The fact that Virginia lawmakers evidently didn’t understand what their law would mean to women, and what it would require of doctors, didn’t stop the legislators from pushing forward with the measure anyway. Ignorance of the law may be no legal defense to you and me, but ignorance of the law among those who are passing the law surely is the definition of bad governance. For the politicians now scrambling away from Virginia’s measure, however, pleading ignorance perhaps is easier today than confessing the truth, which is that the pols who supported the measure probably didn’t care in the first place if its mandated procedures offended women. That was the whole point, wasn’t it?
At a minimum, the barely-averted disaster in the commonwealth raises questions about whether the same intellectual disconnect is happening in New Hampshire, where the Republican-dominated legislature is pressing ahead with anti-abortion measures over the objections of medical experts. Or in Iowa, where a GOP lawmaker recently introduced a bill that would ban abortions and generate potential life sentences in prison for doctors who perform what the law calls “feticide.” Or in Nebraska, where legislators are considering a bill that would create a legal defense — justifiable homicide, it’s called — for the murder of a doctor who intends to harm a fetus.
America, sadly, has grown accustomed to “symbolic” legislation which is designed not to advance the public good, or even to become sustainable law, but rather to appease particular interest groups. The campaign promise becomes the pending measure; the donor’s crusade becomes the subject of public hearings. And what is squeezed out of the legislative process as a result of such pandering is the more moderate legislation, the more practical measures, which do stand a chance of passing constitutional muster and which do solve real problems in sensible ways. That’s no way to run a country — or even a state.
When public outrage forced them into a choice this week between appearing stupid about the ultrasound law or appearing venal toward it, Virginia’s Republican lawmakers, and the Commonwealth’s governor, chose to act stupid. It’s a choice that zealous lawmakers all over the country would be forced to make if their own senseless, unlawful legislation ever made it to the Supreme Court. But chances are those bills never will. Instead, America’s pet legislation will continue to whistle to all the political dogs out there while wasting everyone else’s time and money.
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