Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Libertarian Case Against Abortion (Part I)

Conservative professor Mike Adams views himself as a "Republican with libertarian leanings." In a recent article, he offers what he considers to be libertarian reasons to oppose abortion. According to Dr. Adams:

… abortion is fundamentally anti-choice because the decision to abort is only one choice. Whenever that choice is made a lifetime of choices are prevented. The average life is over 27,000 days long and we all make dozens of choices daily. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that each abortion results in an average net loss of at least a million choices.

I find this line argument to be both a fundamental misunderstanding of Libertarianism and an excellent example of the sort of good intentions paved path to tyranny that libertarian thought is designed to avoid. Dr. Adams would bring in the hypothetical future choices of a fetus and grant them the legitimacy and power to stand against the direct physical choices of pregnant women. Libertarianism is the belief, as John Stuart Mill argued, that people have the legal and moral right to pursue their own good in their own way as long as they did not interfere with the liberties of others. The corollary of this is the necessity of drawing a distinction between direct physical harm and indirect nonphysical harm and willingness to, at all costs, take the latter off the table as a political issue relevant to the government. As long as the government is allowed to step in and protect people from indirect nonphysical harm it is impossible to offer a coherent consistent defense of civil liberties even in the face of the Spanish Inquisition. (The presence of Jews, Muslims and heretics cause psychological suffering to good Catholics. Therefore the state has the right to take all possible action to remove the problem, plausibly even with the rack and stake.)

While I may disagree with Dr. Adams' argument, I do believe that there can be valid reasons for Libertarians to oppose abortion and declare themselves to be pro-life. First off we should consider the narrow self-serving use that the modern left has put the essentially libertarian concepts of the right to privacy and the right to control one's own body. Imagine that I am sitting in my basement with one of my theoretical girlfriends and, in order to convince her to engage in certain consensual actions, I offer her a birth control pill. Let us say that my theoretical girlfriend is so excited to engage in consensual activities with me that she ignores the pill and ends up pregnant. I, therefore, offer to put my licensed degree in medieval surgery to use to perform an abortion. The modern left, through Griswold vs. Connecticut and Roe vs. Wade, militantly supports the premise that the government cannot interfere and will come to the defense of my theoretical girlfriend and me. Now change the scenario a bit. Instead of offering my theoretical girlfriend a pill, I offer her a joint to help her get over her inhibitions. (My theoretical girlfriend comes from a fine Bais Yaakov Catholic school.) My theoretical girlfriend decides that she would like to be able to enjoy such wonderful inhibition removing herbs on a more regular basis so I offer to put my medieval surgery degree to use by removing one of her kidneys. Thus allowing her to sell it on the open market and afford to be uninhibited more often. The modern left, as a whole, is not prepared to lift a finger to stop the government from arresting my theoretical girlfriend and me and sending us off to serve years in prison on charges of drug use and organ trafficking. Let us acknowledge that the conversation about a right to privacy and to control one's body does not even begin until we acknowledge the right to use any drug of choice and sell any bodily organ. The modern left should be called out on this as hypocrites and any claim on their part to privacy should be summarily scorned and dismissed.

To be continued …

(I offered a version of this argument on Clarissa’s blog and she argued that women are not allowed to sell fetuses and she did not “think anybody prohibits you from cutting out any part of your body and throwing it away …” My response was that I would be interested to see how abortion rights activists would react if the government tried to stop a woman from selling her aborted fetus say to medical science. Also, we do see mothers “selling” their fetuses when they agree to carry the fetus to term and give it up for adoption in return for financial compensation.)


Clarissa said...

Good, interesting post.

But "summery"? Did you maybe mean "summarily"?

Izgad said...

Got it. Thanks.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Ooooh! Izgad gets caught. Nice.

Anyway, I find his reasoning flawed from the get-go. By saying that choosing abortion prevents further choices, he implies that all choosing is anti-libertarian. What about other decisions that lead to life altering events, like marriage, choice of vocation, deciding where to live, what to eat for lunch, etc. True choice only exists briefly and then once you've made the choice it's gone. My understanding of libertarianism was that is maximized the available choices and didn't interfere with your process of choosing but you still had to lock yourself into a choice at some point.

Vox Populi said...

>The modern left should be called out on this as hypocrites and any claim on their part to privacy should be summarily scorned and dismissed.

That's a bit much, I think.

First, I think the left is much closer to legalizing or decriminalizing various drugs, especially marijuana, than is the right. The countries that have legalized it are not known for being rightist countries.

Second, abortion does not equal organ trafficking because fetuses and organs are both contained within the human body. Perhaps fetuses are more akin to hair or fingernails or zygotes? There's no libertarian argument in favor of criminalizing grooming and masturbation, is there?

The principle that I think everyone follows, at least here in America, whether you are conservative, liberal or libertarian, is that absent compelling interest, the government should stay out of your affairs. The whole debate, it seems to me, comes down to defining what is and is not a compelling interest, and what the extent of the intervention should be. This being the case, you're not going to find any absolute right to privacy or control of your body or expression in any American political tradition.

Miss S. said...

Let us acknowledge that the conversation about a right to privacy and to control one's body does not even begin until we acknowledge the right to use any drug of choice and sell any bodily organ. The modern left should be called out on this as hypocrites and any claim on their part to privacy should be summarily scorned and dismissed.

Well except that there are liberals who support the decriminalization of drugs; probably ones who also have no problem with selling organs on the open market as well.

Clarissa said...

Decriminalization of drugs is not a matter of individual rights. I agree that anybody has the right to put any substance they want into their body. But what about my right to safety? Why should I be endangered by the decisions of these other people? I think their rights should end where my rights begin. If there was a law saying that anybody can take any drug they want if they do not leave their house for 72 hours after taking it, I would be behind it.

Izgad said...

I support laws banning people from driving or using heavy machinery while under the influence of alcohol and would support similar laws for people under the influence of heroin or marijuana. Considering that these substances can stay within the body for months, this would allow the government to ban users from driving for months on end.
In practice libertarian drug laws would allow people to get high in their basements, but would not extend much further.

Clarissa said...

So how do you prevent them from getting out of the basements and assaulting people while they are high?

Izgad said...

The same way we stop people from engaging in drunken acts of violence. We have laws against assault on the books as well as minor penalties for being high in public.