About a month ago, a man I admire, Danny Ledonne, wrote a blog post about why libertarians should support a woman’s right to seek an abortion under any circumstance. As he points out, this is a contentious issue that the Libertarian Party has punted on.
Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration. (Libertarian Platform 1.4)
In Danny’s defense of a woman’s right to seek an abortion, he uses what he admits to being an imperfect analogy of an unwelcome house guest:
If I am the owner of a property, I decide who is welcome and who is not. If an unwelcome person persists in remaining on my property (an “intruder”), I have the right to use every means up to and including deadly force to remove this person from my property. Naturally, I am going to seek out non-violent means to resolve this conflict first, however at some point if the person refuses to leave my property (“like it or not, I am living in your dining room for the next nine months”), I may choose to use physical confrontation to remove this person. You see where I am going with this; if a woman has self-ownership over her body, then clearly she is the sole decision-maker as to whom is welcome inside her body.
Now I have a problem with this. This analogy, while written in good faith, is not an accurate representation of pregnancy or abortion.
Before we get into what I think is a better analogy, we need to talk about some facts. Pregnancy is the result of having unprotected sex. Now a woman may choose to have sex when using a contraceptive, but they do so with the full knowledge that any such measure is not 100%. So there is always the risk that such measures will fail and pregnancy is a result.
Now let’s talk a little about the use of deadly force. In Danny’s example above, he states that a person is in the right to use to deadly force to remove someone from his property if they refuse to leave. I think he is right within his analogy, but not in the entirely right when it comes to abortion.
Libertarians will openly agree that there are times when the use of deadly force is the only option and is authorized for such situations. What are these situations? Well, the Libertarian platform is based on three unalienable rights of the people: life, liberty and property. A person is authorized to use deadly force to protect these rights.
So which of these rights does abortion fall under? After all, abortion is the use of deadly force. Let’s look at them one by one.
There are times when a pregnancy can result in the life of the mother being threatened. If the woman continues to carry the baby to term her body will not be able to do so and she can die. In such a situation the woman is authorized to use deadly force to remove the child to save her own life. I don’t think this can ethically be argued against. Why risk both lives when one life can be saved?
On this same note, there are times when the life of the child is at risk as well. Doctors are able to recognize situations where a child is deformed or has another condition in which it will not survive birth or long in life. In these situations, it is justifiable to end the child’s life and suffering. This is similar to a person on life support and the decision to “pull the plug.”
This one is a bit trickier but not difficult. If someone threatens to take away your liberties, you are authorized to use deadly force. But is an unwanted pregnancy a threat to your liberties? Here is where Danny’s argument falls south. In his example a man moves onto your property and refuses to leave. But this man is willfully infringing on your liberties. A child in a woman’s uterus is not willfully refusing to leave. The child has no other choice but to stay or it will die. The child did not even choose to move in. The woman chose to let the child into her uterus by having sex knowing full well that regardless of contraceptive used she could end up pregnant.
I will now use my own admittedly imperfect analogy, but I feel that it is one that better describes the situation.
Last year around this time, my wife convinced me to let my brother-in-law move into our home so that he could get back on his feet. I agreed to this knowing that his visit could go well beyond a few days or a few weeks. I knew the risk that he could end up living with us for months. He did stay for months. During that time, my liberty was reduced as I could not use certain rooms in my own home at certain times of the day and in ways I wished to use them. He ate my food and contributed very little to our situation in return. Even though I found his presence and his refusal to better his situation so that he could leave a nuisance, at no time was I authorized to use deadly force to remove him. He still retained his right to life. I would not have been justified in killing him.
Does this mean there is no situation where a woman’s liberty is being forcefully violated? No. That said, there is no situation where the child itself is forcefully violating the liberty rights of the woman. The cases where a woman’s liberty is violated are where the pregnancy is the result of forced or unwanted sexual activity such as rape or incest. In these situations, the woman is not choosing to engage in sexual intercourse and is justified in the use of deadly force to expel that which was forced upon her, in this case the unwanted child.
Please keep in mind that it is possible for a woman to carry the child to term and then offer up the child for adoption, but by no means should a woman be forced to take this path. As a personal note, I knew a girl, when I was a teen, who was a rape baby. Her biological mother was raped and a pregnancy resulted. I do not know the full details of why the woman chose adoption over abortion, but she did and this young girl (she is in her late 20s now) was raised by a wonderful couple who could not have children of their own. This is a unique situation and should not be the only option for those who are raped. Many women cannot deal with the emotional and mental anguish brought about by rape and the unwanted pregnancy. These woman deserve the right to choose to abort the baby if they wish, because their liberty was violated.
To be honest, I can find no compelling argument that a pregnancy violates a person’s right to property. The closest I can come is that a pregnancy results in costs that the woman would not otherwise take on. However, these costs are not permanent if the woman does not wish to care for the child after birth. The violation of property goes back to my first point on liberty. The child is not willfully violating the woman’s property rights. The child is not choosing to force the woman to expend your resources. This child is just as much a victim of circumstances as the woman is.
In the end, there are some justifiable uses of deadly force in our lives and yes abortion has some justifications. When a woman’s life is threatened and when a woman’s liberty is threatened through the rape or incest. Yet, at no time is the use of force justified simply because the woman is inconvenienced otherwise. If the use of force was justifiable simply because someone was inconvenienced or otherwise annoyed by the presence of another person, we would have a very small population.
As a Libertarian, we should recognize that the rights of women should not be violated, but there are lines that even we must admit exist. We cannot justify the unchecked use of deadly force. We must recognize that the rights to life, liberty and property must be protected by force, even against an unborn child. However, the rights of the woman should be carefully considered along with the rights of the unborn child. In the case of an unwanted pregnancy in result of a woman not using contraceptives or failure of those contraceptives, the child is as much if not more of a victim as the woman. That child deserves the same protection of its rights to life and liberty. It has no choice in the matter; only the woman does.
I will agree with Danny on another point. Prohibition does not work. This is where the contention among Libertarians lies. One cannot justify a full or even partial prohibition on abortion because women who want one will seek them through the black market and risk their health and safety. Yet, under Danny’s argument a child does not have the right to life we Libertarians celebrate until that child takes its first breath of air at birth. It doesn’t matter that the child is able to move, their heart beats and they have brain activity while in the womb. If it hasn’t taken a breath of air with its very own lungs it must not be alive and is thus not qualified to the right of life. Under this logic there is no check on the use of deadly force.
Danny also brings up a good point on religious views within the Libertarian Party. As a Mormon, I believe that people have free agency in life. We believe that men and women are free to choose for themselves how they wish to live their life even if that means aborting an unwanted child. We do believe that every child is a life or at least a potential life. We don’t have the answer to when a child becomes a complete soul with spirit and body. This is evident in our views on still birth babies. So the same can be applied to abortion. We do believe that abortion for the sake of convenience is a serious issue and it can often prevent someone from full fellowship in the church if they do so with little regard for the spiritual or temporal consequences. But we have no right to force our spiritual views on all of society.