to the cause. These are strange times, but let’s try to keep our heads on straight and find solutions rather than creating more problems and division.