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.