Initiative Until Proven Guilty

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:06 pm

I caught a somewhat disturbing article on Morning Edition as I was puttering around the house today. It seems that some municipalities in Kansas are empaneling grand juries to investigate abortion providers in the state, despite the apparent lack of any serious basis for an investigation. A long-standing Kansas state statute mandates that a grand jury be convened if petitioners can gather signatures from two percent plus 100 of citizens in the county where the purported offense takes place. Conservative Kansan groups have used this law to force obscenity investigations against Kansas smut shops in the recent past. Now the right-to-lifers have jumped into the ring as well, collecting signatures to convene a grand jury to look into allegations against Planned Parenthood of Overland Park. The groups behind the petition—local chapters and agents of Operation Rescue, Concerned Women for America and Women Influencing the Nation—accuse a Wichita abortion provider (and through him, Planned Parenthood) of performing illegal third-trimester abortions, falsifying records and lying to authorities.

Maybe I’m being a little reactionary, but I don’t feel comfortable knowing that two percent of the population can bring legal weight to bear against a person or organization with no greater forethought or impetus than it takes to sign a piece of paper outside of the Pak-N-Save. I tend to think that human beings make better choices in the collective than in small, hyperreactive cliques.

To start, I’m not much of an initiative guy myself. As a resident of Washington State, I have been the repeated victim of perennial initiative filer, avowed anti-tax activist, noted embezzler and demented political pixie Tim Eyman. Mr. Eyman has been sprinkling his unique brand of magic fairy dust over Washington voter’s pamphlets for about ten years, doing his best to hamstring our legislature, our tax base and our transit system, to greater or lesser effect depending on the whim of the voters. His relentless cries of Waste, Fraud and Abuse often resonate with a certain class of citizen; the kind that believes in their heart of hearts that funding for services can undergo draconian cuts without affecting the quantity or quality of said services. This belief seems to be something of a reflex among many people, and these are often the sort of people who feel greatly empowered when they use their signature to overturn the mandate of the greater commonwealth as expressed through their elected representatives.

Of course, there are instances when it is necessary to go against the will of the majority in order to protect the rights of the minority—abolition comes to mind—because doing so sets a greater precedent for the protection of everyone’s rights. This, I imagine, is the rationale behind the quasi-extralegal persecution of Kansas Planned Parenthood; selfless human-life-boosters coming to the aid of the imperiled unborn minority. And that’s their call to make….within the confines of the law.

But there’s something to be said for letting appointed officials—including the police—do the job they were put in place to do. After all, law enforcement officials in Kansas had ample opportunity to pursue an official investigation against the doctor in question, but declined. Kansas is not particularly known for a laissez-faire attitude towards either criminal behavior or moral turpitude, so one would think that an organization performing legally questionable abortion procedures within the state of Kansas would receive its fair share of scrutiny. And just as I do not feel particularly comfortable having individual citizens or small groups regularly making other critical public safety decisions for me—such as when, where and why to blow another citizen’s head off—I do not draw tremendous comfort from the idea of a randomly sampled two-percent-plus-a-hundred deciding whether abortion providers are committing heinous crimes or simply doing their job.

It is one thing to use the power of the initiative process to change the law, and another thing entirely to use it to enforce the law after the fact. Particularly in a case such as this, where the alleged criminal activity in question has already been dismissed by those in the best position to evaluate it. And extra-double-particularly when the august bodies wishing to spearhead said enforcement are the type that think that freedom of speech means The Nuremberg Files, and the right to peaceable assembly means screaming, “DON’T KILL YOUR BABY!!!” at distraught and emotionally fragile young women entering a clinic.

As is so often the case, the people who are the most ardent about defending their rights often seem to want to do so at the expense of someone else’s. Guess I should count myself lucky that all our local initiative junkies want to do is destroy our state’s infrastructure. By all appearances, things could be much worse.

Leave a Reply

All comments containing hyperlinks are held for approval, so don't worry if your comment doesn't show up immediately. (I'm not editing for content, just weeding out the more obvious comment spam.)

All portions of this site are © Andrew Lenzer, all rights reserved, unless otherwise noted.