CHARLIE MITCHELL: Scope and power of government remain constant review

By Charlie Mitchell

People who can’t name a single justice of the U.S. Supreme Court can tell you about Roe v. Wade.
It was the abortion decision.
In light of suits to block federal health reforms, however, the details become important.
The case started when a Texas woman who was pregnant objected in federal court to a state law that made terminating any pregnancy a crime. Mississippi had a similar law, as did all other states.
Roe v. Wade made it to the nation’s top judicial panel in 1972. The majority opinion by the late Justice Harry Blackmun, issued in 1973, measured the validity of the Texas law against one question: “What public interest is served by the Texas law against abortion?”
There’s more to the decision, but Blackmun concluded that a developing child for at least 90 days after conception is not “viable.” He ruled that such a developing child, one who could not live independently of its mother’s body, is not “alive” in legal terms. Not being a “person,” the developing child had no legal rights for Texas to protect with its anti-abortion law.
However the plaintiff, Norma McCorvey, did have rights. Specifically, six of the justices agreed with Blackmun in the 7-2 decision that the general constitutional freedom that people are promised from government interference would be paramount.
Whatever else anyone thinks about it, Roe v. Wade was a victory for the individual against the power of government.
Fast forward to 2010. The power of government is being pitted against the rights of the individual. Among new health care laws is a requirement that almost all people obtain insurance of some type.
Now some have said this requirement is no different than laws requiring drivers to have liability insurance. But there’s an option with the car insurance law, an “out.” People can choose not to drive. Millions of people don’t even own cars.
There is no such choice in the health care legislation.
Note what’s going on. Government can’t tell a woman what she must do when pregnant. The “right to be left alone” and personal choice win in that context. But government can compel people to enroll in some form of health insurance? Privacy doesn’t include a right to remain uninsured?
Generally, people who think Roe v. Wade was a bad decision also oppose the health care reforms.
Generally, people who think Roe v. Wade was a correct decision also think the health care reforms are great.
Of course, the hardest stance to figure out might be that of the private insurance companies.
In essence, they become like Section 8 landlords. Under that housing program and many others created in the same mold, private owners of apartments and homes are guaranteed rents will be paid. Tenants pay a portion, based on their income, and taxpayers pay the rest.
With the insurance exchanges in the reform packages, private insurance companies will get millions of new customers. According to what has been written, individuals will pay premiums based on their incomes and the balance due will be picked up by the federal treasury. People who now struggle to pay premiums will get a boost, too. If, according to rate tables, insured people are paying too large a share of their income for coverage, part of the expense may be picked up by taxpayers.
Overall, this means President Barack Obama has guaranteed them more customers and, perhaps, more profits.
Some provisions of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights grant the government power. Others limit government power. The resulting pushing and pulling and tugging and shoving regarding specific situations have been part of the American story for a long time. That’s as true today as it ever was.
Correction: Ole Miss students voted to help select a new school mascot. The vote was not on removing Colonel Reb as last week’s column indicated.

Charlie Mitchell is executive editor of The Vicksburg Post. Write to him at Box 821668, Vicksburg, MS 39182, or e-mail

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