Debate: Libertarians Should Support Abortion Rights

Does a fetus have a right to live?


Joanna Andreasson

One of the oldest and most heated intra-libertarian disputes is over the ability to electively end a pregnancy. Historically, the pro-abortion rights position has had more sway. The first Libertarian Party platform in 1972 called for "the repeal of all laws restricting voluntary birth control or voluntary termination of pregnancies during their first hundred days," and it's not hard to see why a movement that holds such values as choice and autonomy sacred would come down on that side of the debate. Yet disagreement has proved stubbornly persistent: Ron Paul, the L.P.'s 1988 presidential nominee and a former obstetrician, identifies as "an unshakable foe of abortion." A Cato Institute study using 2008 American National Election Study data found that more than a third of the country's libertarians are pro-life.

At Reason, the presumption in favor of abortion rights has never been so rigid as to stop us from giving space in our pages to arguments both for and against. The affirmative and negative cases on this page are excerpted from a forum that appeared in the magazine's April 1978 issue.

Don't Sacrifice People for the Sake of Potential People

"Human beings have [life, liberty, and property] rights because they should live so as to further their own happiness, and it is the proper function of a legal system to protect and preserve these rights. When the exercise of these rights would conflict with some other value, the legal system of a good human community must give precedence to the exercise of those rights. In our case, a person's right to pursue his or her own life sometimes conflicts with the value of a potential human being developing into a young human being. Then, it is the rights of the actual person that must be protected, not the conditions of such development."
"The Morality of Non-Interference"

It's Almost Always Wrong To End the Lives of Innocents

"There are those who have tried to justify abortion by claiming that it does not constitute an attack upon the unborn, that it is merely a morally neutral withholding of aid to a helpless stranger.…Nothing could be farther from the truth. Abortion is the purposeful use of force to deny a human being who is innocent of aggressive behavior the natural conditions required for continued life.…Except in a 'lifeboat' situation, [unborn persons] must be accorded the protection of the nonaggression principle. And, therefore, under normal (nonemergency) circumstances, abortion is a violation of the cardinal principle of libertarianism."
"It's a Matter of Life and Death"

NEXT: Brickbat: Sick

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  1. What a “Reasonable ” article
    So back in 1978 Reason was actually libertarian

    1. Look at that! An actual argument based on first principles. It’d be nice if Reason still did this rather than simply siding with the left side of that debate whether within the realm of libertarianism or more broadly.
      Let’s do immigration now!

      1. Anti-immigration is in itself left-wing. It violates people’s right to use their property as they see fit, either in hiring someone, renting to someone, selling to someone or even marrying that someone. It’s the notion that you or the state have the right to impose yourself or itself between the peaceful and voluntary interactions of free individuals, one the national, the other the foreigner, just because you or the state happen to be (or is populated with) bigoted bastards. You can’t get more leftwing than that unless you start gassing immigrants or pushing then into boxcars like some MAGA hat-wearers wet-dream about.

        1. Today with technology, you can hire people in almost every country on Earth and they stay put and not immigrate.

          Having said that – immigration laws absolutely do not violate someone’s property or hiring rights (even without technology) as for the immigrant to get to your property or work at a corporation will require them to use other property to gain access to your home/business.

          And regardless of how dogmatic you are here – immigration laws are extensions of property laws based upon the sovereignty of the voters.

          In fact, if the borders were completely open, it could be said the US would no longer have true sovereignty, just as if you were not allowed to protect your property from trespassers you would likely think you aren’t really king, even in your own castle.

          And if your ideal of open borders ends where individuals are not kings even in their individual castles, then it’s anti-freedom and anti-libertarian.

          1. Well said Michael. Unfortunately you’re barking up the wrong tree with him.

          2. So rights both property and individual begin and end with voters.

            Is that what you are saying?

      2. Reason is run by Anarchists now. That is what their immigration policy is based on- no Rule of Law.

    2. Shit,Reason was actually libertarian all the way through the Postrel era.

  2. Negative: The person who steal an acorn from my property, should be punished with the same penalties as the one who cuts down and saws up for lumber, my 100-year old highly valued oak tree, and saws it up for lumber, while I am away on vacation.

    1. That’s a fitting analogy in the sense that you rarely if at all hear the pro-life side argue that we should punish women who get abortions as if they have committed murder.

      An even more inconsistent argument of some pro-life people are exceptions for rape, incest, etc. They certainly wouldn’t advocate that you can murder a child born under these circumstances would they?

      1. I would rather suggest that that means pro-lifers are more nuanced and recognizing there are hard cases involved than pro-abortion rights advocates who tend to be absurdly extremist and uncompromising.

        1. That’s an interesting argument. I think we can all agree that the issue is both difficult and nuanced. If ever there were a case of conflicting rights it seems to me that this issue takes that concept to the extremes. Those on the fringes rarely (if ever) admit that there are rights in conflict here. I wonder if that’s intentional or if they really don’t see both sides. The shrieking absolutism of the political right and left on the issue is certainly not going to change anybody’s opinion.

          In my younger days I was very much pro-life. Understanding the issue from a first principles approach has changed my view. I still abhor the idea of abortions in principle, but I don’t pretend that my moral code should apply in general to the public. The idea (taken to the extremes) that government can force someone against their will to carry to term and birth a baby (at the point of a gun if necessary) was the real game changer for me.

          By the way, if you haven’t read the article linked from the 1978 issue, it’s a really good one.

          1. I think the very best thing we could do for the abortion rate would be to somehow generate a cultural norm whereby girls consider it a rite of passage to get an IUD on their 12th birthday.

            Of course, we’ll probably have an explosion in the STD rate after that, but it will do good things for abortion, I suppose.

            1. Yes, priming 12 year old girls for sex is a good idea. /Sarc

              The day after pill should really make abortion fairly rare. I don’t know why it hasn’t.

            2. The Cu-7
              An almost perfect birth control device.
              Non-invasive, non-hormonal, extremely low cost . Remove to get pregnant , reinsert keep from getting pregnant Worked perfectly for 25 years.

              No comment on the STDs

          2. There was an older Reason article that held even with the libertarian argument against abortion (which I think is pretty airtight), the means of enforcement were antithetical to libertarianism. That struck me as a pretty astute argument which I wish were more widely adopted in other arenas. Welcome to ideology crashing down upon the shores of political expediency.

            In time, much of the abortion debate will be rendered moot with increasing technology, but as is, short of token restrictions, there is no means of protecting life without destroying the meaning of protection in the first place.

            Mix and match to other libertarian concerns of the day.

      2. Prolifers accept these exceptions because they can’t get a purist law passed. Having to work through the legislative process means some compromises short of pure protection for innocent life.

      3. I would suggest that that mean pro-lifers are more nuanced recognizing that there are hard cases involved while pro-abortion rights are extremist and uncompromising in their refusal to recognize that there is a conflict between rights bearing entities that really does not yield the black and white answer they want.

      4. The idea of punishing women for abortions is ridiculous because there is no way to enforce it. In most cases, it’s not even possible to tell how a miscarriage happened.

        1. To some people, women baby issues should be like alcohol drinking- not seen nor heard.

    2. The witch says to the maiden: As a punishment for sex without sufficiently effective birth control, I have set this spell upon you. She gives the maiden a tiny frog and says: “You must nurture this frog (which has human DNA but no EEG brain waves yet) with your blood every day. It will grow and gradually turn into a baby in 6-7 months after making you throw up for 3 months and causing your body to bloat. You will then have to excrete a small watermelon through your vagina and ruin your pelvic floor muscles which will cause you to pee whenever you laugh when you are old.

      The maiden says: I don’t want to lend my body and blood to this frog-like thing even if it has human DNA. She smashes the frog on the pavement.

      Should you prevent her from smashing the frog because it has human DNA and will turn into a baby? Of course smashing the frog is terrible cruelty to tiny organisms with human DNA.

  3. There is no libertarian “debate” about abortion access, any more than there is a libertarian debate about open borders. If you don’t support both, you’re not a libertarian.


    1. What’s “abortion access”?

      Anything provided by someone who IS NOT YOU, is not “accessible” to you. You can only obtain it through trade.

      1. Or voluntary charity.

    2. So, following up on your support for two apparently similar issues…

      When someone’s ‘open border’ is breached, and later, when the newly acquired person that results from the ‘breach’ comes to be regretted, the party that has experienced the breach should have the option of terminating the newly acquired person.


  4. Stop thinking that sex comes with zero consequences would be a good start.

    Women get pregnant and sexual partners get STDs.

    1. And for both there are remedies.

  5. Regarding abortion you have to decide when the baby has rights.

    One extreme conception. The other birth

    Kids are dependent on others for years to survive so save me the burden on the mother debate . Yea kids are a burden. I raised three

    Think about that before sex

    1. Well, birth isn’t even the extreme anymore.

      Barry Obama voted against the ‘Born Alive Protection Act’ at the behest of the abortion mill lobby.

      Rhen there are those who say 2-3 years old, 6 years old, or adolescence

      1. I’m specifically for beating the crap out of mouth teenagers.

  6. Look, unless you’re a libertarian outlier (which means you are really out there), if you believe a fetus is a life then you’re anti-abortion, and if you don’t believe it’s a life, then you’re pro-abortion. What puzzles me is how difficult it seems to be for either side to understand the other. You could be terminating an innocent individual or you could be forcing an individual’s body to go through the physical trauma of gestating what are currently a lump of unwanted cells.

    1. I get the other argument, but just don’t agree with it. I’m not going to advocate full revocation of abortion or prosecuting them as murders, but the pro-life side makes more sense to me. At conception a new life is created. Barring medical complications or active intervention that new life will develop and be born and at some point I think we all agree that it is a human life. To say that a human fetus is not a unique human life is to arbitrarily set some stage in development where that biological mass is accepted as its own being. It would be like arguing that a caterpillar, pupa, and butterfly are all different species but only the butterfly matters.

      1. The right to life is not absolute of course. Walter Block covers that quite well in his article. He goes so far as to say that you actually don’t have a right to life.

        In some views, having a right to life includes having a right to be given at least the bare minimum one needs for continued life. But suppose that what in fact is the bare minimum a man needs for continued life is something he has no right at all to be given? ?having a right to life does not guarantee having either a right to be given the use of or a right to be allowed continued use of another person’s body?even if one needs it for life itself.

        1. What if it’s that body that brought the life into existence? Are there only powers without responsibilities?

          1. Are you including the power to be raped, or the power to be the underage victim of incest?

            1. I asked a simple question. Why didn’t you answer it?

              To answer your question, that would give you a better argument, yes. Probably not a good enough argument, but a better one. The trespasser in that case would be the rapist, not the one created by the rape. The little one had no choice in the matter.

          2. RE: “What if it’s that body that brought the life into existence?”

            Did you do that life any harm by bringing it into existence? No, you provided it with a benefit–life, even a short life, is a benefit, better than no life at all. So why should you have to make restitution by letting it share the inside of your body longer than you wish?

            What would you say to someone who said to you: “You gave me a car, so now you must pay for my gas! After all, if you had not given me the car, I wouldn’t need the gas, so you are responsible for my need!”

            (Fill in your answer here: ____________________)

            AND, what would you say to someone who said to you: “You donated blood to me, and saved my life, so now you must donate a kidney to me! After all, if you had not donated the blood and saved me, then I would be dead, and, being dead, would not need a kidney transplant, so you are RESPONSIBLE for my need!”

            (Fill in your answer here: _____________________)

            Most people would answer, in both cases: “I gave you a special gift, and giving a special gift does not obligate the giver to also give more of the same special gift.” or, more succinctly: “No. Be grateful for the BENEFIT which I HAVE given you, and leave me alone.”

            Now, why in the world would you say anything different to someone who said: “You gave me [or the person I am advocating for] six weeks of life-support inside your body, so now you must give thirty-two more weeks, and endure childbirth for me [or for him or for her]!”?

            1. “No, you provided it with a benefit–life, even a short life, is a benefit, better than no life at all.”

              Bringing something into life just to slowly, painfully kill it seems to be the opposite of a “benefit”.

              “So why should you have to make restitution by letting it share the inside of your body longer than you wish?”

              Why shouldn’t I shoot you for failing to leave my property the instant I withdraw my invitation to it?

              “Fill in your answer here”

              Sure. “I didn’t create you. You can survive without me. I’m not killing you, Leave me alone.”

              “Fill in your answer here”

              Sure. “I didn’t create you. You can survive without me. I’m not killing you, Leave me alone.”

              “Most people would answer…”

              Most people are wrong. Appeal to majority.

              “Now, why in the world would you say anything different to someone who said: “You gave me [or the person I am advocating for] six weeks of life-support inside your body, so now you must give thirty-two more weeks, and endure childbirth for me [or for him or for her]!”?”

              1. That person likely chose to create them. That obligates them to keep them alive until they can leave, (which requires only carrying it til viability).

              2. If you didn’t create them, then the person “invading” you is the rapist. Whatever the little one costs you, take it out of their hide. I’ll help you.

              Now, if you’re a ship captain, and you find someone tied up on your boat, are you within your “rights” to throw them overboard?

          3. So as a punishment for being a dirty , sinful girl she must be forced to carry the pregnancy to term. Sounds kind of medieval to me.

        2. If there is no right to life, there are no rights

          1. The human right to life does not include a right to do whatever you need to do, nor to be wherever you need to be, nor to take whatever you need to take, in order to remain alive. Especially when what you need to take is part of the contents of another person’s bloodstream when she does not want to share it with you, and when where you need to be is inside another person’s body when you are unwelcome there, and when what you need to do is to subject another person to a major medical/surgical trauma against her will. There is no right to live by doing these things, and should be none, for anyone. Not for you, not for me, not for Tarzan in a tree, not for Larry, Curly, or Moe, not for Luciano or Pl?cido. And not for any unwelcome fetus.

        3. The right to life is the right to not be killed. Either by someone else or the State. No more, no less.*

          *that’s the way I look at it at least.

          1. Correct. Except that the right even then isn’t absolute. The point is that it’s not black and white.

          2. No, the right to life is the right to not be killed UNLESS you are located inside another person’s body and unwelcome there.

          3. No, the right to life is the right to not be killed UNLESS you are located inside another person’s body and unwelcome there.

        4. I’m pro abortion.
          But fuck that noise, Leo.
          The person whose body is being “used” made a choice. Choices have consequences. Not wanting to deal with the consequences of a choice you make does not give you the ‘right’ to murder someone.
          Is it an option? Sure, always has been – but take care of that shit yourself.

          1. The choice to be a 12-year-old abused by an adult? The choice to be raped by a stranger at gunpoint? The choice to be drugged and impregnated by a date?

            1. Come on, probably over 99.9 percent of abortions do not involve these situations.

              Why are you avoiding addressing the 99.9%???

              Do you believe infanticide is acceptable? If you accept third trimester abortions, then you are accepting infanticide.

        5. That is a complete misunderstanding of what Thomas Jefferson meant by “right to life” in the Declaration. Simply put, he was stating not only that individuals have a right to life, but also that a separate individual (such as the King) does NOT have the right to deprive that individual of their life.

          To argue that an individual doesn’t have a right to life unless someone else provides them (either voluntarily or through coercion) with the means for that individual to live is pure socialism, and anathema to the intent of the Founding Fathers.

          1. To argue that an individual doesn’t have a right to life unless someone else provides them (either voluntarily or through coercion) with the means for that individual to live is pure socialism

            That’s exactly what Block is saying.

            Right to life doesn’t mean you have the right to another person’s labor, body, or property even if it is required to save your life. Applied in this case, the right to life doesn’t mean that an unwelcome fetus has the right to the nutrients or womb provided by the mother, which is necessary to sustaining its life.

  7. Fucking fuckity fuck.

  8. Capitalism is the one system that requires absolute objective law, yet libertarians combine capitalism and anarchism.

    Rand (Ayn) is equivocating by insinuating a) that anarchism and objective law are incompatible and b) by defining objective law as something that cannot be know by its own merits or is self-evident but must instead be written in stone and enforced by threat of violence and pain. Her attack also relies on a contradiction with her argument defending rational self-interest. Is she saying that an anarchist cannot be rational and self-interested? A person who is rationally self-interested will follow as objective a law as the Non Aggression Principle and so will other rationally self-interested parties that person interacts with. What Rand is doing is merely expressing her skpeticism that most people are morally equipped to be true anarcho-capitalists but this is nothing more than a prejudice trying to pass for a relevant premise.

    1. “…nothing more than a prejudice trying to pass for a relevant premise.”
      But that’s at least half of Rand’s schtick right there. You get the other half by replacing ‘premise’ with ‘conclusion.’
      Objectivism is both true and original. Unfortunately, where it is original it is not true and where it is true it is not original.

    2. Honest question here.

      What about those who subscribe to the morality of might-makes-right, who band together to engage in aggressive, organized violence against less-organized individuals?

      The most common response I get is that these individuals will band together to fight back, but then what happens? Win or lose, in the end there will be an unstoppable gang of men accustomed to using violence to get their way. What stops them from using that power to plunder?

      Seems to me that no form of anarchy can survive for long, because no matter what there will be men engaging in organized violence because it is easier to steal than to produce. Before long they call themselves government, and we’re back to where we are now.

      1. Yes, I have long thought the exact same way about anarchy. If we were all angels, it could work. But we’re not. Allow some of us to be thugs, and we will be thugs, and gangs of thugs. And then we are right back to Government Almighty!

      2. The thing is, this scenario presumes that we’re going directly from “where we are now” to “anarchyland” with no stops in between.

        You’re never going to have anarchyland in the first place unless you have a populace that mostly agrees with the principles of anarchism to start with.

        So, your “group of less organized individuals” will be made up themselves of people who generally ascribe to the NAP and self-autonomy. Which means that they are inclined to go back to what they were doing before they had to deal with the gang.

        Even today, if I have to shoot a burglar, that’s not going to make me take up a life of crime. I’m going to go back to what I was working on beforehand.

        1. That is to say, in order for Anarchotopia to exist at all, ever, you need people who don’t desire power over others, and refuse to allow others power over them.

          Again, I recognize the general divergence from typical human nature. This is a thing we may not be ready for as a species for tens or hundreds of thousands of years. I still think it’s the ideal to strive for through practical libertarianism.

        2. So, your “group of less organized individuals” will be made up themselves of people who generally ascribe to the NAP and self-autonomy. Which means that they are inclined to go back to what they were doing before they had to deal with the gang.

          Kind of like the Founders. Except that once they got a taste of power most of them became dickheads.

      3. If libertarians (and a host of other ideologies) were more honest, they’d admit their conception of the NAP is essentially a sham. While direct aggression is somewhat frowned upon (unless it is speech or bombing terrorist, then it is a-okay), indirect aggression is perfectly legitimate. Bonus points if you have the means to have the state be your enforcer (especially through endless litigation, which even the state has limitations upon); then you can always claim to have clean hands. Violence is mostly symbolic now, but it still underlies a nice chunk of human interaction. It is even more egregious with libertarians as they are largely blind to their own complicity (but boy do they ever love crying fowl upon others).

        Sustained anarchy is probably a field too far, but I contend that anarchy is default. Right now there are billions of people performing unspeakable acts without state oversight within the state. The notion of order is pretty much a shared illusion which people drift in and out of as convenient. Even prison guards understand the prisoners effectively run the joint.

        The most libertarian response to violence is to move away. As there aren’t vacant lands to occupy nor a willingness to reconcile with others of differing beliefs, you’re pretty much stuck with whatever the prevailing winds hold. Anarchism is less about the presence of government, but how much deference is given to government.

        1. Its hard to be as stupid as Tony, but you gave it the old college try, B-

      4. Seems to me that no form of anarchy can survive for long,

        Agreed, especially as any true anarchist ocietie grew, as there will need to be standardization in things like court systems and contract disputes and criminal penalties, property rights, what defines them, etc, etc, etc.

        Though I will say anarchy seems the most moral as the idea in that every individual is their own government, so theoretically no more anger when outside of majority votes.

        I just think it’s untenable in the long run.

      5. just say “warlords”

    3. The incompatibility of anarchism with objective law is not in regard to the form or content of individual laws. It is rather due to the fact that the function of an independent third party institution (government) is to assure that the *application* of laws is objective, i.e. that the area in which they are applied and the procedures they specify for protection, enforcement, and punishment are objectively defined, and most important, that they are thoroughly knowable in advance by all who are subject to them.

      Since anarchist agencies are inherently free to multiply and redefine the laws and areas of jurisdiction they enforce without notice at all times, there is no way that anyone in a region where anarchy prevails could know what they might be subject to. Realize that over half the value of liberty is the justifiable expectation of it when stepping out of your door each morning.

  9. Machan uses the question begging language of “potential human being” to casually dismiss any moral worth attached to an existing human life. His logic makes sense if you accept his premises, but his premises are a major part of what is in dispute.

    1. Western Civilization is so wealthy and set with comfort that we can afford to literally kill babies. Or can we?

      1. The ancient Greeks managed. As did all other ancient societies. It’s even Biblical.
        Your ignorance of history continues to be absolute.

        1. Uh, if by “Biblical”, you mean “condemned by the Bible”, then yes, it is…

    2. Exactly.

      Science tells us that is a human being, not a potential human being.

  10. To be a true Libertarian response on the issue of abortion, one has to look at the entire issue, not just what they want to defend. Yes, the right of the mother takes precedent up to the point the baby in viable, usually 24 weeks. Once the baby is capable of living outside the womb, then it is a person, not a fetus and therefore it must have its rights protected as well. I believe this is where we are headed as a nation because it is the only reasonable compromise on this issue. Radical pro-choice advocates and radical pro-life advocates dominate the conversation which is why all we have is chaos and fighting. This issue is no different than same sex marriage in regard to the protections offered by the constitution. The Roe v Wade decision created the right to privacy out of thin air, but the intent was to stop a practice that was killing women. That decision was valid but now we have to consider when the other life involved, the baby, becomes equally as important.

    1. I agree with you about the “compromise position”.

    2. Let me start by saying that I agree with you. Now let me play devil’s advocate…

      Yes, the right of the mother takes precedent up to the point the baby [is] viable, usually 24 weeks. Once the baby is capable of living outside the womb, then it is a person, not a fetus and therefore it must have its rights protected as well.
      Even if the baby were viable at 24 weeks, the concept of either forcing delivery or extracting the baby surgically is still a violation of the mother’s rights. It’s hard to square your position here with the NAP.

      Who would be responsible for paying for such a procedure?

      Also the baby is hardly viable in the sense that it can self-sustain its life at 9 months, let alone 24 weeks. Does it become a ward of the state in your scenario or is the mother obligated to care for it?

    Don’t Sacrifice People for the Sake of Potential People

    It’s Almost Always Wrong To End the Lives of Innocents

    Neither of those are libertarian arguments. In fact, the article and “debate” doesn’t even begin to get into a reasonable libertarian analysis of abortion.

    1. Neither of those are libertarian arguments.

      Sorry, but it being “almost always wrong to end the lives of innocents”, as a statement byitself, is absolutely libertarian as it’s compatible with NAP.

      It gets trickier when that statement is applied to the unborn, but it’s a libertarian position in and of itself.

      1. Sorry, but it being “almost always wrong to end the lives of innocents”, as a statement byitself, is absolutely libertarian as it’s compatible with NAP.

        Moral statements like “it is wrong” are not a libertarian position. Unprotected, promiscuous sex is “wrong”, but that doesn’t mean the state should punish people who engage in it. Likewise, killing a fetus is “wrong”, but that doesn’t mean the state should punish people who commit such a moral wrong.

        And the only commonly agreed on meaning for the NAP involves interactions between two entities with agency and personhood; a fetus has neither and has never had them. By analogy, if you hurt my dog, my dog can’t invoke the NAP, only I can. The most straightforward application of libertarian principles views a fetus like any other lifeform without agency or personhood, that is, the responsibility of its owner.

        What you’re suggesting is having the state invoke the NAP on behalf of a fetus, against the wishes of the parent. If you go that far, where does that state intervention in the parent-child relationship actually end? Should perhaps other entities besides the state represent the fetus and make such decisions? I don’t even see a consistent libertarian position on that basis, and saying “it’s compatible with NAP” is insufficient.

    2. Sorry, but it being “almost always wrong to end the lives of innocents” is a libertarian position as its compatible with NAP.

      1. The Non-Aggression-Principle was written by Ayn Rand in 1947, and she was the staunchest defender of individual right for women–even when pregnant! What we have here are Republicans attempting to bring back the Comstock Laws banning condoms, diaphragms, postcards, motherly advice–censorship backed by heavy fines and time on a chain gang. THAT is what the LP platform of 1972 ended once the Supreme Court got hold of it. You don’t like it? Move to Saudi Arabia!

  12. Part of what makes the abortion question so muddled is that it’s not one question, it’s several, and folks are mashing them into a single one. Saying that a woman has the right to have the fetus removed from her womb even if that kills the fetus is different than saying she has the right *as such* to kill the fetus. Early in the pregnancy, they are the same question. Later on, they are not. The first version is fairly straightforward from a libertarian standpoint. The woman owns her body, including her womb. The fetus is, effectively, trespassing. She has the right to make it leave, regardless of the consequences to it, the same as (from a strict libertarian standpoint) she’d have the right to kick someone out of her house when there’s a blizzard raging outside. But following that analogy, does she have the right to shoot someone who is peacefully departing? Separate question. Same goes for things like parental consent for minors and government funding and mandates, which are other separate questions that get lumped in.

    1. Is it trespassing when the “homeowner” is the one who brought you into existence?

      1. If someone invites you into their house (assuming no agreement as to duration), then changes their mind later, it’s trespassing if you try to stay. So, yes, it’s still trespassing.

        1. So, if 5 years ago, I invited Stephen Hawking onto my land, and he fell out of his wheelchair, I would be within my rights to kill him if he failed to leave when I told him to? It’s “trespassing” (by your definition).

          1. What David is advocating is – If you are a land owner and an undocumented trespasser is within your border, you have the right to terminate said trespasser.

            1. Not exactly, no. I’m saying you have the right to make them leave, regardless of whether or not they can survive outside your property. As I said in my original comment, my analogy is to distinguish between a woman having a right to have the fetus removed from her womb, versus the right per se to have the fetus killed. This distinction matters once the fetus is viable outside the womb.

              1. “I’m saying you have the right to make them leave, regardless of whether or not they can survive outside your property.”

                So, if they fail to leave within one Planck time, can you kill them? Or do you need to give them enough time to safely leave?

                See, the fetus would be happy to leave, once it can do so safely. As the were (presumably) invited onto the “property”, that invitation would imply they would be given enough time to leave before you kill them, right?

                Now, if the past Stephen Hawking refused to leave your land once he fell out of his wheelchair, would you be within your rights to shoot anyone who tried to come onto your property to save his life, bring him to safety, or feed him?

        2. Also, if you create them, wouldn’t that imply an “agreement as to duration” until they could survive without you?

        3. What if they drug you such that you cannot leave, then insist you must?

    2. The fetus is, effectively, trespassing

      The fetus can’t be trespassing because it doesn’t have agency.

      That’s also why it isn’t protected the same way as a child or adult in the first place.

  13. The link that’s supposed to go to the Ayn Rand/Nathaniel Brandon debate instead goes to the abortion debate.

  14. The (supposed) purpose of government is the punishment (or prevention) or initiations of force. The worst initiation of force is likely murder.

    If the government is incompetent to define “murder”, then why should it exist?

    1. Even reasonable people can disagree on what constitutes murder is specific instances such as whether killing your abuser versus leaving is self-defense or maybe a parent killing his child’s abuser.

      And note – government doesn’t really define murder as murder is the taking of innocent life, but what constitutes innocent…

      Irregardless, point is, in the US and in other countries with representative forms of government, society defines what constitues murder based upon the laws passed by those duly elected.

      1. Yes, killing doesn’t imply murder.

        The best argument I’ve seen for abortion is “we don’t know when it deserves rights”. If government can’t define that, then it’s useless, even counterproductive as it initiates force.

        For instance, a 15 week old fetus can be “murdered” by someone other than the mother, but can’t be by the mother. So the government thinks it has rights, and doesn’t, at the same time.

        Murder is objective, and if society determines “murder”, then it isn’t determined by government’s laws, as government =/= society.

    2. The (supposed) purpose of government is the punishment (or prevention) or initiations of force. The worst initiation of force is likely murder.

      In a libertarian society, the government shouldn’t spring into action to punish force or aggression unless someone brings a case to the government.

      (In the case of murder, in a libertarian society, that would be relatives or executors of the estate.)

  15. Unmentioned is that the Supreme Court copied the LP plank almost verbatim and published it as part of the Roe v. Wade decision 45 days after the votes were counted. Canada took this as its cue to forever repeal ALL laws imposing forced labor on women by threats against physicians. The 14th Amendment extends protection to “All persons born”–not ova fertilized. If so many conservatives have infiltrated us since that landmark victory for individual rights, howcum their Forced-Labor Amendment to make women reproduce under duress has not been added to the Constitution? Prohibition and Republican politicians added it to their platforms in 1976 and now, 42 years later, the Prohibition Party has removed it from their platform, women are still flocking to Canada, and the world population increases by 158 people every minute, and still no Islamic Republican Empire? Even Italy enforces individual rights for women!

    1. The only people forced to reproduced are rape victims.

      1. (I need to spell check these things before I post them…)

    2. As Does the 8th Amendment. A prohibition on CRUEL and unusual punishment. It seems Democrats prefer the practices of the 1930’s German Nazis, racial purification, since 90% of Planned Parenthood clinics are located in minority neighborhoods..

      1. Nazis (and US progressives) forcibly sterilized women.

        Planned Parenthood performs abortion on demand; that is, the woman has a choice in the matter.

  16. Nice, sound article.

  17. Reason continues with this piece to perpetuate some of the worst language of the debate. Pro-Choice is not the same as Pro-Abortion. Many pro-choice Libertarians are personally anti-abortion. The problem with this whole debate is that strays from the realm of pure political discussion, that is discussion of the proper way for free individuals to interact in a society. The anti-abortion side start from a position that a fetus is a full human being which deserves the same rights and protections of an independent air-breathing human. This is not a determination that can be made solely on the basis of political philosophy. Of necessity it much reach into other branches, particularly Ethics which in turn can be derived from things like Metaphysics.

    Thus even solid libertarians can arrive at different conclusions about the rights of a fetus depending on where they draw the rest of their non-political values from. There simply is no consensus on the issue of the humanity of the fetus either within the party or the country. That is exactly why the platform says exactly what it should – that the determination must be left to the acknowledged human being who will suffer the consequences of that decision which ever way it goes.

    1. Pro-Life means willing to send men with guns out to force women to reproduce against their will. This is the position of those whose conscripts carpet-bombed several countries in Southeast Asia.

      1. Pro-Life means willing to send men with guns out to force women to reproduce against their will.

        No, “pro-life” simply means sending men with guns out to punish individuals who perform abortions. Furthermore, women aren’t forced to reproduce at all; they have plenty of ways of preventing pregnancy, including abstinence. Mind you, I don’t believe abortion should be illegal, but your arguments are as bogus as those of the people who equate abortion with murder.

        As a practical matter, within the framework of current US government, I think abortion on demand should be legal during the first trimester; for abortion at a later time, both the woman and the doctor should be punished, though not as severely as for murder. Abortion should not be covered by taxpayers, and there should be no mandatory insurance coverage for abortion.

  18. Seems to me the whole debate comes down to if you think you are killing a human being.

    Seem to me a “thing” shaped like a human, with a heart beat and brain waves is a human.

    The thing the Pro-Abortionists do not want to do is define when the “Thing” becomes a human.

    1. The Constitution says “All persons born…” but insane shooters initiating force say “All ova fertilized…” Look it up.

      1. The Constitution says “All persons born…” but insane shooters initiating force say “All ova fertilized…” Look it up.

        While I agree that abortion isn’t murder and shouldn’t be punished as such, within the current US legal framework, it seems legitimate for states to criminalize it. After all, states criminalize all sorts of other things people do with their own bodies.

    2. The thing the Pro-Abortionists do not want to do is define when the “Thing” becomes a human.

      The intestinal cells you shed with your shit are “human” and can develop into a full adult human again given the right conditions; that’s an irrelevant criterion. What matters legally and philosophically is personhood. Legally, personhood starts at birth; one might stretch that to the beginning of the second trimester.

      I think this is the wrong question anyway. The law does not unequivocally protect all human beings or all persons from being killed. On the other hand, there are many acts other than murder that we make illegal. Arguments for or against abortion need to be based on principles other than abortion is/is not murder.

  19. We need to pressure scientists and medical researchers/physicians to guarantee 100% reversible vasectomies. Then there would never be a man crying that the woman tricked him into having a kid, or having to pay for a child he didn’t want. The abortion rate would plummet. Problem solved.

  20. How can someone be innocent who doesn’t know they exist, doesn’t know how to communicate, doesn’t know there is such a thing as right or wrong? Women are born people with rights. It is SMART of them to avoid unwanted pregnancy and to have abortions as quickly as possible if they have an unwanted pregnancy; just healther.

    And if abortion prohibitionists weren’t so busy trying to squelch knowledge of contraception and access to contraception, not to mention information about and access to abortion, we would NOT see so many later term abortions.

    Is that the UNintended consequence of abortion prohibitionism? Or is that the INTENDED consequence, to punish women who dare to have sex without a husband’s permission or to dare to want to have an abortion, whoever they are. It’s all about controlling women’s fates so insecure right wing and religious fundie men don’t have to feel insecure. The hell with them.

    1. Is that the UNintended consequence of abortion prohibitionism? Or is that the INTENDED consequence, to punish women who dare to have sex without a husband’s permission or to dare to want to have an abortion, whoever they are.

      As long as you control my male body by taking away 50% of the fruits of my labor decade after decade in order to transfer that money to women and the consequences of their reproductive choices, I am unapologetically going to use my political power to control your female body in any legal way possible.

      So let’s make a deal: let’s move towards a libertarian society. That means no government support for single mothers, no mandatory coverage for abortions or contraceptives, no complex system of family courts or child support, no no-fault divorce; in return, you can have all the abortions you want without anybody punishing you for it. That’s the deal that’s on the table, take it or leave it. If you don’t agree to it, stop whining about “women’s rights”.

      1. But if you are a man and unintentionally beget?great word? a child with a woman, even if you don’t want it, and even if you are pissed that she didn’t abort it, you should?notice I don’t say must? ‘man up’ and support it. Otherwise you are a shithead. Seriously. I know of what I speak, because I practice what I preach. You can be unethical, that is your right I believe. So, I suppose I agree with you. Legally you should be allowed to be a shithead, even if morally you should make the hard choice.

        1. Well, morally, I think people shouldn’t sleep around outside of committed relationships at all. But I also think the circumstances matter; the woman may have lied about using contraception or her fertility, even inside a marriage.

  21. There is no contradiction about abortion. Science is clear that from conception, the fetus is a living growing unique human.

    The constitution is also clear that every human has a right to life.

    The baby is not the initiator of a pregnancy and can not be held responsible for it.

    The woman exhibited her freedom to choose to participate in the only activity that is designed in nature to.result in the creation of new life. That was her only choice.

    You are responsible for your choices, even when they result in what you don’t want. You don’t get to murder someone else.

    1. The baby fetus is not the initiator of a pregnancy and can not be held responsible for it.

      The term “baby” refers to humans after birth and the term is hence irrelevant to abortion.

      The reason a fetus cannot be responsible for a pregnancy is not that it didn’t initiate it, but because it lacks not just culpability, but free will and agency. That’s also why it is in a different category from babies, children, and adults.

      1. From as soon as seven weeks after conception the fetus has functioning appendages, senses and central nervous system. It moves about on its own and responds to its touch.

        True though that it doesn’t condone murder, as you do.

  22. Viability is still something to consider. Mother and fetus are one organism until birth in my view. After birth they are two.

    Around 23 weeks in current technology something changes. The healthy fetus has a reasonable chance of survival around that point. That matters in my perspective.

    For some people life begins at conception. Surely it does. We all know how it happens. Yet not so easy to draw moral lines.

    Libertarian thought does not extend this far. We cannot even agree about parental obligations for a three year old.

    1. Your view is not supported by science.

      So you and all those who condone the murder of abortion simply deny science, like psychopath zealots.

      Your view is neither supported by logic. Viability is the ability to continue living with care. At 23 weeks babies need more care to survive than those that remain in the womb. It is an arbitrary meaningless date.

      1. What do you mean by not supported by science. I wrote that human life begins at conception. I also said that mother and the growing fetus inside her are one and the same. She dies baby dies until the point where the NICU can do something.

        What is the optimal placental uterine artery resistive index? Cervical length, amniotic fluid index, fetal growth parameters, teach me science here. The relationship is biological, The mother and child growing become one organism until birth.

        Viability is technical. The lamb in the ziplock bag if you have read up on that.

        The point is that viability matters in the discussion.

        1. The science of DNA fingerprinting proves scientifically beyond any doubt that from conception the mother and the baby are two different human beings.

          Viability is irrelevant. If you were dying of cancer, no longer viable, could you be murdered? The healthy babies left to mature, without the initiation of murder by the mother, would emerge normally in only 9 months.

          1. DNA and fingerprints are not the same. Not even close.

            1. Seriously?

              Read a fucking dictionary before you talk to grown ups.

              DNA fingerprinting
              A method used to identify multilocus DNA banding patterns that are specific to an individual by exposing a sample of the person’s DNA to molecular probes and various analytical techniques such as Southern blot analysis. DNA fingerprinting is often used to provide evidence in criminal law cases.genetic fingerprinting

      2. So you and all those who condone the murder killing of abortion simply deny science, like psychopath zealots.

        “Murder” presupposes personhood, intent, and culpability, so it’s the wrong term to use in a discussion that tries to establish just these facts.

        Yes, people who believe that aborting fetuses should be legal believe that killing fetuses should be legal.

        So far, you have not made a meaningful argument against abortion, you have simply called it “murder” and erroneously believe that such semantic games constitute an argument.

        1. What else does one say about the act of murder?

          I guess I could argue that you have more of a negative impact on earth than a fetus does.

    2. “Viability is still something to consider.”

      If the late Stephen Hawking had fallen out of his wheelchair, would he have been “viable”? Would he have then lost his rights?

      1. Stephan Hawking suffered from ALS which is a neurological disease presenting in adulthood as it did for him. If he fell from his wheelchair than whatever is needed was and should have been done. I have not even suggested a different treatment for people with disability.

        As I meant viability, or prognosis if you will, is imperfect yet important in the discussion. Same thing happens when either of us is at the limits of what medical intervention can do.

        1. Abortion is intervention, killing the baby.

          1. There is where it ends.

            It is a priori yet not illogical given premises which cannot be proven.

          2. Abortion kills fetuses, not babies. Killing babies is called “infanticide”. As long as you behave like a manipulative prick, you aren’t going to convince anybody of the righteousness of your position. You’re doing a disservice to your position even with people like me who really don’t care much either way about the legality of abortion.

            1. You are nothing more than an old fetus, in fact much less.

              The science and logic are clear, but the genocide continues.

              Tell me, from your “experience”, how does one elicit a rational discussion from a murdering psychopathic zealot?

              1. How does one stop the irrational murdering zealot? With discussion?

        2. You didn’t answer. Was he viable or not?

      2. If the late Stephen Hawking had fallen out of his wheelchair, would he have been “viable”? Would he have then lost his rights?

        Hawking, like all of us, once he achieved personhood after birth, is subject to legal arrangements for what happens with him when he temporarily loses agency and consciousness. We can make such arrangements explicitly with living wills. My living will says DNR in case I can’t make that decision for myself.

        The choice of DNR is as valid as the choice of resuscitation. Since a fetus never could make that choice explicitly, the mother gets to make it for the fetus.

        1. “once he achieved personhood”

          “Personhood” is a subjective and useless term, only desired by those who want to kill babies.

          “We can make such arrangements explicitly with living wills.”

          Let’s assume you don’t have a living will that says “don’t murder me”. If someone stabs you several times and kills you, and you don’t shout “stop killing me”, then have you been murdered? Of course you have! Humans are assumed to want to live unless they say or act otherwise.

          “Since a fetus never could make that choice explicitly, the mother gets to make it for the fetus.”

          Can an infant make that choice explicitly? No, yet the parents don’t get to make that choice for the infant…

          1. Personhood implies autonomy.

            Obviously an 8 week IUP does not have autonomy.

            At that point who can make decisions?

            Just questioning since we cannot agree. I am all for two things.

            Preserving life.

            Individual autonomy.

            Resolve this.

            1. I don’t think you know what you stand for.

              You stood for the baby and it’s mother being one organism until birth, until I showed you the science that proved you wrong.

              Do you accept the truth of that science now, or does the truth still stand in the way of your murderous psychopathy?

              Now you’re all about preserving life and autonomy eh?

              The baby’s difficulty proving its autonomy to you, is a temporary condition, as for all children, as would be if you were unconscious.

              We’re you to be killed while you were vulnerable you would never exhibit autonomy. Would that be ok? Is it resolved or is it strike two?

              Your dilemma will be resolved when you recognize the truth.

              1. You have not demonstrated any science at all.


                Science cannot answer moral questions.

                1. What you mean to say is that an irrational murderous zealot will never choose to recognize the truth demonstrated by logic and science.

                  Look at that, you’re a self fulfilling prophecy.

                  For the rest of us, the truth, demonstrated by logic and science resolves every unambiguous question.

            2. “Personhood implies autonomy.”

              Still meaningless, morally speaking. Still not achieved by infants.

              “At that point who can make decisions?”

              That is a meaningless question when murder is the topic. Infants can’t make decisions.

              “Preserving life. Individual autonomy. Resolve this.”

              There is only one right, the right to do anything other than initiate force against living (non-brain dead) human beings*. Ergo, there is no resolution necessary. You having autonomy doesn’t mean you can kill fetuses any more than it means you can kill infants or adults.

              *This is Murray Rothbard’s point. I didn’t come up with it. It’s elegant and it can’t contradict itself.

  23. Fetuses have neither cognitions nor feelings until they are actually born. This quote is from my essay “Is the Fetus a Person?” and can be found in the Notes section of my Facebook page:

    “Farah and Heberlein also quote several contemporary philosophers to show their similarities to this functional definition of personhood.

    From Tooley(1972): something is a person “if it possesses the concept of a self as a continuing subject of experiences and other mental states, and believes that it is itself such a continuing entity.” From Feinberg (1980,189): “persons are those beings whoare conscious, have a concept and awareness of themselves, are capable of experiencing emotions, can reason and acquire understanding, can plan ahead, can act on their plans, and can feel pleasure and pain.” From Englehardt (1986, 107): “What distinguishes persons is their capacity to be self-conscious, rational, and concerned with worthiness of blame or praise.” From Rorty (1988, 43): “A person is . . . (a) capable of being directed by its conception of its own identity and what is important to that identity, and (b) capable of interacting with others, in a common world. A person is that interactive member of a community, reflexively sensitive to the contexts of her activity.”10

    In other words, the fetus is not a person and will not be until it is born and thus can begin to have perceptions that in turn lead to cognitions.

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