How Can You Be Pro-Life And…?

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…

A feminist

Those man-hating feminists! How dare they want to vote! Wait…

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.

She would like you to know that she’s an autonomous citizen and doesn’t like you oppressing her by feeding her and making her stay in her crib.

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).

Baby Mary Ann after being told the doctors wanted to abort her… er, me.

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.

A libertarian

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.

I have no idea what’s going on in this picture. Please take my libertarian card now.

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.

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Ron Paul 2016?

Does the idea of Ron Paul running a fourth time for president seem a little far-fetched to you? Apparently, it doesn’t to everyone in the liberty movement.

Writing last week on Lew Rockwell’s blog, libertarian professor and author Walter Block, made the case for a 2016 Ron Paul candidacy.

“What we’ve got to do, in my view, is DRAFT Ron to run for president in 2016. Libertarianism is alright as I see things, but if you really want to accomplish any thing in life, you’ve got to threaten people with physical violence (I’m kidding, I’m kidding – Lew insists I make this clear). So, Ron, unless you seek the presidency of the US in 2016, you’ll have me to contend with. Ron in 16! Ron in 16!”

He later added:

As far as I’m concerned, Ron should run for President of the US in 2016 in any way he wants. As a Republican, as a Libertarian, even as a Martian for all I care. Of all the present candidates for the presidency, I would support Rand Paul. But only in a lukewarm manner.

With all due respect to Dr. Block, adopting this attitude is far from a good idea. Sadly, it is not only among the people who have been active for liberty in non-political ways (like Dr. Block), that this attitude is prevalent. Unfortunately, I see many libertarians talking about how the only candidate they would support is Ron Paul. I have already written on this site about how pointless I find libertarian purity tests, so this isn’t what this article is about. Rather, I want to address what I see as a dangerous cult of personality that surrounds Ron Paul among some libertarians.

Ron Paul never made his message about him.

When we think about our beloved former Congressman, what do we know about him? He has never made the message of liberty about him, or compared himself favorably to other liberty-minded individuals. Rather, the entire message of Ron Paul’s national presence has been that liberty is universal.

Admit it: you want Ron Paul to be your grandfather (source).

In 2016, Ron Paul will be 80. It is not unrealistic to think that he may live to be 88, but it is rather selfish of us to expect him to spend his retirement going through the exhausting process of campaigning. He’s retired from politics. He’s not done fighting for liberty, but he’s ready to spend time with his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Letting him do that without pressuring him to run for office again is the least we can do to someone we claim to admire so much.

The liberty movement is about more than Ron Paul.

Rand Paul, Thomas Massie, and Justin Amash  (source)

Ron Paul has certainly done more for liberty in recent years than arguably anyone else. However, if I had to compare Dr. Paul to a biblical figure, it would be John the Baptist, not the Messiah. Ron Paul has spent countless years in government being the “voice calling in the wilderness” for liberty. Where 20 and 30 years ago, Ron Paul had few allies,  liberty these days has some pretty vocal supporters in the House and the Senate.  Liberty is becoming mainstream. The worst thing the liberty movement can do now is to hold tightly to what brought us here, demanding that an aging defender of liberty keep running for office despite his personal wish to retire, and ignoring the new voices we have today.

The most ironic part of all of this is that many of the diehards who wish to see Ron Paul run again are the people who usually say things like “voting is pointless,” “it’s not about politics,” etc. If it’s not all about politics, then we certainly need to stop focusing on one man running for one office. Ron Paul has done his part. Now it’s up to us to carry the torch of liberty and focus on supporting liberty minded individuals – not just for President, and not just for national offices! Let Ron Paul retire without harassing him to be our perpetual candidate. It’s our turn now.

Fear, Fatalism, and Faith

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” – John 14:27 (KJV)

Last year, I attended a graduation ceremony for some of my friends at the local university. I was excited that the commencement speaker was none other than the fabulous PJ O’Rourke. His message was a simple one. Our generation – the graduating one – has it pretty good. We didn’t grow up practicing hiding under our desks in school to prepare for nuclear war with the communists like many of our parents or grandparents did. We didn’t grow up without voting rights for women or political protection for minorities like our grandparents or great-grandparents did. It wasn’t as simple as a platitude of “count your blessings,” but rather a reminder that every generation faces big threats. Every generation has fears. Every generation has monsters. We endure because of what made us great in the first place: liberty, tolerance, and determination.

School children drill during the Cold War era.

I am often reminded of O’Rourke’s remarks when I talk to my fellow libertarians. To many libertarians, the above may sound like blasphemy. “The world is ending!” we protest, “the government is encroaching! Our liberties are going down the drain!” This week, as we watched things from deadly tornadoes ripping through our heartland to a British soldier being killed in cold blood on the streets of London, the debate has returned to the surface. What are the merits of remaining optimistic in such a time as this? Is there any room for hope in a world where it seems as though every day we lose liberties quicker?

With this in mind, I decided to come up with a list of some things that libertarians, especially Christians, should remember. This article is from an explicitly Christian perspective, but hopefully there is room to apply its message to non-theistic libertarians.

1. God doesn’t want us to live in fear.

This is the first and most important thing to remember. The verse that opens this article is just one of many Biblical reminders that Christians, despite dire circumstances, should not live in fear. Let’s look at some of what else the Bible has to say about fear and the Christian life (all verses KJV).

“Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” – Deuteronomy 31:6

“Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” – Joshua 1:9

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” – Psalm 23: 4

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” – Psalm 27:1

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” – John 14:27

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” – 2 Timothy 1:7

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” – 1 John 4:18

The context and stories to which these verses refer are even more powerful reminders not to let fear overtake us. We aren’t traversing through the desert for 40 years, we aren’t running from an angry king, and we aren’t adherents to a newly-formed religion living in the height of the pagan Roman Empire. We do really have it fairly good! We need to be constantly vigilant, yes. But even in much more dire circumstances, Christians are reminded not to let fear overtake us.

2. Fear is not a good political motivator.

From a political perspective, giving into fear doesn’t produce good results. Fear makes representatives vote the massive PATRIOT ACT into law mere days after 9/11. Fear makes people support such foolish decisions. Fear makes you irrational. Fear is not thinking, it is reacting. The liberty movement cannot survive if our motivator is reaction. We must have rationalism behind positive goals. Our goals must go beyond reacting to things that scare us.

President Bush signs the USA PATRIOT ACT into law mere weeks after 9/11 in 2001.

3. Fatalism is pointless.

Now, at this point, some people are surely arguing that it’s not just about fear, but about being “realistic” about the future of our nation (and perhaps the world). Of course, at the radical end of this are the people who think the leaders of the free world are conspiring to bring about an “end game” of world tyranny. However, you don’t have to trek that far into the fringes to find people who are very fatalistic about the future. Christian libertarians also have a tendency to connect our political views with apocalyptic eschatology.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

It’s easy to look at the current state of civil liberties and economic freedom and be pessimistic. Even if the world is coming to an end imminently, does that mean that we shouldn’t try to make it as good as possible while we’re still here? If we are completely pessimistic about the future, what’s the point of doing anything? I firmly believe that political action can, and does, create real change, and that we are not doomed. But even if you think just the opposite, it’s still not unrealistic optimism to focus on the good. It’s not unrealistic optimism to focus on the structures, ideas, and foundation that our founders gave us. It’s not unrealistic optimism to focus on what we can do, as opposed to what we can’t.

4. There’s nothing wrong with being happy!

Finally, I think that it’s important to remember that we as Christians are not called to be dreary killjoys. This is also important to remember when we approach politics as Christian libertarians. I’m sure everyone has one or two friends who react negatively to any instances of levity, with admonishments that there are more important things to worry about.

“The founding fathers wouldn’t just post pictures of cats if they had Facebook!”

Maybe not. But I imagine our founding fathers – and our Biblical role models – wouldn’t go around trying to squash other people enjoying humor and joy and life! The Bible tells us that Jesus wants us to live  “life more abundantly“! Bad things don’t negate our enjoyment of the good things in life, and being humorless, glum, and fatalistic doesn’t win anyone over. If we truly want to try to make a difference for liberty, we need to think about our methods, and try to focus more on the positive things we can do. Sure, some people are going to continue to sulk about how the world is ending and everything’s horrible. I’d rather be with the people who try to change what we can.

On Sex, Liberty, and Prudence

There is a small war brewing among libertarians. Strangely, the battle lines seem to have been drawn on something that most people wouldn’t associate with libertarians: sex. In an article unfortunately titled “This is How Many Shits I Give About Converting Conservatives to Libertarians”, author Gina Luttrell argues that “conservatives, as they currently exist in American politics, have a pretty narrow view…[and] attempt to ‘persuade’—and by that I mean shame—others away from the peaceful ways they choose to live their lives.” Ashley Rae Goldenberg, writing for this blog, responded by criticizing Thoughts on Liberty’s supposed view that “sex is the most important topic in the entire universe!” writing that “perhaps these libertarian women think the only way they’re able to convert people to libertarianism is to use sex as a tool.”

Whew! Let no one say libertarians hate a vigorous debate! (No one would say that).

Pictured: two libertarians having a typical argument.

I do not feel that such infighting does any good to anyone in the liberty movement. However, I feel that a debate such as this, quite frankly, ridden with ad hominems on both sides and showing no sign of waning, could benefit from a middle ground perspective. Perhaps no one can fully reconcile the two sides, but I think the liberty movement would benefit from seeing more than the left/right paradigm, on this issue as on all others.

1)    My personal perspective.

I am a libertarian. I am a feminist. I do not see any contradiction between the two and feel that both movements have at their heart a similar message: that all individuals should be treated as individuals, and not treated differently based on their race, sex, gender, gender identify, sexual orientation, etc. What makes me libertarian is what makes me a feminist, and vice versa. Of course, there will be feminists who disagree with me, but nobody ever said we have to be a conglomerate of agreement, did they?

2)    Prudence is not just for prudes.

I tend to agree with Goldenberg, who argues that the only “libertarian” perspective on issues such as polyamory, casual sex, homosexuality, etc., is that the government should not pass laws restricting or regulating such activities between consensual adults. You can be a libertarian who doesn’t believe in sex before marriage, you can be a polyamorous libertarian, or you can be an asexual libertarian. These things have nothing to do with the liberty movement. You do not have a right not to be “judged” or “shamed,” regardless of how damaging these two experiences may be.

I disagree with Goldenberg that merely talking about sexual issues is necessarily about promoting casual sex or decrying monogamy. I also agree that there is, “no right way to have sex“, and that there is value in discussing cultural issues! But you’re never going to win anyone over to liberty by waging a culture war. Prudence must come into play when deciding which issues you want to attach to the liberty movement. There is value in discussing, for example, rape culture, which is inherent aggression against men and women. But what can be gained by trying to convince social conservatives that they have to agree that there’s nothing wrong with polyamory, or else they are shaming those who practice it? Not a whole lot, I would argue.

Of course Thoughts on Liberty “gives no shits” about winning over conservatives, but this is foolish. As the aforementioned article points out, there is a great deal of hypocrisy from conservatives who claim to want the government to stay out of their lives and then ask it to intrude into other’s bedrooms. Hypocrisy is human. There is no reconciling a leftist philosophy that does not even pretend to reject all kinds of government intervention with the non-interventionism of libertarianism. That’s not to say that liberals are not won over by libertarianism. But our ideologies are completely different. Writing about how you don’t “give a shit” about winning over half of the country, the half that is closer to your philosophy than the other, no less, is not only imprudent, but it is arrogant, short-sighted, and juvenile. And make no mistake; this is coming from someone who agrees with 90% of what Thoughts on Liberty writes on culture and sexuality.

3)    On Lines in the Sand.

There will be times such “cultural” issues come to the forefront of American political consciousness and answers are demanded from libertarians. It is okay when libertarians give different answers! Obsession with extreme intellectual purity has never served the liberty movement well (see:  hysterical objections to Rand Paul based simply on the fact that he is not like Ron Paul 100 percent of the time). To give a non sex-related example: I do not feel that something like support for charter schools should not be on a checklist of libertarian intellectual purity, just as issues of culture/sexuality shouldn’t be. But who knows? Maybe I’m just repressed.