Everybody has been lied to at some point. A lie’s goal is to manipulate as a means to an end—it is corrosive, deceptive, and when pervasive, tears at the very fabric of society. Those lied to are deprived of the ability to make free and informed decisions on important issues.
Many libertarians are captivated by the lie that abortion is a matter of private morality. With mantras like “her body, her choice” and “keep your opinions out of my uterus,” the siren of “freedom” fuels them to affirm the pro-abortion movement. The concept of privacy utilizes the libertarian’s distaste of state control to justify abortion. Rather than focusing upon the infringed right to life of an entire people group, the libertarian’s attention is fixed upon the issue of government coercion. Activists seek to weave their way into libertarianism by persuading them that their freedoms are contingent on the legal right to abortion. In effect, the responsibility to preserve human dignity is replaced by a false form of expressive individualism.
As one studies its values, however, it is clear abortion is an erosion of some of the most fundamental tenets of libertarianism. The pro-life movement must understand and utilize its tenets to expose the hypocrisy of those who distort it today. In doing so it gains a valuable tool to combat bad policies across the nation.
- All humans possess inalienable rights
Stemming from the ideas of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, libertarianism rests on the central idea that all humans possess the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and property. These rights are derived solely from being human. In Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government, the role of the government is to preserve the rights foundational to human dignity.
This ideological foundation for inalienable rights means that neither individuals nor the government can rightfully deprive us of our life. All human beings are equal both within the natural world and before the law. To bypass this fundamental right to life, pro-abortion advocates argue that the preborn child lacks personhood–thus making this right moot. However, science has repeatedly shown this claim to be false: humanity is present at the moment of conception. Separating personhood from biology falls apart. If the preborn child is indeed human, then there is no reason for it to not be granted the same rights as every other person, including the right to live.
Abortion advocates seek to undermine these inalienable rights when they assert that not only do mothers own the child in their womb, but also carry the authority to prescribe worth to their lives. This argument erodes the libertarian claim that humans inherently possess liberty. It contends that inalienable rights are not granted by other members of society, but by natural law. Abortion fundamentally contradicts this value by allowing for rights to be lawfully prescribed by mothers, abortionists, and governments —a dangerous concession that libertarians and all human rights advocates should refuse.
2. Abortion erases self-ownership
Libertarianism also rests on the principle of self-ownership—the idea that individuals are morally free, but also responsible for their actions. Self-ownership is contingent upon the value of human dignity, individual rights, and liberty. Particularly in relation to the person, self-ownership also implies the right against trespass (assault, rape, and homicide). In her book The Realm of Rights, Judith Thomson asserts that this kind of self-ownership is “at the center of the realm of rights.” The concept of self-ownership recognizes that people are not mere commodities to be traded, used, or violated. Their self-worth is inherent.
Advocates for abortion (including respected libertarians such as Ayn Rand and Benjamin Tucker) argue that self-ownership means that women have the autonomy to do what they want with their bodies. Even if the unborn child is human, many would argue with American libertarian Murray Rothbard that “no being has a right to live, unbidden, as a parasite within or upon some person’s body.” However, this reasoning is inconsistent with the historical libertarian opposition to slavery. The principles of inalienable rights deemed involuntary slavery as an injustice for its denigrating effects on man. Similar to abortion, slavery reduced an entire group to property.
In her magnum opus, founder of Libertarians for Life Doris Gordon responds to her peers’ arguments by appealing to this concept of self-ownership:
“The parent-child relationship is unique. It is the only human relationship that begins by one side bringing the other into existence. This fact of parental agency refutes any assertion that the child is a trespasser, a parasite, or an aggressor of any sort.”
As Gordon argues, the humanity of the innocent child demands responsibility as an extension of self-ownership. The existence of parental autonomy is a reason for the unborn to be protected, not destroyed.
3. Abortion and the Non-Aggression Principle
The non-aggression principle (NAP) is known as an essential component of a libertarian theory of justice. This principle derives from the idea of self-ownership. It contends, as Murray Rothbard stated, that:
“No one may threaten or commit violence (“aggress”) against another man’s person or property. Violence may be employed only against the man who commits such violence; that is, only defensively against the aggressive violence of another. In short, no violence may be employed against a nonaggressor.”
Though Rothbard used the non-aggression principle to justify child abandonment and abortion, one may argue that its underlying ideas can be used in favor of the pro-life movement. Preborn children are “nonaggressors.” As human beings, their right against trespass is identical to our own. Abortion violates this principle by poisoning, vacuuming, and dismembering human life.
Recovering an ethic consistent with libertarian principles is worth fighting for. No matter how eloquently the pro-abortion movement may articulate the killing of the unborn, it is clear their claims run contrary to the fundamental concepts found in natural law. By using as ammunition the very principles libertarians employ to justify abortion, the pro-life position gains an unexpected advantage. The playing field changes.
For abortion to be effectively opposed, people must be willing to adapt, be creative, and find common ground with those whom they would normally disagree. Libertarian ideas provide the perfect opportunity for this to happen.
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not proport to reflect the opinions or views of the Gordon Review, editorial staff, or its members.