Monday, July 16, 2007

Majority Will, Consensus, and Public Policy Making

One of my readers took issue with my comment a few days ago that as long as a large minority supports abortion of demand, a general ban on abortion is unlikely to be successful. Let me point out something that I observed a while back: even before Roe v. Wade (1973), Oregon theoretically made abortion unlawful except to save the life or health of the mother--and yet still had 199 abortions per 1000 live births in 1970. Does anyone really believe that 1/6th of all pregnancies in Oregon required an abortion for the life or health of the mother? You can pass laws, but if a large fraction of the population strongly disagrees, that law will be disobeyed unless you have a very powerful police presence trying to enforce it. Think back to the national 55 mph speed limit, or most restrictive gun control laws.

If there's a lesson to be learned from the Iraq War, it is that majority--even a very large majority--in favor of a policy--is not enough. A minority that disagrees, especially if, like the left, it is control of the news and entertainment business, can frustrate a policy so effectively that you may be better off waiting for consensus to develop--even if the cost of building that consensus is enormous loss of life.

We had a consensus about invading Afghanistan. We did not have a consensus about Iraq--and the left did its best to take what would have been a difficult situation and make it much, much worse. Perhaps we needed to wait until Iraq-produced chemical weapons were going on in American cities before we could have achieved the required consensus.

Similarly, there is a majority that wants some restrictions on abortion--although not a general ban. Even in states where there is a majority in support of quite severe restrictions on abortion (such as South Dakota), I would suspect that at least 30% of the population is strongly in support of at least first trimester abortions being available on demand. Persuading most of that minority that abortion is a terrible action that should be reserved for remarkable circumstances--and not something that is used as secondary (or worse, primary) birth control--would go a long ways towards reaching a political condition where sweeping restrictions would enjoy sufficient support that the courts would go along with it, and where the relatively small number who still disapproved of the restrictions would either move somewhere else, or acquiesce to the law.

If you have to arrest and try your own citizens for a crime on a massive scale (as would be necessary to enforce a general ban on abortion), it is usually a bad indicator for the moral health of your society.

UPDATE: A number of people have linked to this posting, and this one, and misread that I was saying that abortion was as common before Roe v. Wade as it was afterwards. I never made that claim (which is absurd). I was pointing out that in some states, such as Oregon, where abortion on demand was theoretically illegal still had rates so high that it was apparent that the law was not being followed. I certainly would not claim that Roe reduced the abortion rate. Not at all.

UPDATE 2: Over at Instapunk is a long detailed proof that Roe v. Wade (1973) increased abortion rates, and claiming that I cherry-picked the data to make my point. Except that:

1. I have never disputed that abortion rates increased because of Roe--simply that Roe didn't make quite as dramatic of a difference as both pro-life and pro-choice activists like to think. Abortion wasn't completely unavailable before Roe--and Oregon was evidence of how the law was clearly being ignored by doctors. I never claimed that Oregon was representative of the nation--only indicative that even pre-Roe laws could be, and were ignored.

2. I consider Roe wrongly decided as a matter of law, and its effect--to make abortion available on demand--a terrible mistake.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Small World

One of the local political controversies going on in Boise County right now is concerning approval of a residential treatment school named Alamar Ranch. What is a residential treatment school? For kids with serious psychological or emotional problems that aren't responding well to treatment within the community (sometimes because the community itself is part of the problem, sometimes because the family interactions complicate matters), these schools provide a controlled, structured environment, therapy, medical treatment (for those problems that are amenable to psychotropic drugs), and continuing a child's education.

I didn't even know about such facilities until my daughter ended up in a heap of trouble--and this seemed like the last resort. I was quite concerned that she wasn't going to make it to 18. So on the recommendation of a specialist, we sent her to a place called New Haven Residential Treatment Center in Spanish Fork, Utah. This was easily the hardest, most painful action that I have ever had to take.

I have nothing but good things to say about what happened to my daughter there. She was there for 6 1/2 months. We visited every six weeks for intensive family therapy sessions and to visit her. As I said, I was sure she wasn't going to make it to 18. Unlike a lot of kids struggling with similar situations, she came home, completed high school, went off to college, met a wonderful young man, got married, and is now working on her Master's in Social Work. The last words of Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son have never meant more:
But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'
New Haven was expensive. The cost was $9000 a month, back some years ago. Eventually, my insurance company picked up about 30% of it (although I didn't know it at the time). I was getting ready to move my portfolio from conservative growth stock mutual funds into municipal bonds so that I would have the income to pay for New Haven, when a good friend who was temporarily a multimillionaire (wonders of the dot-com madness) stepped in and practically begged to take care of the bill. (That's when you find out who your real friends are.)

In retrospect, I would have been better off paying for it myself, because the stock market collapsed a few months later, and those bonds would have gone up dramatically while I watched my stock mutual funds sink. But who knew? Most parents in a similar situation aren't so lucky, either because the cost is prohibitive, or because their child is legally an adult--and simply refuses to accept treatment.

Alamar Ranch's request for planning approval created what seemed like a firestorm of upset residents. Some of the concerns were about the strain that it would put on fire services and roads--which seems a bit odd, since schools of this type aren't normally high population density. I began to see some comments in the local newspaper (the Idaho World) that suggested that a lot of the upset crowd was concerned that serious violent criminals were going to be staying at Alamar Ranch--even though Alamar Ranch made it clear that no one with a serious criminal history would be allowed.

As far as I am concerned, New Haven Residential Treatment Center saved my daughter's life, so I wrote a letter to the Idaho World explaining that I was not taking a stand about whether Alamar was a good situation from a planning standpoint or not, and I knew nothing about Alamar Ranch and its program, but that schools like New Haven (and Alamar Ranch seemed to be a school like that) were a very good thing indeed.

After I sent the letter to the Idaho World, I decided to send a copy to Alamar Ranch as well--and I received a reply from the Executive Director of Alamar Ranch. Her name was very familiar--and eventually we figured out why she recognized my name as well. She worked at New Haven--and she was my daughter's primary therapist. Her plan for Alamar is something like New Haven, but aimed at boys.

Not surprisingly, I am now looking for ways to help Alamar get whatever governmental approvals are required, because I now know what sort of person the executive director is.