Questioning Mr. Libertarian on Abortion

Dave Killion — February 21, 2012

The late, great political philosopher Murray Rothbard has been an integral player in the formation of libertarian thinking. Reading his works has helped clarify many issues for me, but I am not certain he has arrived at the right conclusions concerning abortion. From his monumental work “The Ethics of Liberty” –

” The proper groundwork for analysis of abortion is in every man’s absolute right of self-ownership. This implies immediately that every woman has the absolute right to her own body, that she has absolute dominion over her body and everything within it. This includes the fetus. Most fetuses are in the mother’s womb because the mother consents to this situation, but the fetus is there by the mother’s freely-granted consent. But should the mother decide that she does not want the fetus there any longer, then the fetus becomes a parasitic “invader” of her person, and the mother has the perfect right to expel this invader from her domain. Abortion should be looked upon, not as “murder” of a living person, but as the expulsion of an unwanted invader from the mother’s body. Any laws restricting or prohibiting abortion are therefore invasions of the rights of mothers.”

Imagine a plane owner freely grants a passenger consent to ride across the ocean in the owner’s plane. Midway through, the owner decides the passenger is no longer wanted and is therefore a parasitic “invader” that the owner has a perfect right to expel. Expulsion will be fatal to the passenger. What is there that makes expulsion ‘okay’ in the abortion example but not in the plane example? Nothing that I can see.

I have not met many people who are so pro-choice that they feel abortion is a mother’s right at any and all points in a pregnancy even up to the moment of delivery. What this suggests to me is that there is some point during the pregnancy when a fetus becomes a human being with the right not to be killed. I have no idea where that line is, and I don’t know how that line should be determined. I doubt libertarianism has an answer for that, either. This goes a long way in explaining why there is no libertarian position on abortion. I don’t like that, but I can derive some comfort from being able to demonstrate that in a libertarian society, abortion would greatly decrease as a result of market forces. That’s not much, but for now it will have to do.


David says

You make a very good point and it is one that libertarians ought to consider.

— February 22, 2012

Shirley says

OK….I have to admit that I have not read any of Rothbard stuff yet. From this brief article, it would seem that this is not an issue that he has given much thoughtful attention to…and what he has come up with is pretty ill conceived. (idiotic even…just saying…haha) If you want some sensible libertarian thinking on this issue… might be better off to look to RON PAUL.

— February 22, 2012

Shirley says

for example…..

Being Pro-Life Is Necessary to Defend Liberty
by Congressman Ron Paul
Libertarians for Life
Copyright 1981

Pro-life libertarians have a vital task to perform: to persuade the many abortion-supporting libertarians of the contradiction between abortion and individual liberty; and, to sever the mistaken connection in many minds between individual freedom and the “right” to extinguish individual life.
Libertarians have a moral vision of a society that is just, because individuals are free. This vision is the only reason for libertarianism to exist. It offers an alternative to the forms of political thought that uphold the power of the State, or of persons within a society, to violate the freedom of others. If it loses that vision, then libertarianism becomes merely another ideology whose policies are oppressive, rather than liberating.

We expect most people to be inconsistent, because their beliefs are founded on false principles or on principles that are not clearly stated and understood. They cannot apply their beliefs consistently without contradictions becoming glaringly apparent. Thus, there are both liberals and conservatives who support conscription of young people, the redistribution of wealth, and the power of the majority to impose its will on the individual.

A libertarian’s support for abortion is not merely a minor misapplication of principle, as if one held an incorrect belief about the Austrian theory of the business cycle. The issue of abortion is fundamental, and therefore an incorrect view of the issue strikes at the very foundations of all beliefs.

Libertarians believe, along with the Founding Fathers, that every individual has inalienable rights, among which are the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Neither the State, nor any other person, can violate those rights without committing an injustice. But, just as important as the power claimed by the State to decide what rights we have, is the power to decide which of us has rights.

Today, we are seeing a piecemeal destruction of individual freedom. And in abortion, the statists have found a most effective method of obliterating freedom: obliterating the individual. Abortion on demand is the ultimate State tyranny; the State simply declares that certain classes of human beings are not persons, and therefore not entitled to the protection of the law. The State protects the “right” of some people to kill others, just as the courts protected the “property rights” of slave masters in their slaves. Moreover, by this method the State achieves a goal common to all totalitarian regimes: it sets us against each other, so that our energies are spent in the struggle between State-created classes, rather than in freeing all individuals from the State. Unlike Nazi Germany, which forcibly sent millions to the gas chambers (as well as forcing abortion and sterilization upon many more), the new regime has enlisted the assistance of millions of people to act as its agents in carrying out a program of mass murder.

The more one strives for the consistent application of an incorrect principle, the more horrendous the results. Thus, a wrong-headed libertarian is potentially very dangerous. Libertarians who act on a wrong premise seem to be too often willing to accept the inhuman conclusions of an argument, rather than question their premises.

A case in point is a young libertarian leader I have heard about. He supports the “right” of a woman to remove an unwanted child from her body (i.e., her property) by killing and then expelling him or her. Therefore, he has consistently concluded, any property owner has the right to kill anyone on his property, for any reason.

Such conclusions should make libertarians question the premises from which they are drawn.

We must promote a consistent vision of liberty because freedom is whole and cannot be alienated, although it can be abridged by the unjust action of the State or those who are powerful enough to obtain their own demands. Our lives, also, are a whole from the beginning at fertilization until death. To deny any part of liberty, or to deny liberty to any particular class of individuals, diminishes the freedom of all. For libertarians to support such an abridgement of the right to live free is unconscionable.

I encourage all pro-life libertarians to become involved in debating the issues and educating the public; whether or not freedom is defended across the board, or is allowed to be further eroded without consistent defenders, may depend on them.

— February 22, 2012

David says

@Shirley: Thanks for this info. It is my hope that the libertarian movement moves in the pro life direction.

— February 28, 2012

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