LIBERTARIAN PRINCIPLES AND THE CONSEQUENCES OF ABORTION PROHIBITION
Individual liberty, self-determination, private property, and limited government are all libertarian principles that logically lead to the pro-choice position. To sacrifice existing persons for the sake of future generations—in slave labor camps, involuntary servitude, compulsory childbearing, or life-threatening abortions—violates everything we hold dear.
Sharon Presley, “A Libertarian Feminist Case for Abortion Rights”
Below are often stated principles held in varying degrees by libertarians, whether anarchists, decentralists or minarchists. This paper shows their application to the abortion issue. Most libertarians who are against abortion, and may not agree with all these applications of principle below, nevertheless want the government kept out of the issue.
- Personhood and individual rights exist only after birth when a birthed child becomes self-conscious, capable of cognition and able to engage in purposeful action to affect their environment. The sperm and egg and fetus may be alive, but that does not mean they are persons with rights.
- A living person’s first responsibility is to themselves. A woman should not have to sacrifice their life and liberty for the biological survival of a pre-human fetus. Forcing women to do so implies every person has a moral duty to provide bodily tissue and fluids to help others survive.
- Every person should be free to defend themselves from anyone or anything acting forcefully against their liberty, including a fetus not wanted within their body.
- The freedom to abort must be contrasted with prohibition of abortion leading to compulsory childbearing and the use of a woman’s body as a natural resource or a chattel slave. Childbearing results in far more medical problems for women that than legal abortion. It is even deadly for some women. Over 300,000 women a year worldwide die during pregnancy or delivery(WHO) and over 600 in the United States.(CDC)
- Through most of history community standards condoned abortion; later common and statutory law ignored abortion, seeing it at as “self-evident” that women should be free to abort a fetus.(Joffe)
- Women should retain the liberty to use the drug RU-486 and other “contragestive” drugs that prevent gestation of the fetus in the first days after accidental or forced insemination.
- Liberty means that only voluntary means of convincing a woman to give birth to child are libertarian. Thus only moral suasion and/or privately funded economic aid are libertarian ways to discourage abortion.
- The human right of self-determination confers liberty on human beings and makes them free moral agents.
- Since the woman is a free moral agent with sole dominion over her life, her claim to life is stronger than that of the fetus.
- The woman’s right to self-determination means the choice to carry the child to term is hers alone, even if the father prefers she abort or keep the child.
- Self-determination means individuals cannot be forced to abide by an onerous contract that makes them a defacto “slave”. That includes any alleged “contracts” with a fetus.
- Women may agree to abortion restrictions in order to enter a specific private, contractual community. However, their right to self-determination means they are not a slave to that contract and may quit the community to seek an abortion. If a woman has no contract involving the father in the raising of a child, the ensuing moral responsibility for the child is hers alone. Of course, no spouse can be forced to honor an onerous child support contract; such contracts must be mediated if there is a dispute.
- Some libertarians believe it is wrong to carry to term a fetus so deformed that it can never care for itself or live as a truly self-conscious, self-determining person.
- Rights of life and liberty – and control of one’s body – are based on self-ownership. One’s body is one’s property. The analogy often is used describing the fetus as a trespasser, a “stowaway” or even a parasite. The woman has a right to eject the unwanted intruder from her property, i.e., her body, in order to preserve her own life and liberty.
- A woman has a right to right to control her pregnancy until the point of birth, be it normal or premature, natural or via caesarian section.
- If the government can force a pregnant woman to allow her body, i.e. her property, to be used to service a fetus, it can force any one to do with their body or property anything government considers to be a service to others or to the state itself.
- In this issue, as in so many, most libertarians believe that “government is the problem, not the solution.” Government should be kept out of the issue.
- Most abortion prohibitionists oppose abortion on dubious religious grounds or use logically and factually flawed arguments which in no way support any governmental right to restrict a woman’s liberty, self-determination or right to control her own body.
- Some abortion prohibitionists clearly oppose abortion on personal or racial grounds and use the state to promote their agenda. There is a great demand to adopt healthy white babies, and a defacto traffic in them, while children of color shuffle through the governmental foster care system and disabled children often are confined to impersonal institutions. Abortion prohibitionists rarely seek to adopt these children.
- In 1973 the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision made most abortion legal. About five years later Republicans and Christian fundamentalists latched on to the issue to build a “values based” party which would allow Christian institutions to avoid federal regulations.(Politico) In the last 15 years especially Republicans have milked the issue of regulating and banning abortion to help them take over more state governments. They have emphasized “late term” abortion – i.e., after 21 weeks – which is less than 2 percent of all abortions, many caused by the delays to which antiabortion laws have lead! Since 2010 seventeen states have passed laws banning abortion after 18 or 20 weeks, alleging the fetus’ ability to feel pain. Twelve states require doctors to inform women of this alleged pain. They also have ramped up regulation of abortion clinics far beyond what is medically necessary, shutting down many clinics permanently.(Vice1) In 2015 alone U.S. states introduced over 350 anti-abortion bills and passed 47 of them.(Reason) Between over-regulation and violence against abortion clinics, since 2011 162 clinics have shut down nationwide.(Vice2)
- Abortion laws, like most other laws, only multiply and become progressively worse. Now women are being prosecuted on flimsy evidence for miscarriages(Alternet) and some states have considered laws requiring that every miscarriage be reported under penalty of law.(Minnpost)(ThinkProgress) Note that starting from 1994 to 2008 the Libertarian Party “Women’s rights and abortion” platform denounced these kids of laws: restrictions on the sale of menstruation-inducing contragestive pills; legislation restricting women’s access to abortion or other reproductive health services, including requiring consent of the prospective father, waiting periods, and mandatory indoctrination on fetal development; state-mandated abortions; mandating or prohibiting prenatal testing, Caesarean births, fetal surgery, voluntary surrogacy arrangements, home births; restrictions on anyone, including children, from learning about human sexuality, reproduction, birth control, or related medical or biological technologies. Almost all of this language has been struck from the Libertarian Party platform.
- Abortion-prohibitionists often call abortion “infanticide” – which is “murder” – or murder itself. But they deny the logical implication of “murder”. Because abortion always is intentional and premeditated, it technically is first degree murder. This necessitates prosecution, conviction, prison, fines and even execution of women who have abortions, as well as of doctors or others who provide them. Moreover, conspiracy to murder charges could be leveled against anyone advocating abortion, advertising abortion services in other states or lobbying to overturn laws against abortion. Already one state has permitted a ballot access measure declaring abortion murder.(DailyBanter)
Consequences of Prohibition
Libertarians often talk about the “unintended consequences” of laws. However, over a century of abortion prohibition has dramatized the consequences. Yet many abortion prohibitionists – and even well-intentioned libertarians who want the LP to take no position on the issue – have too little comprehension of the negative consequences of unwanted pregnancies for women.
- Abortion restrictions predominantly affect girls and women who cannot afford, financially and/or logistically, to go to another state or another country for an abortion. They either have far more “late term” abortions than they would otherwise. Or they suffer dangerous amateur or illegal abortions or give birth to unwanted children.
- Abortion prohibition creates a black market in abortions, leading to unprofessional, unsanitary and unsafe abortions that risk the life of the mother, often leading to infection, mutilation, infertility and even death. Self-induced, at home abortions also skyrocket under prohibition and are equally dangerous.
- Girls and women who have suffered the trauma of being impregnated through incest or rape are further traumatized by being forced to carry the fetus to term. The fetus also is affected by the trauma; many unwanted children suffer developmental effects from the mother’s trauma.(BirthPsychology) The woman whose rights are being violated is far more the victim than a fetus which is not a human being with rights.
- Many womens’ trauma is compounded because of unnecessary interference with abortion after 21 weeks. Only 1.5 percent abortions occur after 21 weeks’ gestation. Well-known reasons for later term abortions include medical issues threatening the life of the mother and severely deformed fetus that would not survive long outside the womb. Later term abortions also result from young girls’ ignorance of pregnancy; depression, illicit substance abuse or inability to decide; conflict with a male partner or domestic abuser or lack of access to abortion.(Rewire)(Wiley)(Hairpin)
- Women who cannot afford to overcome abortion restrictions often end up having one or more children who require tens of thousands of dollars a year in state support through financial support, food stamps, rent subsidies, education and job grants, etc.
- Government regulation of abortion only has encouraged abortion prohibition fanatics to bomb and burn down abortion facilities, harass, threaten and even shoot abortion clinic doctors and staff, and trick, harass, stalk and terrorize pregnant girls and women at abortion clinics and hospitals.(Founders)(NARAL)
- Women prosecuted for these crimes are often sent to prison and their existing children neglected or abused by relatives or the state foster care systems. This starts a life of dependency and crime for many such children who end up on welfare or in prison.(Voices)
- Given the burdensome and even horrific consequences of prohibiting abortion, libertarians should never apply the term “pro-life” to those who would outlaw abortion; only those who advocate voluntary means to convince women to bring a fetus to term should be called “pro-life”. Under prohibition many women die from unwanted pregnancies or illegal abortions. Those who would use the state to regulate and restrict abortions must be called “abortion interventionists”; those who would forbid some or all abortion must be called “abortion prohibitionists”. These are the accurate terms pro-choice and anti-prohibition libertarians must use.
It should now be clear to any libertarian that the reasons for supporting womens’ right to abortion, or at least for keeping government out of the matter, are very strong. They are based on libertarian principles of individual liberty, self-determination, property rights and limited government. And it is clear that the consequences of restricting and outlawing abortion can be catastrophic for women. Statists are using abortion as yet one more excuse to intrude on every aspect of our lives.
- References to many of the libertarian viewpoints in this piece come from Sharon Presley and Robert Cooke, Association of Libertarian Feminists paper on “Abortion”, and from Sharon Presley, “A Libertarian Feminist Case for Abortion Rights”, 2012, a restatement of principles in the first piece.
- (WHO) World Health Organization Fact Sheet on Maternal Mortality, 2015
- (CDC) Centers for Disease Control and Preventio, Pregnancy-Related Deaths
- Joffee, Carole, Abortion and medicine: A sociopolitical history“, in M Paul, ES Lichtenberg, L Borgatta, DA Grimes, PG Stubblefield, MD Creinin. Management of Unintended and Abnormal Pregnancy, 1st ed. Oxford, United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2009
- (Politico.com) “The Real Origins of the Religious Right“, 2014
- (Vice1) “How Republicans’ Obsession with Fetuses Has Reached Insane New Heights“, 2016
- (Reason) “U.S. Passed 47 New Anti-Abortion Laws in 2015“, 2015
- (Vice2) “It’s Still Shockingly Hard to Get an Abortion in Much of America“, 2016
- (Alternet) “Arrested for Having a Miscarriage? 7 Appalling Instances Where Pregnant Women Were Criminalized”, 2014
- (Minnpost) “Failed Virginia bill on miscarriages reveals ignorance about women’s health“, 2013
- (ThinkProgress) “Kansas May Force Doctors To Report Women’s Miscarriages To The State Health Department“, 2014
- (DailyBanter), “Alabama Voters Will Get to Decide Whether Women Who Have Abortions Will Be Prosecuted as Murderers“, 2016
- (BirthPsychology) “Born Unwanted: Developmental Effects of Denied Abortion“, 1998
- (Rewire) “Late Abortions: Facts, Stories, and Ways to Help“, 2009
- (Wiley) “Who Seeks Abortions at or After 20 Weeks?“, in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2013
- (Hairpin) “Interview with Dr. Susan Robinson, One of the Last Four Doctors in America to Openly Provide Third-Trimester Abortions “, 2013
- (Founders) “Why You Should Pray For Less Clinic Violence In 2016“, Founders Womens Health Center, 2015
- (NARAL) “Anti-Choice Violence and Intimidation“, National Abortion Rights Action League, 2016
- (Voices) “Invisible Victims: The Children of Women in Prison“, Voices for Children, 2004