When war tax resisters go into rhetorical battle, one of the mythical creatures they often encounter is the other-than-war tax resister. The argument goes something like this: “If you think you shouldn’t have to pay taxes for the military because you have ethical qualms about war, do you think people with qualms about abortion and contraception should be able to stop paying taxes that might go toward these things?”
The list goes on from here, of course, to include anything that government funds that someone somewhere might have conscientious scruples against. But it almost always starts with abortion — in part, probably because this is a textbook case of people having a conscientious, ethical, absolute, life-and-death sort of stand of a sort similar to that of the war tax resisters; and in part because (with many exceptions), the anti-war movement in which war tax resistance activists are often found tends to draw from a pro-choice crowd, and so this gives the argument its necessary dissonance.
The argument can go in a few directions from here. An anarchist or minarchist would respond to the argument simply by agreeing that people in general should not be forced to participate in or pay for things that they find abhorrent. This deflates the argument by admitting it, opening up a whole new can of worms, since anarchism/minarchism is more or less precisely the reductio ad absurdum the argument was aiming at in the first place.
A pro-life but politically statist war tax resister might agree that people should be able to opt out of paying for abortion, but might get tripped up further down the line: contraception? compulsory public education? social security? surely there’s something where they’ll draw the line. And then the tax resister has to explain why some programs require the government to overrule individual conscience to force unwilling people to participate, while others must allow the conscience to trump the policy. And such an argument seems futile at worst, and highly nuanced at best (at least I haven’t heard any good, pithy ones).
But a response I’ve heard that side-steps the argument with some success is this: we don’t really have to worry about this sort of thing, because war tax resistance is a special case. We know this because there are plenty of war tax resisters right now whose consciences do not allow them to pay war taxes, but there aren’t any “public education tax resisters” or “social security tax resisters” or “abortion tax resisters” out there. (This ignores the anarchist “all of the above tax resisters,” but they stand outside the argument anyway.)
And I’ve looked to see if there are any “abortion tax resisters” out there — it seemed like there had to be some, somewhere — but without much success. It turns out I didn’t look hard enough.
In New Brunswick, Canada, a Catholic activist named David Little has refused to pay his federal taxes because taxpayer funds are used to pay for abortions. He told the judge who heard his tax case (excerpts):
All Canadians are victimized by universally funded abortion murders, even those unaware or unconvinced of it being murder.… When we pay taxes of any kind, even inculpable small children buying a candy bar pay GST, unknowingly in support of abortion.…
I cannot be enticed or coerced by this government to believe that the benefits of worthy and virtuous expenditures to fund acts or legislation of true worthiness and virtue in benefit to all Canadians, can bribe or justify me to forget that a portion of every penny I voluntarily surrender to Revenue Canada is used in an act of pure murder, a true homicide in fact if not in law. I cannot, must not, do evil to achieve a good end.
I have made it clear publicly for more than 20 years that I would rather suffer imprisonment than voluntarily surrender money to any person or institution who would use even the smallest portion of my money to perpetrate murder on any human being. My religion as a Roman Catholic and my formed conscience tells me unequivocally that I would be in material and perhaps even formal cooperation with murder and as such would be personally complicit. A judgment greater than that which men propose and prevail upon men, awaits us all.
In the letter Little wrote to the tax collector, he recounted how his stand on tax paying and tax resistance evolved:
I have compromised before on this most vital issue. I have sent protest notes with my tax return, and still sent my money; I have withheld a token amount, ostensibly to forgo my financial participation in abortion, and still sent the remainder of my money. Every dollar sent is tainted, first or last.
I have written countless letters to Revenue Canada and to politicians of all status and parties. I have protested peacefully outside hospitals while abortions were being perpetrated; written countless letters to editors, voted solely for candidates who support human dignity and life; ran for Parliament myself, on a platform rooted in respect for human life and dignity; I have established several crisis pregnancy centres in Canada and the U.S. to help pregnant mothers with an alternative to abortion; yet the murders go on. Not with my money, no more, no way. I will go to jail first. I said that in public more than 20 years ago. (See attached news item) I am six months from my 60th birthday. We have a 5-year-old daughter, Sarah, a 21-month-old daughter, Hannah and an infant, Myriam, just 2-months old, and a 13-year-old daughter, Jahradd. My wife and I have decided that when they are old enough to ask, “did you do anything to stop the killing,” we want to be able to say in truth, “yes, we did all we could.”
The parallels to the reasoning of war tax resisters are striking. I’m surprised I haven’t come across more cases like this (I did find one other, earlier this year). Either for some reason tax resistance doesn’t get much traction in the pro life movement, or pro life tax resisters are quieter and don’t show up on my radar.
I learned about Little’s case because he was convicted on three charges of failure to pay taxes . He has vowed not to pay either the taxes or the fine, and is facing a 66-day jail term.