The Church Lady State

Posted on March 22, 2012

New York Times, March 22, 2012 by Timothy Egan

When people complain about liberal overreach they always bring up the nanny state. You know, sorting your garbage to see if a banana peel slipped in with a cellophane wrapper; energy-efficient light bulbs; neutered language in the public square to make sure no one is ever offended.

But all of the above is a mere teardrop in the Amazon compared to what your freedom-hating Republican Party has been doing across the land to restrict individual liberty.

They want the state to follow you into the bedroom, the bathroom and beyond. They think you’re too stupid to know what to do with your own body, too ignorant to understand what your doctors tell you and too lazy to be trusted in a job without being subject to random drug testing. Your body is the government’s business.

Let’s take a tour of the church lady state to date. Our nation may soon turn its lonely eyes to Idaho, where Gov. Butch Otter could have the final say on a bill that would order women to undergo a medically unnecessary and invasive procedure before deciding to end a pregnancy.

This is the latest version of the mandatory ultrasound law, recently enacted by Virginia and Texas. But the Idaho bill, which passed the State Senate on Monday in a one-party Republican state, goes much further, and would subject many women to invasive, trans-vaginal inspections.

Idaho politicians love to go on and on about how government shouldn’t force people to do things that violate their conscience, or common sense. And for the last three years, we’ve heard Republican presidential candidates condemn the abomination of government coming between you and your doctor.

But given a chance to govern without a sanity filter, these same Republicans become Big Brother in a surgical smock.

In Idaho, almost one in five people have no health insurance. Except now the Republican Legislature wants to force you to undergo at least one medical procedure, no matter whether you have health care.

Compounding the lunacy of this reach into your family discussions, the bill’s main sponsor, State Senator Chuck Winder, suggested that rape victims seeking exceptions might be lying about how they got pregnant.

He said women should ask their doctors if their pregnancy was caused by rape or “normal relations in a marriage.” And, yes, I hate to say it, but politicians are that stupid and that mean-spirited in Idaho. Here’s a leader of the State Legislature suggesting that a woman is just too dumb to know whether she was raped or not.

In Texas, Carolyn Jones just went through the punitive end of a horrid law prompted by militant sanctimony. She is a working mother, married, who was anticipating the birth of her second child when she was told of deformities in the fetus. After agonizing, she felt she had no choice but to end the pregnancy. That was the start of her special hell in the Lone Star State.

When she went to an agency that performed abortions, she was told that she must have a sonogram, per the new law, in order to shame her into hearing a heartbeat. “I didn’t want another sonogram when I’d already had two today,” she wrote, in a gripping account in the Texas Observer. “Here was a superfluous layer of torment piled upon an already horrific day.”

Good people can argue the morality of early-stage abortion. But as long as abortion is legal, no woman should have to face Big Government’s medical wand — or gloved fist — for no other reason than some male politicians want to make you feel bad.

The same holds true for new restrictions on personal life in Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, just signed into law random drug testing for state employees. Earlier, he backed a bill requiring anyone in need of state assistance to take a drug test. The latter humiliation is stalled, for now, following a legal challenge by a Navy veteran who was denied help for his 4-year-old son because he refused to take a drug test.

“The law assumes that everyone who needs a little help has a drug problem,” said Luis Lebron, who brought the legal challenge.

Imagine if every politician, or Wall Street recipient of taxpayer money, was required to pee into cup, and to sit through an hourlong lecture on morality, before passing on or receiving a bailout. Yes, imagine — because it’ll never happen.

Did you see the banner behind Rick Santorum’s defeat rally on Tuesday? One word: Freedom. But just a few days earlier, Santorum applauded a preacher in Louisiana who said people who didn’t want to live in a Christian nation should leave the country. Freedom, in Santorum’s world, apparently only applies only to those of one religion.

Mitt Romney has been decrying the Obama administration’s “assault on freedom.” But those who seem to “hate our freedom” — as George W. Bush called theocrats of another stripe — are the pilgrims with pitchforks in Romney’s own party.

There is one recent exception, and it deserves praise. A few days ago, the New Hampshire Legislature voted overwhelmingly to keep a law that gives people of the same sex the freedom to marry. Legislators decided, in the kind of deliberation that stills the cynic in me, that telling somebody whom they can or cannot marry is the ultimate restriction on personal liberty. If your official state motto is “Live Free or Die,” you ought to act like you believe it. They did.