Rand Paul on Abortion


Let's take a breather from the heated argument over Rand Paul's position on the Civil Rights Act and instead discuss something completely uncontroversial: Rand Paul's position on the Life at Conception Act. As Ari Armstrong notes on his Free Colorado blog, Paul's anti-abortion stance, unlike his father's, goes beyond overturning Roe v. Wade and letting the states decide the issue. The younger Paul, who describes himself as "100% pro life,"  says "abortion is taking the life of an innocent human being," "life begins at conception," and "it is the duty of our government to protect this life." Toward that end, he supports "any and all legislation that would end abortion or lead us in the direction of ending abortion," including "a Human Life Amendment and a Life at Conception Act as federal solutions to the abortion issue." A Human Life Amendment would declare all fetuses to be persons with a right to life guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. A Life at Conception Act would seek to accomplish the same goal by statute. Hence either measure, rather than denationalizing the issue and letting states decide how to regulate abortion, would make abortion murder under federal law and render unconstitutional any state laws allowing it.

If you agree with Paul that "abortion is taking the life of an innocent human being," this may all seem perfectly sensible to you. Indeed, it can be defended on libertarian grounds. (As I've argued, the belief that abortion is murder would seem to justify even stronger action, assuming the government continues to shirk its duty.) But for anyone who rejects Paul's premise, the legal regime he envisions clearly violates a woman's right to control her own body, as Armstrong argues:

The logical conclusion of abortion bans is that government agents should forcibly restrain women to prevent them from getting abortions. After all, if abortion is murder, as advocates of abortion bans routinely claim, then driving down the street to obtain an abortion is morally and legally equivalent to driving down the street with a loaded shotgun to blow your neighbor's head off. Police have every right to arrest and forcibly restrain threatening individuals. If abortion is murder, then a woman who declares her intent to get an abortion has threatened murder and must be strapped down if necessary to ensure delivery.

But a fertilized egg is not a person. A fertilized egg does not properly have the legal rights of a born infant. Abortion is not murder. Women have every right to take birth control drugs or obtain an abortion. Abortion bans place a woman's body under the control of the government and threaten to unleash a heavy-handed police state.

For the details of Armstrong's argument, see this 2008 paper (PDF). Since the disagreement about the moral status of the fetus will not be resolved in the foreseeable future, a federalist approach has the advantage of neutralizing the debate at the national level and allowing Americans to choose from a range of regulatory approaches. It is also more consistent with the (unamended) Constitution. But it is far from the ideal libertarian solution, which, depending on your view of abortion, is either prohibition or deregulation.

W. James Antle III profiled Rand Paul in the May issue of Reason. Last week Brian Doherty contemplated the significance of his primary victory.

Addendum: Libertarian Party Vice Chairman Joshua Koch cites Paul's support for a federal abortion ban, along with his opposition to gay marriage and his refusal to call for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, as grounds for running a candidate against him this fall, which he says the party is considering. "We're not going to let Rand determine what a Libertarian stands for," Koch, an erstwhile Paul supporter, told The Washington Post. "I'm here to say Rand does not have the Libertarian ideology."