HISTORY OF PRO-CHOICE LIBERTARIANS
Formed in 1971, the United States Libertarian Party had supported women’s right to abortion since its founding and detailed planks supporoting abortion rights since 1982. (See the L.P. Platform page.)
Pro-Choice Libertarians was started in 1987 after Representative Ron Paul announced he was running for the nomination to be the Libertarian Party’s 1988 presidential candidate.
Paul told libertarians he believed life had to be protected after viability and that the states should decide on law. However, Paul’s writings proved he believed viability began at conception and supported a federal constitutional amendment outlawing all abortion from conception. Enforcement would be left to the states. It was obvious he and his supporters would try, at the very least, to remove the Libertarian Party’s pro-choice platform.
Angry pro-choice libertarians invited American Indian activist Russell Means to run for the nomination. And a few of us started Pro-Choice Libertarians. We produced literature and press releases, which doubtless influenced the two headlines above in the days before the 1987 presidential nominating convention in Seattle. We had a table and members and supporters lobbied to keep the platform from being changed.
Pro-choice libertarians also demanded and got from Ron Paul a promise he would not make abortion a major issue of his campaign. After he won the nomination and during his 1998 Presidential campaign, we monitored all news clippings of his media interviews and speeches. We found only a couple where Ron Paul was quoted as raising the issue.
In 1989 pro-choice libertarians in the Washington, DC area were involved in the massive November 12, 1989 “March for Women’s Lives”. In the early 1990s some of us were involved in “clinic defense” where we would stand outside women’s health and abortion clinics, getting between abortion prohibitionist fanatics and women seeking to obtain legal medical advice and procedures.
However, abortion prohibitionists brought into the party by Ron Paul and “moderates” and “reformists” trying to appeal to Republicans to join the party began years of bitter debates and assaults on the Libertarian Party “Women’s Rights and Abortion” plank.
In 1998 Pro-Choice Libertarians organizer Carol Moore, who had been active for years in online discussions of the issue, ran for secretary of the Libertarian National Committee at the 1998 national convention in Arlington, Virginia. She was protesting the current secretary’s past attempts to remove the abortion issue from the platform. (Abortion language had remained unchanged in the platform that year, despite efforts to gut it.) He was her opponent and so unpopular that the voting went to three ballots before he won again! (Note that Moore also called for the party to demand impeachment of Bill Clinton for the massacre of the Branch Davidians. The resolution was brought to the floor and passed and the LP received worldwide media coverage of its demand.)
In 2002 there again were efforts to change the platform at the Indianapolis convention. Pro-Choice Libertarians, now organized online, distributed a letter at the 2002 national Libertarian Party convention in Indianapolis supporting the platform. It was signed by some leading libertarians. Pro-Choicers were active at the convention, attending the platform committee and distributing literature and buttons. As Carol Moore reported in Liberty Magazine. During Platform Committee discussions one member arguing to keep the current platform quoted from the Pro-Choice Libertarians leaflet requesting the LP do just that. However, abortion prohibitionists and “moderates” had a new plan, which they promoted widely: reduce the number of planks and makeg each plank only two or three sentences so that it would not bore or offend potential members. Their tactic: vote against every plank in the radical Libertarian Party platform and thereby abolish it!
In this attack on the whole platform, the Women’s Rights plank passed by only 53%. Considering that 73% was the highest percentage garnered by any plank, it is likely that this effort cut down the Women’s Rights plank’s vote total by at least 20 percent.
That year Carol Moore again ran against that same national secretary, who again had been unsuccessful in changing the platform, to protest the assaults on the plank. He beat her on the first ballot this time.
The 2004 Libertarian Party presidential nominating convention in Atlanta was the beginning of the most serious attack on the “Women’s Rights and Abortion” plank, though most of us would not realize it until 2008. “Moderates” cleverly produced a plank that included an “Executive Summary” listing every plank with a short summary. They still encouraged their allies to vote down the whole platform.
During convention proceedings 75% of delegates voted to retain the abortion plank. They rejected several moves to dilute the plank. However, like the rest of the platform, the existing plank was reformatted, and the nefarious Executive Summary was voted in.
Abortion prohibitionists, meanwhile, were supporting Michael Badnarik as the 2004 presidential candidate. However, Badnarik was so eager to get the nomination he softened his position during the nomination process, placing at least three different statements on abortion on his campaign web page. The first two were rants against abortion inferring he wanted it illegal. The final one said the government should keep out of the issue, inline with the Libertarian platform. Frustrated abortion prohibitionists then nominated a faux candidate who used his speech to rant against abortion. Badnarik eventually received the nomination, largely due to an excellent debate performance against two higher profile opponents. In interviews and speeches during his campaign he often strayed from his commitment to the platform. He even claimed on CSPAN that “49% of the party believe the baby owns its own body” and talked about “states rights”.
The 2006 national convention in Portland, Oregon was the most poorly attended in many years. However, those opposed to the platform managed to cut down its verbiage substantially. Delegations changed “Women’s rights and abortion” to “Reproductive rights”. The detailed plank became one sentence: ““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.” Many hard core libertarians were outraged. But given that it takes far more votes to include new language than delete old language, the “moderates” coup against the platform was successful. However, they were not finished trying to get rid of the plank entirely.
The 2008 presidential convention in Denver, Colorado completed the gutting of the platform. As in Portland, pro-choice activists were unorganized. With states rights “libertarian” Wayne Root and quasi-libertarian abortion prohibitionist Bob Barr as the leading presidential candidate, moderates again managed to get delegates to further cut the platform down. Delegates voted to rename “Reproductive Rights” to “Abortion” – evidently to make it easier to remove the whole plank in the future. They limited the plank to one sentence to try to mollify prohibitionists: “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.” The very word woman was written out of the platform, replaced by the nebulous word “gender”. Barr, whose former wife admitted Barr had helped her get an abortion years before, expressed his opposition with the procedure from time during the presidential campaign, but did not make it a central issue.
During the 2010 convention in St. Louis, Missouri, the 2012 presidential convention in Las Vegas, and the 2014 convention in Columbus, Ohio the one sentence plank survived repeated attempts to remove it. However, during the LP’s 2012 presidential nominating convention the platform only survived by a few votes after impassioned pleas from pro-choice members of the party. The leading candidate governor Gary Johnson has been described as pro-choice on abortion. However, in the past he had signed an Arizona bill banning late term abortion.
The 2016 Libertarian Party national presidential convention in Orlando, Florida saw yet more challenges to the platform. The platform committee, led by Alicia Mattson, called for removal of the abortion plank and even its replacement with language merely mentioning the libertarian position that government should not pay for abortion; such a move would make the LP look anti-abortion to many outsiders. Some excused this because of an unreliable platform survey, open to the public, that showed quite a bit of opposition to the plank. Some saw this as a way to make the average voter think the party is antiabortion. The platform committee was dominated by antiabortion activists, individuals eager to get votes from anti-abortion Republicans, and individuals who believed removing the plank would end divisiveness in the party.
Additionally, one of the three leading candidates, Austin Petersen, was a prohibitionist who promoted states’ outlawing abortion from conception. And even 2012 candidate Gary Johnson’s motives were questioned, given the “OnTheIssues” website still carried his positions from 2011 when he attempted to get the Republican Party presidential nomination. Particularly annoying was that two LP “Radical” Caucus members were on the platform committee working to remove the plank. The Caucus itself also removed the plank from their caucuses’ proposed Libertarian Party platform.
All of these negative factors forced pro-choice libertarians to reorganize to get ready for the 2016 convention. We updated our website and created a Facebook page and discussion group, a Twitter feed and a Youtube site. Members at the convention talked to hundreds of delegates and distributed buttons and literature.
During convention business the platform came up for deletion twice. First during the bi-yearly vote on deletion of planks and later during the platform committee report. Both times members swiftly voted down deletions or changes.
However, the vote on Platform Committee Aaron Starr’s proposal that the platform suspend the rules to delete the plank was very close: 194 FOR suspension (mostly people who wanted removal) and 169 AGAINST (mostly those who wanted to keep it). Since the 194 vote was less than the 2/3 of voting members needed to suspend the rule and vote, the attempt to delete the plank failed. The body then voted to table further discussion on the abortion plank and move on.
Nevertheless, the whole platform drama over two days convinced pro-choice libertarians that it was necessary to ramp up a real effort to educate libertarians about womens’ right to abortion, end the bi-yearly assaults on the plank and strengthen it to oppose the many state laws and regulations that currently make abortions more expensive and difficult to obtain in a timely manner.
Pro-choicers were happy that the convention nominated two candidates described in all the media as “pro-choice.” Nominated for president a second time was Gary Johnson and for vice-president former Republican Massachusetts Governor William Weld. Johnson’s campaign website stated:
As Governor, Johnson never advocated abortion or taxpayer funding of it. However, Gov. Johnson recognizes that the right of a woman to choose is the law of the land today, and has been for several decades. That right must be respected, and ultimately he believes this is a very personal and individual decision. He feels that each woman must be allowed to make decisions about her own health and well-being. Further, Gov. Johnson feels strongly that women seeking to exercise their legal right must not be subjected to persecution or denied access to health services by politicians in Washington or elsewhere who are insistent on politicizing such an intensely personal and serious issue.
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