A Crazy Abortion Lawsuit and Legislating Morality

This is not just a bad joke. This week in federal court a group of devil worshippers sued to overturn our state’s restrictions on abortion as a violation of their First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and the Establishment Clause. (I’m not just calling them devil worshippers. The suit is literally brought on behalf of “The Satanic Temple.”)

While absurd, this lawsuit strikes at the heart of a key point in the abortion argument and governing philosophy in general. Abortion defenders often claim, “Well, you can’t legislate morality.” Not true.

We “legislate morality” all the time. In fact, most laws involve some moral judgment. Prohibitions on murder, rape, theft, assault, slavery, you name it, all involve moral judgments. Even civil laws with no criminal consequence involve morality. Take, for example, the Senior Savings Protection Act – which I handled and Gov. Nixon just signed – it’s underlying premise is that it’s morally wrong for a swindler to steal from vulnerable Missourians, so the law makes it easier to stop that fraud. That’s legislating morality.

Do these laws violate the Establishment Clause because they’re based on morality that’s entirely consistent and derived from religious values that are shared by nearly all religions? Of course not. Neither do our restrictions on abortion, an event that ends a life. In the case of the 72 hour waiting period, it’s not too much to ask three days wait before taking an entire lifetime away from a child.

Usually when someone argues, “We can’t legislate morality,” what they really mean is just, “We shouldn’t legislate morality” in this situation. In some senses, the statement that “we can’t legislate morality” is also true. No law will ever eliminate fraud or crime or any of the other things we prohibit or limit. Human beings will make bad choices regardless of what government tries to do. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.