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.