Thursday, February 04, 2016

The prescient Playboy cartoon, and a doctor's view through rose-colored glasses

Since the Supreme Court upheld lower courts on the legality of same-sex marriages, the idea of gay people marrying has been fair game for cartoonists. This is an example:

Or is it? I have misled you, because the cartoon comes from the October 1968 issue of Playboy. Cartoonist Dennis Kennedy appears prescient. If he is still around, I hope he realizes how his punchline has a meaning now he probably wasn’t aiming for in 1968.

On the same page of that issue is a letter from a physician who saw the need to end the abortion laws that varied from state-to-state in 1968. Basically he was calling for a federal mandate, like the same-sex marriage debate of nearly 50 years hence, that would make abortion legal in all 50 states. Here is the letter:

We must put an end to all abortion laws. Liberalization is insufficient, expecially when one considers that total repeal of abortion laws would produce the following benefits:

The increased number of abortion requests would make the medical community aware of the need for extensive contraception and sterilization programs, and this long-standing need would at least be responded to.

Illegal abortion would almost disappear. Most abortions would be performed in hospitals that, by their standards of safety, show proper regard for the ‘sanctity of human life.’

The status of women would be improved, because each would be allowed to regulate her own bodily functions. (No woman should have to plead a case to obtain an abortion.)

Mental health would improve, because sane attitudes toward sex would eveolve as a result of lessened anxiety about unwanted pregnancy.

Poverty would diminish, since families would be smaller and better suited to their incomes. An important side benefit would be happier homes.

The era of wanted children would arrive at last. Almost every child would be planned and joyfully anticipated.

Appreciable amounts of public funds would be saved, because there would be no less need to wage war on poverty and to provide welfare support.

As these primary benefits spread their beneficial effects throughout our society, the general rise in happiness would be incalculable. Is it any wonder that so many physicians and clergymen favor the complete recall of abortion laws?

H. B. Munson, M.D.
Rapid City, South Dakota”

Dr Munson thought out his argument, but was wrong on almost every point. Abortion was made legal by the United States Supreme Court five years later in 1973, and has had heavy pushback ever since. The doctor’s optimistic predictions did not take into account those who see abortion for any reason as murder. That hasn't stopped some individuals from themselves committing murder against abortion providers, and five doctors have been killed. Munson was partially right about contraception improving. I remember when a man had to travel to a neighboring state for a vasectomy because it was illegal in Utah. Laws can change as society changes, even in Utah.

The idealistic view of what life would be like after abortion was legal across America reminds me of the same sort of talk before Prohibition was inflicted on the American public in 1920. Instead of the rosy future the anti-liquor forces were promising when liquor was abolished, what really happened was it turned America into a nation of lawbreakers.

A well-known side effect was it made organized crime even more organized, and left us with a deadly legacy probably as bad or worse than the nation of drunkards we had before Prohibition. It also established a template for criminals on how to handle the illicit distribution of drugs a few decades later.

I don’t pretend to know the answer to handle that problem. Many people love their liquor and drugs. No one claims that either or both are not harmful. Banning them and making users into criminals hasn’t worked. It is the Law of Unintended Consequences in action. One hundred years ago when Prohibition was becoming a reality, its proponents were caught up in their view of it being a universal answer to an age-old human problem. No one thought that the problems caused by the law would have repercussions that so far have stretched out for nearly a century.

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