Don’t do anything you’re going to regret later

Andrew Koppelman akoppelman at law.northwestern.edu
Sun Apr 22 17:35:22 PDT 2007


"Marry, and you will regret it. Do not marry, and you will also 
regret it. Marry or do not marry, you will regret it either way. 
Whether you marry or you do not marry, you will regret it either way. 
Laugh at the stupidities of the world, and you will regret it; weep 
over them, and you will also regret it. Laugh at the stupidities of 
the world or weep over them, you will regret it either way. Whether 
you laugh at the stupidities of the world or you weep over them, you 
will regret it either way. Trust a girl, and you will regret it. Do 
not trust her, and you will also regret it. Trust a girl or do not 
trust her, you will regret it either way. Whether you trust a girl or 
do not trust her, you will regret it either way. Hang yourself, and 
you will regret it. Do not hang yourself, and you will also regret 
it. Hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret it either 
way. Whether you hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will 
regret it either way."

Soren Kierkegaard's observation, just quoted, is pertinent to Justice 
Kennedy's observation, in Gonzales v. Carhart, that abortion methods 
may be restricted because "some women come to regret their choice to 
abort the infant life they once created and sustained," possibly 
resulting in "[s]evere depression and loss of esteem."  Justice 
Ginsberg responds by citing peer-reviewed studies showing that women 
who abort show no higher rate of psychiatric disorder than those who 
carry pregnancy to term.  But this doesn't really disprove Kennedy's 
point.  Kennedy admits that he has "no reliable data to measure the 
phenomenon," but thinks that it is "unexceptionable" that this story 
is true of "some women."  All he needs to sustain his claim is 
anecdotal evidence that this kind of thing sometimes happens.

But what is the major premise of this argument?  That constitutional 
liberties can be restricted if it sometimes happens that someone 
regrets exercising the liberty in a given way?  It's hard to imagine 
any liberty that no one ever regrets.  Some people who criticize 
actions of the government later wish that they had kept their mouths 
shut.  Some criminal suspects regret that they didn't confess 
everything when the police first interrogated them.  Some of the 
slaves freed by the Thirteenth Amendment were old and infirm, and 
some of them probably regretted leaving the plantation.

It is hard to imagine the boundaries of this principle as Kennedy has 
stated it.  He cannot possibly mean it.  One can only hope that, at 
some point, contemplating what he has written, he regrets it.




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