During my commute to work this morning I was listening to a conservative talk radio show (as I always do). As has been the trend recently, another discussion started up about the contraception debate and how this is an attack on religion, yada, yada, yada.
Then the debate took a turn, which I hadn’t heard before and it made my skin crawl. The talk show hosts started talking about how we need to get rid of the term "reproductive rights" because reproduction is not a right. The hosts went on to say that the Constitution does not say anything about reproductive rights and therefore it is not a right.
Now do you understand why my skin started crawling? This turn in the contraception debate may be isolated, but it highlights why a fundamentalist view of the Constitution is very dangerous. While it is true that the Constitution does not say anything about reproductive rights, it is not true that just because something is not in the Constitution that it cannot be a right. Unfortunately, more and more people are starting to hold that view. This strict fundamentalist view of our Constitution would have devastating consequences.
Let’s take a step back and think about what these talk show hosts suggested when they said that reproductive rights are not a right because they are not in the Constitution. What would the consequences be of taking that stance to an extreme? Could States ban contraceptives? Could there be mandates on how many children you are allowed to have? Could there be quotas on children?
Sure these ideas sound far-fetched, but you only have to look back 47 years when contraceptives were illegal in the state of Connecticut. This was overturned by the Supreme Court in the Griswold v. Connecticut decision, which Rick Santorum has suggested went too far. If you do not have reproductive rights because they are not in the Constitution, why couldn’t a state mandate you have no more than X children or mandate that you must have Y children?
Of course no one is suggesting any of these things should happen, but when you hold a fundamentalist view of the Constitution it means that states would have an overwhelming power to pass laws that the Constitution explicitly does not protect and the federal government would have no say in the matter. In the case of contraception, the Griswold decision started a legal precedent that the right to privacy was explicitly protected under the Constitution. A constitutional fundamentalist would argue that since the right to privacy is not specifically in the Constitution, no right to privacy exists. Imagine what would happen if that precedent were eliminated! Do you think that would be a good thing?
I think the overwhelming majority of Americans would agree that eliminating the right to privacy would be a very bad thing, yet there are plenty of Americans that believe we should have a more fundamentalist view of the Constitution. It makes me wonder if they actually understand the implications that such a fundamentalist view of the Constitution would have on our current legal system. Undoing decades of legal precedents to return to a more fundamentalist view of the Constitution would unravel the very core of our current legal system and cause havoc across the country.
The reproductive rights debate highlights how a fundamentalist view of the Constitution is very dangerous. If we were able to somehow eliminate decades of legal precedent, many of our current rights that we take for granted would be eliminated and left up to the states to determine. While it might seem farfetched to think that a state could place limits on reproduction or set reproductive quotas, today it seems farfetched that a state could allow slavery to exist. History proves otherwise.
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