Just for the record, you can be libertarian and anti-abortion

by Jen Lade

As hundreds of thousands of people march on Washington to protest the legalization of abortion for the annual March for Life today, I just want to clarify that it is not hypocritical to be both libertarian and “pro-life.”

As readers of this blog know, libertarians want government to back off and give individuals the freedom to live their lives as they please. Some might think this would include backing off on a woman’s decision to have an abortion. But libertarians still believe government has a role: to protect our most basic rights, the first of which is the right to life. Without the right to life, all other talk of rights becomes meaningless. Libertarians believe the government must outlaw the initiation of force against another individual, which includes everything from assault to murder and abortion.

Because the right to life is such an obvious first principle in our Constitution, the only way to argue for the continued legalization of abortion is to argue that abortion is not ending a human life. But science has been pretty clear on this for a while now. From the moment of conception, the being growing inside the mother is a human life, with its own DNA separate from the mother.

There are plenty of other arguments people use to support the right to an abortion. No doubt many women who seek abortion are suffering because of their pregnancy or the implications of having a child. These women deserve our sympathy and our assistance. But their circumstances do not negate the wrongness of ending of a life any more than a person robbing a house to feed his family negates the crime of stealing.

Oftentimes, proponents of abortion use quasi-libertarian arguments to twist the issue: “If you don’t like abortion, then don’t have one.” The subtext is: “this is a personal choice, so butt out.” These same people would usually balk at the same argument concerning a different issue: “If you don’t like guns, then don’t own one;” or “If you don’t like drugs, then don’t use them.”

But they have it backwards. In the latter two examples, it really is a personal choice. Unless the gun is used to initiate force on someone else (which is already a crime) or the drugs are forcefully administered to someone else, another person’s possession of a firearm or use of drugs does not encroach on your rights. But in the abortion example, the act of getting an abortion IS encroaching on the right to life of the human in the womb.

Another libertarian-esque, but flawed, argument is that of self defense. If someone breaks into your house while you are home and there’s a chance they could kill you, you have the right to defend yourself against them, even if it means killing them. Some might say this could be applied to an unborn baby. According to the Guttmacher Institute about 12 percent of abortions are performed at least in part because of concern for the mother’s health, with a smaller percentage being because the mother’s life was actually threatened. But there is a big difference between killing the unborn baby outright and treating the mother’s life-threatening conditions with the side effect of killing the baby. For example, if the mother treats her cancer with chemotherapy during pregnancy, the unborn child may die but that was not the intent. If the child is aborted and then treatment started, the intent was to kill the child and should be illegal, even if the abortion was only a means to the end of expediting treatment.

To continue the house break-in metaphor, could the unborn life be considered to be a trespassing aggressor against the mother, thus legitimizing the abortion? Not really. First of all, the intent of the so-called aggressor has to be taken into account. An unborn baby has no intentions and is merely an innocent person. And he or she is not a trespasser either — having sex means there is a chance a baby will result. Aborting that baby would be like inviting over a family member (or at least leaving the door open) and then shooting the family member when they wandered into your house.

Furthermore, rape and incest together are listed as reasons for ending a pregnancy for less than 1.5 percent of all abortions, and in these cases, I’d say the rapist was the trespasser, not the baby that resulted. In any case, because of the small percentages of abortions performed because of life-threatening conditions or rape, the self-defense argument does not legitimize widespread abortion.

Maybe this is an obvious argument, but I just wanted to make sure all you libertarians out there kept it straight with regards to this issue. Go ahead and cheer those marchers for life. They’re fighting for defense of the earliest and most important right.

16 thoughts on “Just for the record, you can be libertarian and anti-abortion

    • I can’t speak for Jen, but I believe the idea is that since the mother is the victim in these cases, and the rapist is the culprit, it is still wrong for a third party to have force initiated against him or her. Obviously it is a terrible situation to be in, but I think if we believe rights are inalienable, then we must support the rights of humans as soon as they are human (new human DNA in a being that will live until an action is taken that ends the life).

  1. As a person of French Canadian descent I’m familiar with a genetic disease called Tay-Sachs. This is a terrible condition that results in a child’s death around the age of 4. There is no cure. There is a prenatal test that can be given at 10 gestational weeks for the parents to decide to continue the pregnancy as a child with this disease has a miserable existence. This is the only prevention if a child is diagnosed.
    My point is that this is not a black and white issue. it still should be up to the doctor and the patient to decide. I do not consider myself less moral of a person if I chose to have mercy and end the pregnancy.
    I also believe if you have a law there needs to be a consequence when breaking it or it is a farce. On that note, are we willing to jail or fine a couple with 6 children for example, who choose to end a 7th pregnancy that resulted from a rape? Even if they choose adoption, the mother could lose 9 months of income that is necessary to support her other children setting the whole family back for years. Is it up to some distant bureaucrat that the father needs to watch his wife carry some one else’s child? What if the parents believe that the initial faze of life is simply a group of cells that granted, could become a human being but isn’t yet? What about the doctor who helped this couple abort? What if she self aborts? She takes the morning after pill? Jail? A fine? If not, why have the law?
    These are extremes but used to stress that we are all individuals with our own unique set of circumstances and beliefs and have hard life decisions that should not be made by some distant bureaucrat.

    • But to the same effect, neither should a distant bureaucrat be making the decision to allow an initiation of force against another individual. I am coming from the perspective that once there is separate DNA, a mother is no longer making a decision that only effects herself. There are mothers who throw a newborn in the trash, and a mercy killing the day after a baby is born, no matter how dire their circumstances, is still illegal, and those who perpetrated these acts would face the legal consequences. The fact is some people believe its not a baby for 2 weeks, some people 4 months, some people 9 months, and some have argued for “after birth abortions”. Since life is the most basic human right, I think that the definition should be 1) not a part of the mother (separate DNA) and 2) continued growth of that ball of DNA (person), absent an act to stop that growth.

      The dependence argument, as in “the baby is a parasite” could apply after birth, since the baby could still not survive on its own.

      If a woman is raped it is not the baby or the government taking 9 months from her, it is the rapist. The only reason that a government is needed is to protect life, liberty and property from aggressors, and I believe this falls under the category of protecting life, as opposed to intervening to take a decision away from an individual that only effects that individual.

      • The distant bureaucrat is not “allowing” the initiation of force against a third person if they make the decision, as they would have us believe, the distant bureaucrat IS making the decision if it’s illegal. Unfortunately for absolute pro life-ists, in the situation of new life (like no other that comes to mind) there is another human life unequivocally involved. They don’t have the right to require this women to be the vessel of the future human being (in this country anyway). And I believe that is covered in the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that everyone throws forth.
        If bureaucrats want to decide that the women is required to undergo a procedure to remove the DNA and they are now in charge of the DNA in some sort of pod for future children of women who choose not to carry the baby just like they have safe havens for women that don’t want their children (taking away the trash can argument) then so be it (God love us if they think of that ’cause God love those future children!)
        But the point is if they are in charge of the women the second she gets pregnant they can dictate all kinds of things for the well being of the future child and the women is the prisoner of whatever they may come up with.
        I brought up the Tay Sachs example because there is nothing “productive” about the prenatal test for the benefit of the child like there is for spinal bifida where they may be able to do in utero surgery to change the result. It’s a test strictly to inform the parents. Doctors give the test for their benefit only. Are most gynocologists pro abortion? My guess is no. But I’m trusting my doctor who tried everything including forceps to save the life of my child even tho he was suggesting to end such a pregnancy if such a tragic diagnosis was made. I’d take his opinion over some distant bureaucrat any day and maybe we’ll both be damned.
        And the dependency argument is flawed in that a child can absolutely live without the vessel in which it was born in the care of another. So unless they want to start the “pod” program as I suggested, sorry, it’s part of the mother until it can live on it’s own and for various reasons, bad ones or maybe understandable in some cases, women need this right of decision.
        And I still want a “moment of conception” pro lifer to explain to me what we are going to do with the morning after pill takers? Because it seems like a utopian idea to me. Let’s just say it’s illegal and it will go away…I am a mother of five and wouldn’t dream of taking the course some choose because I am pro life in the true sense of the term (not the political co-opted version) and haven’t been in a rotten situation, thank God, but I still believe if you have a law, you need a consequence if it’s broken or it’s just politics so…What should it be?

      • First off let me just say thank you for continuing the discussion, I really enjoy when people engage in the comments section and I appreciate the time you’re taking to have this conversation.

        A couple things; “if they are in charge of the women the second she gets pregnant they can dictate all kinds of things for the well being of the future child and the women is the prisoner of whatever they may come up with”. I see where you are coming from here, but once a baby is born the government does dictate that a parent cannot abuse, neglect, or kill a child. But the government cannot intervene (although they try to more and more) to tell a parent how best to raise their child, short of stopping actual abuse. Just like if the government started considering giving children soda abuse, the same risk would come from the government considering a pregnant women drinking soda abuse. I don’t believe however that since the government could overstep its bounds in protecting the actual rights of children, that it has no place protecting these children. There are definitions for abuse of children, and it would be similar to having definitions of abuse of a fetus.

        Also, there are many stories of misdiagnosis in fetus’s who ended up living happy healthy lives. While I understand that we must discuss infrequent cases, I would use the “it’s better to save one innocent life and let 9 guilty people go” sort of argument for this. In the end, these rare cases are used to justify aborting children with down syndrome (or who might have down syndrome), and even female babies in some countries.

        Now a doctor could also reasonably suggest mercifully ending the life of a one month old if the prognosis was bad enough, except that murder is illegal. So we do allow distant bureaucrats to make certain decisions, in order to protect human rights, life among those.

        In terms of policing crimes, I realize how tough it can be in certain circumstances and do not advocate intrusive police tactics that violate rights. But I still want murder to be illegal, because when someone is caught murdering, they should be punished. I won’t deny that some of these laws would be tough to police, maybe only a fraction of the perpetrators would be charged, but that is the case with any crime. Someone living in the mountains a hundred miles from the nearest law enforcement is more likely to get away with murdering their neighbor than someone in a city. That doesn’t mean we should make murder legal in rural area, just because its harder to enforce.

        I think your best argument is the vessel argument, since you are right that an infant could survive under the care of another other than his or her mother. But if we could get the pod program up and running, I think I’d be a supporter. I am just coming from the position that to the greatest extent possible, we should not put the decision to end a life in the hands of a third party, since life is the most basic human right.

  2. Some questions and thoughts that I have when the pro lifers get their dream fulfilled of making abortion illegal:

    I realize many crimes go unpunished, that’s not my question. What is the punishment for a women that takes the morning after pill and we DO catch her? Jail time? What about in the case of a miscarriage? Are we going to investigate further or take the mother’s word for it?

    In the book Freakonomics they give a very good argument for the crime rate going down 20 years after roe vs wade was decided. This is an economic argument without emotion. Do the pro life ists realize you can force the mother to hold the baby but not to want it? This matters not to the absolute pro lifer because they believe either God and/or the constitution is on their side of saving all lives. (On a side note Catholics considered using birth control a sin because you were hindering God’s will to even create the potential life!)

    To stay consistent to the individual rights of the pregnant woman, the government has to allow a women to be able to remove the baby by c section at the viability stage as now the child can live without the vessel and the women has a right to her own body without the parasite attached that doesn’t need her. This of course can create a situation of underdeveloped children that need additional care (by the government of course)

    The pods that are created will certainly be a government run program that I’m sure will be to the benefit of all the poor unwanted.

    People pay surrogate mothers. Now the woman is a surrogate for societie’s ideal. Should we pay her?

    The doctor patient relationship will certainly be corrupted further by the outside influence of policy against the doctors best judgement

    The obvious black market is created with all the problems that consume the rest of society and has to be now be “dealt” with by the politicians just the way they like it

    Whether we like it or not a pregnant mother and her fetus are not seperate individuals until they are seperate individuals which doesn’t fit neatly into the traditional individual rights argument which is why the abortion question will rage on…..

  3. My only issue with the above article is the section discussing the “don’t like guns, don’t own one” and “don’t like drugs, don’t do them.”. Any libertarian would be in agreement with those statements. The best way to explain the inconsistent position of pro choice libertarians is ” don’t like slavery, don’t have a slave” or “don’t like robbery, don’t rob anyone.”. Slavery and robbery are both violations of the NAP as abortion is. These statements point out how ridiculous ” don’t like abortion, don’t have one” is.

    • Exactly, the author was explaining how “don’t like guns don’t own one” is different from the abortion argument of the same thread. So it sounds like you are in agreement with Jen, because she was point out the fact that abortion does have an impact on others’ rights, while doing drugs and owning a gun does not.

  4. I am definitely in agreement with Jen that abortion violates the NAP against the unborn child. I think the two examples Jen used would apply respectively to a pro abortion progressive (drugs) and a pro abortion conservative (guns) rather than a pro abortion libertarian. The two examples I give would be used to refute the logic of a pro abortion libertarian. I get more frustrated by pro abortion libertarians than pro abortion liberals or conservatives, because the latter two groups are inconsistent in a number of their positions while a true pro abortion libertarian is usually only inconsistent on abortion.

  5. Pingback: The Lives Ruined by Government | Vigilant Vote

  6. I’m against abortion (at first heart-beat or the mother’s life is at risk), so I agree with the reasoning that the fetus/baby’s “right to life” trumps the “right to choose”. HOWEVER, I have a question for you “Libertarian pro-lifers”. Let’s say, hypothetically in your Libertarian world, I’m a low-income 19 years old, working full-time, and unintentionally get pregnant (with an equally low-income guy).

    I make $2/hr because there is no min-wage (my billion-dollar employer paid min-wage until you Libertarians abolished it and they no longer have to).

    My employer doesn’t offer health benefits, obviously… I can’t leave for “better job” – I have no better skills, can’t afford college, can’t get a loan and, duh, I’m pregnant!

    I don’t get Medicaid (you Libertarians are against any govt-funded health care).

    No insurance company will give me health care (pregnancy is a “pre-existing condition” – poor, pregnant women aren’t exactly profitable to the free-market insurers).

    I’m not religious and don’t go to church (besides, the churches and charities have millions of other poor pregnant women begging for help, including those who better fit their “giving criteria”). My family/friends are all equally poor/low-income.

    I could save up to buy the morning after pill, but you want to FORCE ME to have a baby (from the moment of conception). Or, maybe it’s too late – I didn’t even know I was pregnant until weeks later.

    Soooo, please explain… how will me and my zygote/fetus/unborn/born child get the health care that we need to give us the best shot at LIFE??? How does that work in the Libertarian world for me and millions of poor pregnant women like me?
    *I know how it worked for Ron Paul’s ex-campain manager when he was uninsured and sadly passed away – $400K in medical bills left to the tax-payers. SO what gives???

    • Well you’re making up a hypothetical that takes place in a “libertarian world” while including remnants of our “mixed economy world”. You would have to explain why you’re making $2/hour, why you have no better skills, why is it impossible for you to gain skills, why your employer “obviously” doesn’t offer health benefits (in a free market where employers must compete for employees, these might not, and probably wouldn’t, be the case). Somehow you have also added that the churches won’t help you, even though I know that churches do not have strict “giving criteria” generally, and that in a libertarian society with fewer taxes going to government, more money in people’s pockets means more money going to charity.

      You have also confused libertarian with uncaring. We are not against helping the poor, we are against incompetent corrupt government giving “help” to the poor at a 10:1 ratio of skimming off the top and redistributing wealth. Many people—perhaps yourself included—would purchase healthcare from a company that also awards X number of free plans a year to those who can’t afford it. “Ah, but they don’t do that now” you might say; again, you cannot give your example in a “libertarian world” and use todays’ crony capitalist system as an example of why the free market wouldn’t work.

      Never-the-less, hospitals have historically not turned anyone away, and the higher price of medical care in general reflects this. Isn’t that what you want anyway though, for the cost of the unfortunate to be spread among the fortunate? Most people are willing to pay more so that hospitals don’t turn people away, in addition to large donations that help those in need. I honestly think you underestimate the charity of Americans, and don’t realize how much that charity would increase with substantially lower taxes in a libertarian society. This, in addition to the fact that in a liberation society there would be fewer poor people in general, because more of the wealth would be left in the population, instead of upwardly redistributed by the government. Those corporations you speak of not paying a decent wage? Those are crony-capitalist corporations who receive tax dollars through bailouts, subsidized loans, subsidies, and grants; or sell products with subsidized ingredients: sugar cane, corn, milk, etc. Their bad business practices would be punished by the market, but the government swoops in and saves them. Otherwise only businesses with practices sanctioned by the public, aka the market, would survive.

      Furthermore, insurance companies are not rich uncles to hit up when the bills come in, they deny preexisting conditions because that is how insurance works, pooling risk. If anyone with $400,000 in medical bills can just get insurance, how long is that insurance company going to last? And is it more moral for an insurance company to go out of business and insure no one, than to turn someone away and remain profitable, and therefore continue to insure their customers?

      And all this ignores the personal responsibility of those who get pregnant without the proper resources to raise a child. I am not FORCING anyone to have a child, anymore than our society FORCES someone to not murder their 1 day old child. And don’t you think the possible negative consequences of a struggle might be an incentive to slap a condom on, versus relying on society to rear your child? I know its tough to swallow, but there are consequences to our actions, and to force others to pay for those consequences creates more people who will make those same mistakes, knowing that they will not bear full responsibility for their actions.

      Thank you for commenting! I always appreciate input and a good discussion!

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