Tribe's op-ed, as I wrote in the first post, rests very heavily on misrepresenting the Supreme Court's commerce power doctrine as referring to "commercial choices." In fact, the cases refer to "commercial activities," and a switch from "activity" to "choice" is immensely important in the health care litigation, in which opponents stress that the failure to buy insurance is inactivity, not activity, and therefore beyond even the broadest interpretations the Supreme Court has ever given to the Commerce Clause.
Tribe attempted to skew opinion by substituting "choice" for "activity," and I have called him on that. But I need to go further, because someone who uses words to get things done needs to be kept honest not only about shifting from one word to another, but also about changing the meaning of the same word from case to case. Let's look at how Tribe talked about "choice" and health insurance and then see how that squares with what "choice" is supposed to mean in the abortion context.
In today's op-ed, Tribe wrote:
Individuals who don’t purchase insurance they can afford have made a choice to take a free ride on the health care system. They know that if they need emergency-room care that they can’t pay for, the public will pick up the tab. This conscious choice carries serious economic consequences for the national health care market, which makes it a proper subject for federal regulation.You can see that Tribe has given a very broad definition to the notion of choice. People bumble along, doing what they want, aware of the chance of an undesirable outcome, vaguely expecting to take advantage of an out that isn't very nice. That's a choice. It is something real and specific that the individual has done. Society can, as a group, based on our idea of the good, say to that person: We are now going to require you to take responsibility at that early decision point of yours. So Tribe says.
Now, apply that to abortion. If we take a similarly broad view of choice, we could say — as anti-abortion advocates do — that women who know they may be fertile have a choice when they go ahead and have sexual intercourse with a man. They can refrain from having sex, but if they go forward, they know that if they
Of course, the Supreme Court case law does not present the woman's right to choose in terms of taking responsibility at that early point. It says:
These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.The choice that matters is an elaborate process of high-level reflection that occurs after the woman becomes pregnant — that is, when it's too late to take the precautions that the majority might have liked her to take so that she would not show up with the demand for something it wants to prevent.
I realize there are many distinctions that can be made between health insurance and abortion, but there is so much sophistry around the word "choice" that I think it's important to concentrate on what choice means and how it matters in the law. It seems to me that society, acting through a legislature, may have a preference about when an individual should be required to make a choice, and that the individual, valuing autonomy, may want a broader range of choice than the majority would like to permit. When we think about government power and individual autonomy, how consistent must we be about what "choice" means?