'The commandments had to be delivered by a bearded prophet whose mystic credibility had been conferred by the burning bush and who came down from the mountain accompanied by a terrifying display of thunder and lightning. Somehow human authority is never enough; we must have special effects.' -Barbara Ehrenreich, Living with a Wild God

Are Libertarians Confused About Abortion?

by Ethan Glover, Tue, Jan 27, 2015 - (Edited) Tue, Jan 27, 2015

Viewpoints vary widely. Libertarian scholars tend to take a strict pro-choice view while the average person I come across says they're pro-life in their personal lives but don't want to see abortion regulated by government.

Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard, both considered libertarian scholars, argued that a child has no right to life until after birth.

"Abortion is a moral right—which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered." -Ayn Rand

"…no being has a right to live, unbidden, as a parasite within or upon some person's body..." -Rothbard (p. 131-132)

Despite Rothbard's stance, he also argued (p. 488) that individual states should set their laws on abortion. His view is similar to the stance Ron Paul took on his political campaigns in 2008 and 2012.

Walter Block takes possibly the most extreme viewpoint. A viewpoint that most libertarians would disagree with on moral and practical grounds. He says that a woman may remove a fetus, but not kill it. Its survival would then depend on another caretaker "homesteading" the baby.

Walter Block obviously ignores the harm done to an ungrown fetus by "evicting" it from the body and leaving it to suffer unless anyone "claims" it, at which time it will suffer until death regardless. Thus, to evict a fetus, is in all likelihood, to kill it.

The Association of Libertarian Feminists takes a clear stance against all abortion. They state, "To sacrifice existing persons for the sake of future generations, whether in slave labor camps for the utopian nightmares of Marxists or fascists, or in unwanted pregnancies, compulsory childbearing, and furtive coat hanger abortions for the edification of fetus-worshippers, is to establish hell on earth."

Capitalism Magazine takes a stance similar to Ayn Rand by saying that a fetus has no right to occupy a woman's womb and for this reason abortion is OK at any time before birth.

Harry Browne, Michael Badnarik and the Libertarian Party all state the government is incapable of making a proper decision and managing the issue. As politicians, for this reason, they do not consider it.

A poll at iSideWith.com shows that 75% of libertarians are pro-choice, and 25% are pro-life. However, there's a catch to these statistics. They come from a quiz that helps people find a political candidate that matches with their belief system.

Why does this matter? Let's look at a more broken down version of the stats:

  1. 44% Pro-choice.
  2. 23% Pro-choice, I don't agree with it, but it's not my right or the government's to ban abortion.
  3. 16% Pro-life.
  4. 9% Pro-life, but allow in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the mother or child's health.
  5. 4% Ban after first trimester.
  6. 3% Pro-choice, but providing birth control, sex education, and social services could help reduce the number of abortions.

You could argue that on a personal basis libertarians are 51% pro-choice (points 1, 5, and 6) and 48% pro-life (points 2, 3 and 4). It is only on a political basis that you get the original results of 75/25. Compare that to 51/48, and you have a much different story.

Julia Tourianski would argue that all of this is frivolous and that abortion is without a doubt premeditative murder.

What the Hell?

I told you the issue was confused. I think on a political basis, it's clear that most libertarians are more likely to support a pro-choice candidate than a pro-life candidate.

Ron Paul and Gary Johnson both maintain a politically pro-choice stance and a personally pro-life belief. This confusion, I think, is more due to a suspicion of government than an ethical issue.

So, the question might be, in a libertarian world, what would happen? That's very difficult to say. If we had privatized law enforcement, surely there would be a split on the issue.

I would even argue that whether the act is murder would depend on the mothers' contract with a defense agency. A legally unprotected (uninsured) mother may be subject to local enforcement or trial.

At the end of her video, Julia argues that abortion is, at the end of the day, up to community consensus. I fear that's exactly the problem.

Sure, I'm all for law emerging naturally, but I don't see this going one way or the other under any political circumstances.

Maybe in a world with more money and better care, you'd have fewer abortions. Without restrictive adoption laws, mass poverty, and better care for those in need, there would be less desperation in pregnancies.

That's great, but that doesn't solve the issue outright. Extreme circumstances will always exist, and one argument remains. If a woman is desperate, will she feel the need to carry out an abortion illegally and unsafely?

You might think that this is like asking if a murderer feels desperate, will he feel the need to carry out a shooting illegally and unsafely. But I'm afraid that the consensus among libertarians isn't as clear-cut on this issue. And I don't think a few good arguments will settle it.

I'm always skeptical of the idea of solving real world problems with "spreading information." No matter what you think of someone's political beliefs or alignments, they've probably considered the issues in depth already.

When I hear bloggers say their goal is to make people "think" or ask "why," my only thought is, "People are human, it's taken care of. What else you got?"

The movements for and against abortion both have strong arguments that most have considered in great depth. No amount of expansion from me or anyone else is going to provide any new information for the vast majority of grown adults.

Even Julia's fresh perspective is no different from the position already held by The Association of Libertarian Feminists.

My point is that I don't think this a short-term, stand-alone issue. I think it can be unpopularized by a stronger, healthier economy. We can minimize the lack of childcare through a move towards private charity.

With greater opportunity for children to have proper care, abortion becomes a less attractive option.

As for now, what's my personal stance? I don't know. If I were face to face with the issue as an accidental father, I would have mixed feelings. My biggest fear wouldn't be taking care of a child.

I have confidence in my current, employable skills, savings, and investments even without finishing a degree. What I would fear most, and this is very unfortunate, is the thought of a mother who wishes to take the issue to court.

If the pregnancy was accidental, drama might be present. While some courts ban abortion, all courts, even according to official law literature, are very biased towards women and reward exuberant and unnecessary amounts for child support.

If I were to consider a pregnancy with health complications, I would fear the responsibility of taking care of a sick or disabled child.

Not because of the potential stress and anxiety of dealing with such a thing. But because of healthcare costs.

These are the things that run through my mind. In the same way that I don't think about the morality of driving on a road paid for by theft, I have to consider how I would face the issue of abortion in real life, not just theoretically.

These moral conflicts are the burden of living under government. At some point, you have to ignore your moral principles and survive. You have to live in the world you live in.

Maybe I'm different. Perhaps most libertarians would follow through on their moral principles if put into the situation themselves. But I tend to doubt it.

Abortion seems to be a non-starter in our current world. Maybe people are murdering others for the sake of themselves. But it has become acceptable for a reason. Until we solve the reasons, we can't solve the actual problem.