The Devil's Shilling

May 31, 1991

Grove City's chickens came home to roost in the abortion case last week when the Supreme Court, in Chief Justice William Rehnquist's words, held that the federal government, is "entitled to define the limits" of publicly funded programs. The latest case means that doctors and counselors in clinics that receive federal funds will not be allowed to discuss abortion with clients. Grove City was about racial discrimination on college campuses, and the court held that a private college is bound by federal policy if it accepts even one federal dollar or if one student has a government-backed tuition loan.

We deplored the outcome in the abortion case and endorsed Grove City, but there is an underlying consistency in the two cases: He who pays the piper calls the tune. Accepting government money means accepting government control. You take the pay, you lose your say. If you don't like the rules, find your money someplace else. At least one college, Hillsdale in Michigan, has done just that, refusing every dollar, arranging non-government student loans, in the hope of escaping federal supervision.

Curse it as we may, the tyranny of the purse is an inescapable fact of life. Fathers withhold the car keys to induce behavior modification in their offspring. The Vatican suppresses the teaching of non-Catholic doctrine at Catholic University. Congress threatens funding for controversial projects in the arts. The 55-mile-per-hour speed limit became a nationwide law because Congress threatened to withhold federal highway money from any state that did not enact it, and Congress today is considering a bill to dock the highway funds of any state that does not enact a mandatory helmet law for motorcyclists.

Few of us really want to "get the government off our backs." Federal money can achieve marvelous things -- federal loan guarantees for students and medical clinics among them. But gifts do not come without strings, as the legendary Dr. Faustus discovered when he forfeited his soul to Mephistopheles to regain his youth. Aside from the rare Hillsdale College that tries to remain untainted by federal money, the only way around the tyranny of the purse is to try to change federal policy. Thus opponents of last week's abortion decision have introduced a bill to specify in law the right of a counselor to tell a woman her abortion rights. If the bill fails, abortion counseling will be available only in truly private clinics and the federal devil will continue to exact a price for his shilling.

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