A Pro-life Libertarian view on Abortion

My wife has held before me the challenge and moral dilemma of reconciling Libertarian views with the issue of abortion. It is true, you will find many Libertarians who extend the right of personal liberty to “a woman’s right to choose.” However, I contest that Libertarian ideology is wholly in-line with the pro-life stance.

Libertarian ideology at its core is this: government exists to preserve the liberty of the people. In its ideal form it requires only the common laws of 1) do all you have agreed to do and 2) do not encroach upon others. All rights stem from these two. All law beyond these two can tend to muddle the picture.

Abortion violates the liberty of the unborn. Abortion violates common law #2, do not encroach upon others. Women have the right to choose anything they want… until it violates the rights of another.

Substitute any of a thousand other issues for abortion, and those who claim to be Libertarian will come out on the right side.

  • A woman should  have the right to [do x]… until/unless she [does y].
  • A woman should have the right to [smoke marijuana]… until she [gets behind the wheel and causes an accident]
  • A woman should have the right to [own guns]… until she [wants to shoot someone]
  • A woman should have the right to [free speech]… unless she [commits libel]

Suddenly many become inconsistent when we say women should have the right to control her body… until she wants to take the life an unborn child. The problem is not the ideology, it is a failure to be intellectually honest and a moral failure to understand the issue of life.

In a previous post, I came across the following on Nathaniel Hawthorne, regarding his thoughts on slavery

Hawthorne believed that progress in society is possible, but it must be the slow progress of conscience instead of the “whirlwind of fanaticism, which wailed onward to Sumter, and then raved triumphant to Appomattox.” [. . .] For Hawthorne, slavery could not be removed by federal legislation or by coercive enforcement measures; rather, “being contrary to the economical and moral convictions of the future, slavery ultimately would fade away without governmental interference.”

The fundamental difference between the traditional Republican ideology and Libertarian ideology is the belief for or against legislating morality. Can good laws make good people? Is the way to achieve moral reform through legislation? Republicans put a lot of energy into this, and for many it feels wrong to go against this idea. But here is the problem:

Law remains only when it reflects the ideals of the people. Law can be enacted at the whim of those in power. Bush used executive orders to bring some moral reform. In a few short days, they will all be reversed. In fact, Bush reversed the policies of Clinton, who reversed the policies of Bush Sr.

Law doesn’t change people’s hearts. Just look at the issue of gay marriage. The Religious Right has put all its eggs in this political basket. They’ve won some battles. They are losing the war. Across the country courts are overturning any and every law restricting gay marriage. In more states, gay marriage is becoming recognized. Across the country it is becoming more and more acceptable. If we could legislate morality, we should expect the opposite result.

This is the view that Hawthorne expressed regarding slavery. We need to attack the heart to win moral battles. And this is a slow, person by person war. What happened with slavery? We legislated, yes. But did it solve the moral, racial problem? No, that has taken 150 years. That was due to the slow battle of chipping away at peoples heart and changes over generations through awareness, etc. That same campaign was already toppling slavery and would have surely defeated it regardless of the law. And in reality, the Constitution granted sufficient rights already, we needed only recognize ALL people AS people. By luck, anti-slavery remained in power, but could have easily been reversed with a shift in office holders.

A final problem is the underground. Drug use has not been ended with legislation, it was driven underground. Banning abortion will have the same affect. We might end some and that is good, don’t get me wrong. But the moral battle of changing peoples hearts will remain to be fought.

What does this mean for abortion? We require a lasting, moral change of heart. The battle is with extending the recognition of life to those in the womb. All necessary law already exists. If we recognize life, murder is already on the books. It wasn’t ok to call black’s property and not people. It isn’t ok to call developing babies “fetuses.” Real change, lasting change will come through the same activism to bring awareness that brought change on racial issues.

Let’s not risk the type of failures through legislation that we see in gay marriage. Let’s not risk the innefectiveness of ending the problem that we see in the drug war. Let’s fight the moral issue for real change with real people. Then the policy change will be inevitable. Then we will have a head start on the 150 year fight seen for racial equality that is still going to follow even if we get the legislation.

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5 Responses to A Pro-life Libertarian view on Abortion

  1. Rick says:

    “That was due to the slow battle of chipping away at peoples heart and changes over generations through awareness, etc.”

    It is funny…mom and I were just talking about these very issues this morning. I was questioning WHY the right does not have more sway in the area of abortion and just feeling frustrated since it is a passionate issue for me! I think you’ve done an excellent job of really looking deep into the issue and making the Libertarian view not only more clear but more attractive as well since I thought they were just sort of uncaring when it came to abortion.

    As mom said, crisis pregnancy centers are a great place to start when fighting abortion as Christians. But I wonder how we can start cutting away at people’s hearts too and really raising awareness more effectively?! Is showing pictures of aborted babies the way to do it? Is rallying and signing one’s signature to a protest really effective or is something more needed?

  2. Daniel says:

    What you touched on briefly in the last paragraph is how I can justify being a pro-life Libertarian. Even the most staunch minimalist (governmentally speaking) will agree that murder is wrong and should be one of the things the government regulates. If one believes that abortion is murder (which it clearly is), then it follows logically that abortion is wrong. Like you said, it all goes back to one of the fundamental principles of Libertarianism: One can do whatever he wants to do, so long as he is not harming someone else or someone else’s property. A baby, whether it be laying on a bed crying or floating in a sac of fluid, still lives, breathes, and feels.

  3. Daniel says:

    By the way, I’m going to assume that was actually Susanna leaving the first comment…not Rick. :-)

  4. Susanna Rose says:

    Yes…it was Susanna:) I never realize I’m posting as my husband when I leave a comment on his site!!!;)

  5. bchallies says:

    Rick, I think in every reform movement there are people who want radical, quick change and those who feel incrementalism is more effective in the long run…Vis a vis slavery, I believe in the British Empire slavery was phased out gradually under Wilberforce, with slave owners being recompensed for the economic hit they took in freeing their slaves…A very comprehensive strategy…Good article! Mom

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