10/29/2008--The New York Times today contained an article by Charlie Savage about President George Bush’s judicial appointments to the lower federal courts. The story highlighted a decision by the Eighth Circuit that South Dakota could force doctors to tell their patients who are seeking an abortion that abortions “terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being” — using exactly that language. The doctors had argued that the law violated their right to free speech. The story then recounted how President Bush pointed to his record of appointments with pride at a conference sponsored by the Cincinnati chapter of the Federalist Society, characterized in the story as “the elite network for the conservative legal movement.”
I haven’t looked at the decision and I don’t know whether, for example, government funding is involved, but I can say that if this is an example of a decision popular with conservatives, then I have lost track of the principles of the conservative movement.
As described in the story, the government is interfering with a private relationship of doctor and patient, and forcing the doctor to say what he or she might choose not to say in the context of that relationship. This sounds like precisely the kind of government paternalism and government tyranny that I thought the Federalist Society opposed. To me the decision represents a hypocritical sop to the Republican Party courtship of the pro-life movement. The decision seems completely unprincipled.
I would have no objection if the government took out ads trumpeting exactly this message, a message incidentally that I agree with. But a doctor is not a government billboard. Whatever happened to liberty?