Viagra and Logic

From Steven Landsburg:

Ohio State Senator Nina Turner (along with several of her counterparts in other states) has introduced legislation requiring men to undergo a series of humiliating procedures before they can fill their Viagra prescriptions. Here I am confident that Senator Turner is following in the admirable footsteps of Rush Limbaugh, by proposing a policy she doesn’t actually support in order to highlight its symmetry with a policy she finds appalling, namely recent legislation requiring women to undergo a series of humiliating procedures before they can have an abortion….

But is Senator Turner’s analogy a good one? It depends, I think, on the intent of the Ohio abortion law.

There are two possible motivations for that law. Motivation One is paternalistic, proceeding from the assumption that women will make poor choices about abortion and that we do them a favor when we discourage them. If that’s indeed the motivation, then Senator Turner’s analogy is spot-on. If we’re going to assume (with no substantial evidence) that women make poor choices about abortion, why not assume that men make poor choices about erectile dysfunction drugs? If we’re going to arrogate the power to override women’s choices, why not do the same for men?

But Motivation Two is that the legislature believes abortion is ipso facto a bad thing and wants to discourage it in any way possible, without regard to what’s in the best interest of the pregnant woman. If that’s the motivation, then Senator Turner’s analogy becomes much weaker (unless you’re really prepared to argue that erections are ipso facto a bad thing). A perfectly consistent person might fervently oppose this legislation but still consider Senator Turner’s implicit argument a bad one….

… I have the strong impression that Motivation One has been bandied about quite a bit by the proponents of these laws. So I think Senator Turner has got this right, and I admire both her logic and her gumption.

Perhaps Landsburg is trying to atone for his fit of political incorrectness in l’affaire Fluke. In any event, Landsburg has the wrong end of the stick (so to speak).

Motivations One and Two are not, in this case, independent and mutually exclusive, as Landsburg treats them. Motivation Two precedes Motivation One.That is, the motivation for pre-abortion procedures, such as fetal sonograms, is the belief that abortion is ipso facto a bad thing. The intention of legislators who vote to require such procedures is to reduce the number of abortions. (For more about the distinction between motivation and intention, see this letter to the editor of the Orlando Sentinel and a longer discussion in an old post of mine.)

Moreover, requiring men to undergo “a series of … procedures before they can fill their Viagra prescriptions” is not analogous to requiring woment to undergo pre-abortion procedures. In the case of pre-abortion procedures, the intention is to discourage a life-taking event; in the case of pre-Viagra-prescription procedures, the obvious intention is to protest pre-abortion procedures. If you think that the latter is on a moral par with the former, you suffer from an advanced case of pseudo-feminist hysteria.

Nina Turner, call your analyst.

Related posts:
A Useful Precedent
Law, Liberty, and Abortion
Substantive Due Process and the Limits of Privacy
Crimes against Humanity
Abortion and Logic