Thoughts on the legislative process and the NC State legislature

3 Jul

I was sick as a dog last night.  Just horrible stuff coming out of me all over the place.  I’d like to turn that into a cunning segue to lead into the discussion of the NC Senate, but no, it’s simply why I missed the Blogosphere explosion when the Senate attached a rider to a bill to substantially limit the nature and availability of abortion services in North Carolina.

Here is my personal stance on abortion: It’s personal.  Abortion is one of those topics that is, and will always be, filtered through a personal lens. Your life experiences, your religious views, your alignment with political parties, your background in science or philosophy or whatever… These and many other factors will shape your opinion of abortion.

You cannot legislate an opinion.  But last night, North Carolina joined with other states that are trying their damnedest to do just that.

In issues like abortion, due legislative process is essential.  Any comprehensive discussion of abortion must include topics such as socio-economic status, religion, health care (access to, types of, risks associated with, etc.), women’s rights, short- and long-term repercussions of changes to the size of the population… You see where I’m going with this. It’s complex and complicated and it should be, because abortion is an issue that matters to a lot of people for many different reasons.  You cannot arbitrarily decide that some of these associated topics matter and some do not, because each time the discussion is reduced or oversimplified, it loses complexity and becomes more and more about providing legitimacy for opinion.

When used appropriately, legislative process are the filter for personal opinion.  Legislative process allows individuals, groups, and communities a forum through which complex issues can be argued and a consensus determined (please note the use of “consensus” rather than “solution” or “answer,” because those are incompatible with an issue such as abortion, or war, or euthanasia, or any of the numerous other issues which are deeply rooted in opinion: hell, while we’re at it, let’s throw taxes and education into that mix, too.).  It’s what allows us to live together, because rational, reasonable human beings recognize that different personal opinions will result in conflict if we don’t have functioning mechanisms which force our opinions to play nice.

Last night… late last night… late last night going into a long holiday weekend… the NC state Senate introduced a bill that was ostensibly about Sharia law, but a last-minute rider was added that not only introduced limits on abortion but literally redefined the name and purpose of the bill to one in which women’s rights were restricted. This is not a new phenomenon.  In the 2012 elections, North Carolina went through a political shift and is now strongly GOP, and many such bills have been making their way through the state assembly.  The renamed “Family, Faith, and Freedom Protection Act of 2013” is just the most recent example of this.

Here’s the thing.  Personally, I don’t care what your opinions are on abortion.  I don’t care if you are a Democrat, a Republican, or Other.  Whatever.  You’re you, I’m me, and even if we disagree on almost everything under the sun, we can still talk about how hot that darned sun gets in July.  But I do care about the legislative process.  I care a lot about the legislative process.  It’s what allows us to find consensus so we can live with these issues rather than constantly coming to blows over them, and it’s what allows us to resolve one issue so we can move on to the next.  Progress is the result of discussion, not domination.

As I write this, I have the live feed for the North Carolina state Senate ticking away in my browser.  The current speaker is saying that he and others in the Democratic party had no idea that a women’s health issue would be tacked on a late-night bill.  He has just made the point that “The citizens of North Carolina have not had the opportunity to speak towards this bill” and that 45 minutes of debate is not enough time to even scratch the surface of these issues.

Folks, this is not just about abortion, nor it is exclusively a women’s issue.  This is the legislative process tossed aside because it is an inconvenient barrier to the official sanctioning of opinion.  I am aware of it now because the current topic is a woman’s issue–if this had something to do with car dealerships or mining rights, for example, I would have never heard about it–but it could just have easily been legislation passed on a topic that does not directly involve me and had the same significance.

This is happening all over the country.  It happened in Texas last week, and North Carolina last night and today.  It’s been happening for decades, and it’ll keep happening until we let our politicians know that we actually do recognize the legislative process is the only way that we can participate in a shared civil society.

Our opinions can be assholes.  The legislative process is pretty much the only reasonable recourse we have to keep them in check.  Even if we disagree on abortion, I hope we can all agree on that.

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