Liberties


Did you know that Ron Paul, a top-tier candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, is an OB/GYN who has caught over 4,000 babies, and left Congress voluntarily from 1984 to 1997 to return to his private practice?  (If you weren’t aware that he’s a top-tier candidate, you can thank the mainstream media blackout, but that’s another blog post.)

I’ve been a fan of Dr. Paul for years.  He’s been my lodestone when it comes to sorting out the baloney that gets proposed in Congress every year, and I was a local meetup coordinator and helped set up a campaign office for his 2008 campaign.  (Since then I’ve had two children, which makes that kind of outside time commitment a nostalgic impossibility.)

A friend told me recently that it seems ironic, considering my fairly intense disagreement with the obstetrical model of birth, that I avidly support an OB for president.  Until then I really hadn’t even thought about that potential conflict, and the reason why is the essence of why I support Dr. Paul in the first place.

Dr. Paul could completely disagree with my choice to have a home birth, but he would still completely support my right to choose my own place of birth and care provider.  Plain and simple, that distinction is the core of his politics, and my own.

It’s time to think long-term and get away from the politics of trying to elect the guy who will force our favorite ideas on society.  I would not vote for someone who said “I’m going to propose legislation to require every hospital to have midwives on staff.”  Why?  Because the federal government simply does not, and should not, have that authority.  If we clamor that today’s President and Congress can and should force the medical industry to integrate midwifery, then we are granting that tomorrow’s officials, with different opinions and financial backers, have the authority to force midwives to work in hospitals and not in the home, or to be trained in ACOG-approved schools.  (And considering the established medico-pharma lobby, which scenario is really the more likely?)

In other words, we need to stop thinking about what we want “our guy” to do, and start thinking about what we don’t want “their guy” to have the power to do.  And if we really want tolerance and acceptance and freedom of choice for birthing mothers, we have to include all birthing mothers, and non-mothers, and families, and individuals.  Special interests serve only to divide us from each other so that we squabble while the establishment continues to ratchet our freedoms away.  Every individual has a right to bodily autonomy (life and liberty), whether we agree with their choices or not.  The vast majority of politicians neither understand nor respect this natural right.

Dr. Paul is the only candidate I trust to take into account individual liberty and Constitutional law when he makes his decisions, so that even if he doesn’t agree with me on everything, he is still going to do his best to leave me alone–and make Congress uncomfortably aware of the limitations on their own Constitutional authority.  He also has a reputation for being lobby-proof, and that is exactly what we need: a return to principle over influence, right over might, the individual over the state or corporation, and law over lobby.

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I’ve heard the argument that formula companies should be legally prohibited from advertising, or should be restricted in the way they advertise. The argument is generally something along the lines that an uneducated, poor mother is too vulnerable to images of happy, healthy babies and statements that Formula XYZ is the healthy choice for her baby.

I have two responses to the stance that formula (or drug, or tobacco, or other unpopular) companies should be prohibited from advertising.  The first addresses the legal and logical standing of the argument, and the second addresses the social premises of the argument.

Legality and logic) Restrictions on tobacco company advertising have already set a dangerous precedent: if enough people claim and clamor that something is not healthful, we can restrict its sale and marketing.  FDA restrictions on herbal remedy descriptions are perhaps a more close-to-home example of the pharmaceutical lobby restricting supplement companies’ free speech (and thereby consumers’ access to information).  Note that I am NOT arguing against the overwhelming evidence that tobacco use is harmful.  I am arguing that the precedent is dangerous because ACOG can skew evidence to say that home birth is dangerous, and formula companies could even argue (however disingenuously) that breastfeeding is dangerous because rates of jaundice are higher in breastfed babies and parents can’t tell exactly how much their babies are eating.  The door is already open: sweetener manufacturers have influenced the FDA to restrict (in violation of their own guidelines to exempt foods that were in established use) the labeling and sale of stevia.

To say that health-conscious people’s fervent conviction that formula is inferior to breastmilk gives them the right to restrict the speech of formula companies, is to say that ACOG’s fervent conviction that home birth is more dangerous than hospital birth gives them the right to restrict the speech of homebirth midwives.

Social premises) Let’s dispense with the “poor, uneducated person” fallacy already.  If Abraham Lincoln and thousands of other pioneers could educate themselves in law, economics, agriculture, and architecture, despite limited access to books and the constant physical demands of life on the frontier, then the average and even below-average American woman today, with access to libraries, the internet (via those libraries), extremely cheap books for sale, and organizations like La Leche League, can figure out that breastfeeding is of benefit to herself and her baby.

And if somehow the average American today is unaware that a company selling formula is of course going to tell her that formula is good stuff, and that she had better figure out the truth for herself; then let us ask ourselves what has changed since the days of the pioneers, when it was a matter of American pride to think for one’s self.  Could it be a generation or two of welfare, public education, public safety regulations, and other nanny-state interventions that have taught the “poor and uneducated” that they do not need to think for themselves?  How are we doing humanity a favor by continuing down this path of actively discouraging people from reaching for their potential by telling them “there’s no need to think or make your own decisions–the government is here to protect you and take care of you”?  Treating our citizens like children, no matter how low their current circumstances, is inhuman and inhumane.  It restricts their growth, twists their self-image into a mockery of human self-esteem, and thereby reinforces the same class structures that we so righteously claim to wish to eradicate.

To summarize: restricting the speech of one group in order to protect another is unjust to both parties, and any argument we present in its defense will only return to bite us when we seek to express our own views that may not be popular with others.  Let formula companies, surgeons, pharmaceutical companies, breastfeeding advocates, mother-friendly advocates, and vaccine safety organizations all vie for the attention of the American mother.  Don’t deny her access to a viewpoint in the name of “protecting” her.  She is smart enough to decide for herself–and the more deciding for herself she does, the better and more confident she will get at it and at teaching it to her children.

Now that would be progressive.