I recently wrote about my belief that the pro-life movement could benefit greatly from a more pragmatic approach. Even though the article wasn’t a broader pro-life argument, it attracted a lot of common questions that pro-lifers, especially those who don’t fall into the stereotypical religious-based camp, face. How can a libertarian support government regulation of abortion? How can a self-professed feminist support restrictions on “a woman’s body”? Do you care about life after birth? First of all, I reject the assertion that being opposed to abortion puts any kind of requirement on a person to hold any other view. To suggest otherwise is simply an attempt to defeat an opponent by falsely implying hypocrisy – which, I should point out, doesn’t do anything to refute the underlying argument.
That being said, the liberty movement is always going to be at odds over the issue of abortion, and I think that pro-life libertarians need to be able to defend their position. Personally, I don’t care in the slightest if other feminists think that I’m not “feminist enough” for being opposed to abortion, but I do care about women’s issues, and would like young women afraid to identify as feminists to know that you don’t have to fit a certain leftist ideal to be one. And, of course, assertions by the left that “pro-life” is a misnomer if we don’t support universal healthcare or any other leftist cause célèbre are always going to be prevalent and must be addressed.
With all of that in mind, I would like to address the question at hand in relation to the above issues. So, how can you be pro-life and be…
On this point, it’s important to put the disclaimer that I’m by no means an expert in feminist thought. At college, I studied political science, not women’s studies, but I’m familiar with a lot of the core of feminist thought as it relates to politics, and to a lesser extent, to society. I believe that historically, women have been disenfranchised by a male-dominated power structure. Women still face a higher risk of being victims of sexual crimes. Rape culture shames and discourages victims from reporting sexual crimes. Women are less likely to run for political office, and more likely to be treated badly by the media if they do run. Women are judged more harshly than men for engaging in similar behaviors. It is within recent memory that women were able to open credit cards without their husband’s approval. Some of our grandparents can remember when women couldn’t vote.
However, none of these conclusions suggest or require that support for abortion, which pro-lifers such as myself view as the taking of a human life, be a feminist litmus test. And while pro-life feminists are rare, we do exist. As I discussed in my previous column, I think that it is anti-woman to try to restrict access to contraception or assume that all women have to be, or should be, mothers.
Abortion is a separate issue. Just because the unborn baby is dependent on the life of its mother doesn’t mean that it’s not a life. All children and many adults are dependent on someone else to live. That doesn’t mean that we get to kill them. I was born premature. In many states, I could have been aborted at the time I was born, and in fact, my mom’s doctors suggested aborting me to give the larger twin (my sister) a better chance of living (for the record, we both survived, as you may know if you’ve checked out our contributors page).
I do recognize that abortion is complex, and often an emotionally-charged decision. I have a hard time supporting a ban on abortion in the cases of rape, but I would prefer that rape survivors are routinely provided access to emergency contraception. Taking away the perceived need for abortion would certainly eliminate a lot of the complex moral dilemmas involved.
As most of you probably know, I’m a “small-l” libertarian. I don’t claim allegiance to the Libertarian Party, nor do I agree with them on everything. However, as a liberty-minded individual, the question of how I can support government “regulation” of abortion is often brought up. It is true that I do favor less government regulation in nearly all cases.
However, it is disingenuous to suggest that pro-life libertarians are examples of only supporting bans on things we don’t like. I don’t oppose abortion because I don’t like it; I oppose it because I believe it to be the taking of a life. I don’t like prostitution or drugs, but I don’t think people should sit in prison for engaging in those behaviors.
I’m not an anarcho-capitalist. I’m a small-government libertarian conservative, and I’m more likely to support a return to state and local control than an attempt to “get government out” altogether. I absolutely support state legislation against violent crimes that harm individuals, and property crimes that deprive individuals of their property. Even if I don’t like said individuals, I don’t support crimes being done against them. I don’t support legislation of victimless crimes, for the most part, and I don’t support federal legislation of most all crimes. But abortion doesn’t fall under those categories. The rebuttal of “if you don’t support abortion, don’t get one,” really doesn’t apply. Lots of people might think that it’s a husband’s right to punish his wife by striking her, but I certainly don’t want to leave that interpretation up to their choice.
I do recognize, as I’ve said in comments on my previous article, that abortion is something that is always going to be debated. I believe that, at the absolute least, abortion should be restricted past what is, admittedly, a difficult concept of “viability.” I believe life begins when the fetus begins developing. I recognize, however, that proving when life begins is always going to be somewhat a matter for philosophy, not science. Like nearly all issues, I think that complex questions about abortion should be left to the states.
Finally, this takes me to the ubiquitous final question.
How can you be pro-life and not support other “life” issues?
Issues commonly brought up include lack of support for alternatives to abortion (which I covered in my previous article,) and support for war. War is not the same thing, unless you believe that killing foreign combatants is the same thing as murder. I don’t. I think that war is sometimes a necessary evil. It does show a lack of respect for the idea of life if people don’t care if innocent people are killed in war. But that, surely, is a rarity among people who support wars.
The only point I will concede to this argument is that it may be a misnomer to call anti-abortion supporters “pro-life.” However, pro-abortion supporters typically prefer the term “pro-choice,” even if they don’t always support choice in cases of school choice, or personal health choices like drinking large sodas, or the choice to carry weapons. I don’t think that’s necessarily hypocritical of them. It’s understood that “pro-choice” typically refers to abortion, and it’s understood that “pro-life” typically refers to abortion. Let’s not get caught up on trying to trip up our opponents based on their wording.
Of course, the big argument that seems to come up on this point is about healthcare. Is it hypocritical to support legislation restricting abortion and not support government intervention to improve the quality of life for people who have been born?
First of all, there is a fundamental distinction between supporting the government punishing crime and requesting that the government subsidize, well, anything. I don’t support government-funded healthcare, certainly not federal-government funded healthcare, because that’s not the role of the government. Our founding documents talk about the pursuit of happiness, not its guarantee. The government has the ability to provide for the protection of its citizens, in fact, that’s the very idea of government. However, it has neither the responsibility nor the right to feed, clothe, and hold their hands from cradle to grave.
I am a die-hard libertarian, but one freedom that I have a hard time fully supporting is abortion. Like other libertarians, I believe in giving women the freedom to choose, but I what I will not support is giving a woman the freedom to abort her child at any time in her pregnancy. I just cannot imagine allowing a woman who is 9 months pregnant the freedom to walk into a clinic and abort her full-developed child. That just goes against every fiber of my being! Women should have the freedom to choose, but what we must keep in mind that unborn children do not have the ability to defend themselves, so at what point is it justifiable to take away the freedoms of others in order to defend the freedoms of those unable to defend themselves????
As a small l libertarian and, most likely, an cap, I’m a big fan of Walter Block’s view of abortion. He’s written a rather long article in a law journal on the topic and has spoken on it twice that I know of. Links below, if you’re interested.
Click to access block-whitehead_abortion-2005.pdf
Thank you very much for the links, I have not read the article yet but I did watch the video.
I have one main problem with his argument about abortion. He states that a person has the right to evict someone from their property but not to kill them (directly). He acknowledges that abortion would be an indirect killing in many cases and accepts it as unfortunate but necessary to protect the woman’s property rights (as I understand it).
Now my problem is that, while he does try to propose and then defeat an analogy in opposition to his eviction idea, he fails to provide an accurate analogy to pregnancy. His defeat of the plane analogy relies on the fact that there was an “implicit contract” between the owner of the plane, and the people he invited onto the plane. So what if we adjusted his analogy to more accurately represent a situation where there is no implicit contract, like in pregnancy?
For example, let’s say that you own a private plane and decide to go on a flight by yourself. You did not invite anyone to go with you, nor do you want anyone with you. But sometime after takeoff you discover a stowaway. In this case the person is a trespasser. There is no implicit contract between you since he came on to your plane without your knowledge or consent. You decide that you do not want the person on your plane. So now do you have the right to evict them (kick them off your plane mid-air) even if it means they will likely die as a result?
While no analogy is perfect, I believe that this version of the plane analogy is much more similar to pregnancy and would be much harder for him to respond to.
I am a pro-life feminist who practices anarchy. I agree fully with the first part of this article, somewhat with the second part, and not at all with the third part. If we are going to hold a pro-life position on the issue of abortion, than we need to be pro-life across the board. While I certainly believe that people have a right to defend themselves, war is optional. We cannot support bombing innocent civilians (which includes many women and children) as a “necessary evil” while insisting that women in emotionally/physically difficult pregnancies not have the “choice” to abort; that is appallingly hypocritical. Life is sacred, or it’s not. We do not get to pick and choose who’s life is valuable and who’s is not, for to do so makes us no better than the most extreme pro-choicers.
The “anti-choice” label is laughable — particularly for those like me, whose political ideology is framed by Mill’s “one very simple principle” (paraphrased, “Do whatever the hell you want, as long as you don’t harm anyone else”).
But if “choice” connotes the supposed right to exert lethal force against a human being whose only offense is existence, then I am unapologetically anti-choice.
Get so frustrated when people throw abortion in with other necessary freedoms. “Don’t like hockey..don’t watch it. Don’t like abortion..don’t have one”
My usual response is, “Don’t like robbery…don’t break into your neighbor’s house and steal their stuff…but who the hell are you to say someone ELSE doesn’t get to do that?”
I don’t support government-funded healthcare, certainly not federal-government funded healthcare, because that’s not the role of the government.
Do you not think that a government that prohibits women from having abortions has a moral duty to provide these women with medical care to try to minimize the danger the government is forcing them to go through?
Child birth and pregnancy can lead to life-long injuries or death, and abortion and prenatal care are both ways to defend yourself against these dangers. If you can’t afford the latter, is it really right to have the former prohibited to you?