The libertarian case against abortion

It just goes to show what a topsy-turvy world we are living in where somebody who believes that life is precious and worth preserving is thought by some to hold an abhorrent opinion. And yet it is precisely the case in the abortion debate. People who hold a pro-life stance are often denigrated as the ones with the morally repugnant viewpoint as they are seen to be seeking to restrict the ‘reproductive rights’ of women. Just the term ‘pro-life’ conjures up images of bible bashers blowing up abortion clinics and wanting to return women to reproductive subjugation.

The abortion argument is often characterized as a pro-choice fight against religious control, and yet the best cases against abortion come from a humanist, secular standpoint.  The pro-life case is compelling and it starts with science. At the point of conception two cells combine to form a zygote with a one-of-a-kind DNA makeup that represents the point at which new life begins.

There is much debate about when exactly this new life becomes an actual human being with many dismissing this earliest of stages as a mere ‘clump of cells’. However by the time a woman can detect she is pregnant (around 4 -5 weeks) this clump of cells has started forming a brain, spinal cord and a heart. In the 5th week the heart starts pumping blood. By 8 weeks the foetus has hands and feet, and has started moving around. Although 66% of abortions are performed before 8 weeks it’s clear that even in these early stages when pregnancy is first detected, the foetus is a human life. Anyone who has tried to get pregnant and succeeds, can attest to the fact that the embryo developing inside you or your partner is more than just a ‘clump of cells’. It is a dream made real that carries with it your hopes for the new life you have created.

The real ‘choice’ when it comes to pregnancy and birth occurs before conception when decisions are made about contraception and sex. We all know having sex can result in making babies and personal responsibility dictates that we take all the necessary precautions if we want to prevent that.  Pregnancies that occur as a result of rape are often used to counter this argument, however these represent less than 1% of abortions performed (the United States). Birth deformities and health concerns for the mother amount to another 4%. That leaves 95% of abortions performed as a form of birth control.  If the foetus could somehow be asked what their choice is, they would undoubtedly choose the right to develop and grow and experience human life fully. Just ask the people over at The Abortion Survivors Network.

One argument made for abortion is that it can help prevent a child being born into a bad situation where they are not wanted. This claim is tantamount to saying that some lives are not worth living. How can you judge that a baby born into poverty, or abusive situations will not ever have a chance at a good life?  Another argument that is sometimes used to justify abortion is that spontaneous abortions (miscarriages) occur naturally if the embryo is not viable. If nature can dispense of a developing foetus, then we should be able to as well. This argument is like saying that humans get cancer and die, so therefore murder is justified. Just because nature for whatever reason deems some embryos as unviable, how does it follow that all embryos are freely disposable?

Hush is a documentary about abortion risks produced by pro-choice filmmaker, Punam Kumar Gill. While making the movie she found it very difficult to get neutral scientists, doctors, psychologists and researchers to speak to her. There was a lot defensiveness due to abortion being such controversial topic. What she did discover though was that abortion also carries with it physical and mental health risks to the mother that are often glossed over. Women aren’t told when they have an abortion they that may suffer post-abortion physical and psychological complications and are instead told that they will recover in a couple of days. For many women this is not the case.

In libertarian circles, many incite freedom and personal choice as justification for pro-choice stance. They argue that women should not be prevented for accessing abortion and that the government should butt out of abortion regulation altogether; on the surface this seems a reasonable stance. The opposing libertarian view though, relies on both the non-aggression principle which asserts that aggression against an individual is inherently illegitimate; and the universal right to life which asserts that all human beings have a moral right to live without being killed by another human being. To the pro-life libertarian these principles, in theory, protect the rights of a developing baby.

Abortion shouldn’t be something we do flippantly or use as a birth control backstop. It would perhaps be beneficial to the debate if instead of militantly demanding the right to have abortions at will and using euphemisms like ‘choice’ and ‘clumps of cells’, that we acknowledge what abortion is: the wilful decision to end a human life, to ostensibly benefit the life of the mother. The good news is that in the US the rates of abortion are in decline with the CDC reporting that abortion total numbers, rates, and ratios are the lowest since 1971.

The abortion debate basically boils down to whether you believe a foetus is a human being or not. If you don’t then you would see no problem with getting rid of one if you’re not prepared to commit to raising a child. If you do believe a developing foetus is a human being (and I think the case for this is clear), then abortion is immoral.

Nicola Wright is senior writer at LibertyWorks Inc. This article was also published by The Spectator Australia 3 December 2016.

 

121 Comments on "The libertarian case against abortion"

  1. Not much chance of this bloke needing an abortion.

    • [email protected] | 27/03/2017 at 4:13 pm |

      I agree. Ewwwwww…

  2. I agree with Rothbard that a woman has the right to eject the baby from her body at any time

  3. I’d take you people more seriously if you were also interested in the rights of the child after it’s born – to food, housing, education, etc.

  4. How on earth could this entity ever get pregnant? I mean, who could ever make love to it. There simply isn’t enough booze in the world.

  5. A clear case argument FOR abortion!!!!

  6. The ‘pro-lifers’ are no such thing. They’re pro-birth. After that, they don’t want to know… If this organisation would advocate a libertarian position in the true sense (not the debased, useful idiots for corporate tyranny that it’s now too often mistaken as), I might have more sympathy.

    • So no chance in your mind that killing an unborn child violates the NAP?

    • What total bullshit. The pro-lifers I know are, in fact, pro life. Question: have you ever actually met one or did you get your opinion from re-runs of Law and Order?

    • Steve Coops No, because to a certain point, the concept of ‘unborn child’ as being ‘living’ does not seem valid too me. Up to a certain, late, point, it seems to be me difficult to argue that the foetus is a life, with a capability of independent survival. And frankly, whilst it can be a difficult decision to make late stage, if there is a choice between survival of mother and unborn, I think their should be a presumption in favour of mother. This doesn’t mean I personally would say have an abortion in all cases, it simply means that I don’t think the state should have the right to restrict people from making their own decisions. THAT’s a libertarian position.

    • Sam Hart Yes, I’ve met quite a lot of highly unpleasant and hypocritical demagogues who claim to be ‘pro-life’. Most are also pro-death penalty, and against social safety nets, including for single mothers and dependent children, hence my comment above. It may seem difficult for you to grasp, but there is actually such a thing as being able to evaluate an opposing argument to your own and coming to the conclusion that it is immorally, illogical and hypocritical, as the pretentiously styled ‘pro-life’ side is on this issue.

    • Lachlan Miles “I don’t think the state should have the right to restrict people from making their own decisions.” This article doesn’t argue for that, at all.

    • LibertyWorks The pro-life position is precisely that argument, since it implies the state taking a position on when an abortion should or should not be performed. Whether one justifies it from a religious or secular perspective (the article is right to say it can be done both ways), it is still an infringement on the freedoms of individuals and families through coercive state intervention, something that libertarians should oppose. If this organisation does not, one must question its claims to be libertarian and pro-freedom, at least on social issues.

    • “but there is actually such a thing as ” people who disagree with you for principled reasons, rather than because they are despicable subhuman monsters. There, practice that a bit. It’ll broaden your mind.

    • Lachlan Miles But therein lies the issue. What seems valid to you is your opinion, and you are entitled to it. In the case you spoke of, I agree, however, the large majority of abortions are for convenience rather than life saving. A true Libertarian position is that you are free to make your choices, but you bear the consequences of those choices and do no harm to others. Using the exception, like rape or life threatening conditions, as the rule is a sure fire way to deprive people of liberty, not give it.

      Independent survival is an interesting point, but when the child is born, right up until adulthood, one could argue it still isn’t capable of independent survival, but we don’t value their lives any less?

    • Sam Hart I didn’t say or imply that there were not. I merely pointed out that there do tend to be quite a lot of hypocrites on the other side of the aisle. I’m sure they believe what they are saying, that doesn’t make it true, or logically consistent.

    • Steve Coops How can you state (correctly) that a libertarian position is making the choice and bearing the consequences and THEN argue that the state should restrict people from making those choices because you argue, with no supporting evidence I should add, that they are done for convenience rather then saving lives? Even if that were true, the libertarian might say that you disagree with people doing that (which you are perfectly free to do so far as I am concerned), but you cannot say on the one hand that you are a libertarian and then argue for state coercion which restricts people’s choices in relation to a complex and difficult issue. Furthermore, one word: Prohibition, allowing abortions, as we know, don’t prevent them, merely make them more dangerous and drive them underground, something the pro-lifers also don’t consider. You cannot be a libertarian and reasonably argue for the state to enforce your own position on when you deem an abortion morally right or wrong, the logic collapses at the first rung.

    • Non Aggression Principle. It’s very, very simple. You’re good at throwing up a smokescreen of words and abysmal at argument. Next time you could just post

      “MORAL POSTURING followed by a little post-hoc ink-squirting.”

      It’d have the same content and save a lot of time.

    • Sam Hart You are implying I said everybody who is pro-life is not really such. I neither said nor implied it, only pointed out the hypocrisy in the positions that MOST *not all* take. You are either very good at straw-manning and misrepresentation, or very bad at reading-comprehension.

    • Just by the by, I am not personally in favour of outlawing abortion, precisely because I don’t think state control can be asserted without causing considerable damage. But that is not the argument at hand. The argument at hand is that foetal humanity plus a strict application of the NAP does in fact provide a humanist, libertarian case for restricting – or at a serious stretch outlawing – abortion.

      I should point out that while I think an attempt to rigidly control abortion will do considerable harm to the innocent, that I am, in principle, anti-abortion. You’ll note, perhaps, that I haven’t portrayed the pro-abortion position as immoral, monstrous, or held entirely by shitty people. (In practice I do not favour rigid restrictions on the procedure; it can be necessary.)

      Sadly, you take that to mean you’re right and good and I’m bad and wrong, because you, personally, have a severely broken mental model of human behaviour.

    • Lachlan Miles No True Libertarian would be against abortion? Roughly 37% of libertarians are pro-life (including Ron Paul). A pro-life libertarian stance is a valid libertarian stance, being as it is, based on the NAP.

      Bear in mind also that this article reflects the opinion of the author only and doesn’t necessarily represent the opinion of Liberty Works as an organisation.

      From the Reason archives:
      http://www.unz.org/Pub/Reason-1978apr-00020

    • Lachlan Miles I certainly am no fan of state coercion, but ultimately, this argument hangs on your definition of life or fetus. It has to. In order for your position to not violate the NAP it has to be just a fetus. If it is a living child, then it’s an aggressive act against that child.

      As for sources, Here a a study printed in the SMH, but you and I both know, given the amount of abortions there are, the majority of them are not going to be because of life threatening circumstances. Be honest.

      http://www.smh.com.au/national/report-reveals-abortion-reasons-20090118-7jz6.html

    • Sam Hart Just because you argue that state coercion should be enforced for humanist reasons rather than religious ones doesn’t mean it is more libertarian. Arguing that the state should restrict freedom of choice for humanist reasons is still arguing for state coercion, even if its a perspective I find more sympathetic. I don’t believe you are wrong because you are a bad person (indeed, I don’t know enough about you to judge such things), I have said I think your position is wrong because it is internally inconsistent and contradictory. I am engaging in debate with you because you responded to my posts and wanted clarification. If I really thought pro-lifers were terrible, do you not think I would’ve just taken the cry-babies route and refused to engage with your points? The fact I have deigned to try and explain my position and explain why I don’t agree with yours argues the opposite.

    • Steve Coops No, I know of no such thing, because I have no facts or statistics to judge what reasons people have abortions for (in terms of the population as a whole). Perhaps it is for convenience or medical reasons, I don’t know and I suspect you don’t either. You I suspect have no more information on that then I. But as I said earlier, EVEN if you are correct in saying it is for convenience, it is still supporting state coercion to argue for restrictions because you personally don’t believe that convenience should be a good enough reason. What people’s reasons are, or even if I agree with those reasons, is not the debate, the debate is whether or not the state should pass laws to restrict people from making the decision in certain circumstances or for certain reasons. If the evidence suggested convenience was a common reason, the case still stands that it is hypocritical for a claimed libertarian to support state coercion on the basis of their own personal position of when an abortion is morally right and wrong.

    • LibertyWorks It’s interesting you call Ron Paul a libertarian (because on economic issues, he is no such thing, though I give him more credit on most social issues). Because somebody calls themselves a libertarian, doesn’t make it such. A libertarian position is against state coercion, my argument is that therefore the natural libertarian position is pro-choice (note, I did not say that this means the person must agree that abortion is always right or preferable, only that the state should not legislate in favour of their own or anybody else’s opinions as to when it is).

    • Lachlan Miles the argument you are making is similar to saying that state shouldn’t restrict freedom of choice for people who want to commit murder. That laws against murder are ‘state coercion’. The crux of the matter is whether you believe a developing baby is a human being or not. If you do, then laws against abortion are on the same level of state coercion as laws against murder.

    • The exact same can be said for your position. It is your morality speaking because of how you define a fetus. Mine is different, because I define it as a child and an act against the NAP. Your ‘opinion’ is the weight of your argument, not your amorality.

    • OK, I misread you then, and I apologise. The State exists, ie., Libertarianism not Anarchy, to enforce contracts and prevent acts of violence and coercion. Abortion is an act of violence. Hence, acting to prevent it is within the purview of a Libertarian State.

      Now, there’s several unstated arguments being bundled up together. I have only outlined one, in a vacuum. However the others that need addressing are:

      It being within the purview of a Libertarian state, is it actually of benefit?

      In answering that, what do we consider to be the benefits and costs here? If abortion is murder – not merely ending a life but legally murder – then a great deal of cost might be accepted in preventing it, and from there a pro-life Libertarian could, in calculating the net cost, consider most prices to be worth paying.

      Now, all the above assumes a particular definition of a Libertarian State, but it is perfectly consistent within that definition. If the NAP is insufficient a principle, it is usually because of its tendency to intellectual purism, not due to “hypocrisy”.

    • Sam Hart you can’t just go apologizing in facebook thread, you anarchist!!!

    • Sam Hart I would argue that a ‘Libertarian State’ is a contradiction in terms, And thanks for the apology, I hope I clarified my position, it was not my wish that you misunderstand my case:)

    • Nicola Wright That’s a fair point, but I would state the distinction is that murder of a person outside the womb is uncontroversial and even most people who are convicted of murder (barring the odd psychopath or other morally disordered individual), is aware of the moral wrong. With Abortion, it’s a controversial case, because their are differing perspectives on whether a foetus is alive, or at what point. Imposing one perspective inevitably means that all the others are being ignored over one. Whereas, in a completely pro-choice setting, people can choose on the basis of their own convictions, given the choice will be informed partly on a person’s view on the morality of it. Giving somebody the choice to have an abortion when they choose does not mean that all people will by definition choose to do so.If you have strong Catholic inspired views say, you are unlikely to have an abortion just because the law gives you the freedom to choose to do it. But a state that enforces the Catholic position over all other conflicting positions (a dichtomy that does not exist with straight out murder, which is actually a straightforward and uncontroversial area), is restrictive and authoritarian. Furthermore, I should clarify, I actually don’t support the ‘state’ making the laws anyway, I don’t think the state should exist, but I support alternative forms of direct democratic decision making, I would argue there is a difference between the two, but that is just a clarification of my position, re: ‘state coercion’ not trying to go off topic by starting a side-debate:)

  7. What a tortured argument to disguise the conservative roots (and no doubt funding) of a group of ‘libertarians’. More strawmen in here than a vegetable garden.

  8. “The anti abortion argument is often characterized as a humanist, secular response to those seeking to assert control over their own bodies and life’s path when it really is about religious control of our society.”

  9. (This applies to me too) no uterus no opinion

    • except I do have one 😉

    • Haha congratulations, you know your anatomy
      No she never has been.
      That’s not what I’m saying, I like the concept of knowing people before I date them, so needless to say my partner and I have the same views regarding abortion, which is pro-choice (to a reasonable degree)
      So because we have the same view, my emotional investment is the trust I would place in my partner in the great she ever fell pregnant.

      (Edit) apologies, was replying to your deleted comment

    • Men deserve to have an opinion on abortion because they are fathers and human beings.

    • It’s a fantastic view, I personally agree
      I just feel if it were a man saying no abortions for women, that is wrong

    • We certainly can’t avoid their opinions – but until a man dies or suffers permanent damage, as a result of childbirth, abortion or pregnancy, he is not entitled to a say, in what the woman chooses to do.

    • Nicola Wright Deserve to be able to have an opinion yes, that’s different from saying that the state should enforce laws that interfere with that. If it’s a decision involving a male who is still around, then I think that couple should be free to make that decision on their own,, not the state. That is a libertarian position, not the reactionary claptrap masquerading as free choice presented here. The state shouldn’t be interfering with the decisions of private families in difficult circumstances here. This is not too say I would personally agree with every one, but that’s the point of a proper libertarian position, if I’m not directly involved, I shouldn’t get to pick, and the state shouldn’t intervene to impose my choice upon somebody else, anymore then it should on my life to impose somebody else’s positions in other cases. There is nothing libertarian about the ‘pro-life’ position, and so far none of the content I’ve seen on this group’s page could be described as such.

    • Exactly right Elizabeth
      Personally I think pro-choice is the answer because, if you don’t want one, don’t have it but don’t stop others. BUT it isn’t my place to judge.

    • Lachlan Miles, simply saying something is libertarian doesn’t necessarily make it so. At some point a fetus becomes a human and deserves protection from aggression. There is great debate amongst libertarians on that point. Nicola has put forward a view which is legitimate, you may have another view. But you claiming sole possession of some libertarian mantle is ridiculous.

    • LibertyWorks I did not claim, or imply I possessed, the sole libertarian mantle. Of course Nicola has a different view to mine on when a foetus is a human, but that’s my precise point, a libertarian would argue that neither her position nor mine should be reflected in the laws of the land, but the law should have the freedom for families to make their own judgement as to what they feel about the issue. Whether you agree with me or somebody else as to if a foetus or a human or not is again, a side-argument, irrelevant to the main point, which nobody has yet taken up my challenge to refute I notice, despite having much to say on my other points about my personal position.

    • LibertyWorks the point of which a fetus becomes a person is at birth, don’t attempt to blur the lines. Someone is legally recognised at birth, with a name and birthday. It is the DEFINATIVE point where a fetus can support itself out of the mother, therefore becoming a human being.
      I’m not saying an abortion should be allowed in the last few weeks without a medical reason (threat of the mothers death if she gave birth), but I’m not disapproving it either.
      To not allow abortions to the entire population (or at least make it fundamentally impossible, is ridiculous. We are all different, to allow abortions, those who are pro-life can uphold their values, and so can pro-choice.
      But to say that you stand to ‘protect’ the fetus from ‘aggression’ of terminating a pregnancy is far fetched. A person does not say ‘I’ll get pregnant so I can terminate it for the giggles’. It’s a thought out and serious process. As I said earlier I am not a female and certainly not a mother, I’m not going to tell a woman from what to do with her body. But I will not sit by and watch your movement tell them.

  10. Confused…libitarian ??? Against ???? Freedom to choose? ???

  11. Libertarians against state involvement in all matters EXCEPT women’s reproduction decisions!

  12. The only libertarians against abortion are those who don’t understand science and biology. There are reasons why there are time restrictions on abortions because early on in the pregnancy the fetus is potential life but not a living human. A lot of libertarians have become ridiculously hypocrital over the last few years in regards to same sex marriage and women’s rights in regards to their body autonomy.

  13. The idea that you can tell a person what is best for them seems to go against the idea of liberty. The only person who should decide about their body is the person whose body is being discussed.

    • Does the baby get to decide what’s best for its body?

      Funny Peter, weren’t you recently arguing for the benefits of a sugar tax as way to try and to stop people consuming sugar because that is ‘what is best for them’?

  14. Unfortunately the author misses the point by digressing into why women have abortions and attempting to address them. The fact that these considerations are incomplete and are another case of women demonising other women aside, the question is should women, or in many cases families, or the state chose if a pregnancy is terminated? The libertarian perspective dictates that it is up to the individual. And if we agree to state intervention then the other extreme as seen in China, where the state can mandate abortions is equally acceptable.

  15. A very good article that clearly steps out the dilemmas facing libertarians with this difficult issue.

  16. Abortion is murder. Murder violates the NAP

  17. Children don’t develop a level of sentience which exceeds animals such as pigs, which we gladly kill for food. Abortion shouldn’t simply be an option until the child is born.
    http://jmebeta.bmj.com/content/early/2012/03/01/medethics-2011-100411.full

  18. Abortion is the grossest violation of the NAP. Amazing to see anyone claiming to be a libertarian support the killing of innocent humans.

    Without life there is no liberty.

  19. I am all for free choice but I do wonder about the unborns choice and I am concerned when it becomes a choice between the mother and the child.

  20. The point, LibertyWorks, is that legalised abortion saves lives.
    The whole point of making abortion legal in the first place was to stop backyard abortions where both mother and child would die. Abortions are going to happen no matter if it’s lawful or not so isn’t it better to have a safe, secure place where non life threatening procedures take place? This is not a question of morals, rather its a matter of safety. But if you want to go down the moral track, how about men taking responsibility when it comes to contraception and listening to what women want, after all, it is their bodies that will be affected by pregnancy or abortion.

  21. Why is it that the greatest promoters of free abortion on demand without apology are the greatest examples of the mistakes that blokes slept with?????????

  22. How come the “free abortion on demand” sign is held by someone who would probably never get pregnant in the first place?

  23. she would never have that problem

  24. Abortions should be punished with life time in jail or public executions. Life is created at the time of conception

  25. It’s hard to imagine the person holding up the sign in the picture ever needing an abortion.

  26. Baby killer machines….demanding a right to KILL. 🙁

  27. It is the womens choice and no one should be able to tell her no .

  28. Proof ‘Immaculate Conception’…is possible…

  29. I wonder if they support free sex on demand?

  30. What sort of creature is the thing holding the sign?

  31. probably should have been an abortion!

  32. how the hell is that thing going to get pregnant 😛

  33. I agree with the female holding the sign .if she unfortunately falls pregnant in which i doubt ,abortion should be mandatory

  34. You believe a potential life commences at the time of conception….when the deepest part of the brain is being formed….or you don’t think the fetous has the potential to be a human….this is a heterosexual issue.

  35. That thing should have been aborted.

  36. Clifford Watson you think you have the right to tell a woman that she has to carry on through even though she does not want to . You are an inconsiderate male I would hate to be married to you I think you would be a bully . I would have to think twice about having an abortion but I still would not try and tell another woman what to do .

  37. That’s fine about the father wanting a say but it does not apply if the woman was raped . These things do happen and he has no right.

  38. Have any of these people heard of CONTRACEPTION?????

  39. Good God, that thing would never need an abortion, cause no one would want to be with it.

  40. This article is not Liberal enough.

  41. It’s simple, the libertarian approach is one of voluntary association and non-aggression. A fetus cannot consent to being aborted, and ending its life constitutes as aggression.

  42. The cognitive dissonance must be killing them.

  43. Liberty Works.??
    What a misnomer. You people are rotten with your own toxicity.

  44. Nicola Wright argues that abortion undermines the liberty of a foetus, apparently from the day that conception occurs.

    Nicola makes no suggestion as to her proposed way to ‘fix’ this situation… Does she propose we introduce laws against abortion? Perhaps mandatory monitoring of all uteruses to ensure no abortions occur? Lock up pregnant women who want an abortion in order to protect the foetus? Jail time for women who abort?

    What do you folks propose to ‘fix’ this situation that you claim ruins the liberty of the foetus? How you gonna apply your twisted freedumb logic there?

    The weasel words of the prescriptive (im)moral class in this new world order is pathetic and disgusting. You people want to control the lives and thoughts of others… don’t deny it. Be honest, you worms.

  45. that way she be able to pay for more tats

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