The Soho Forum Debates

Libertarianism and Abortion: A Debate

Walter Block and Kerry Baldwin debate whether women should have the legal right to terminate their pregnancies.

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While a pregnant woman should be legally required to help the fetus survive outside of her body whenever that is possible, she should retain the legal right to evict the fetus at any time during her pregnancy.

That was the resolution of a public debate hosted by the Soho Forum in New York City on December 8, 2019. It featured Walter Block arguing for the resolution and Kerry Baldwin arguing against it. Soho Forum Director Gene Epstein moderated.

It was an Oxford-style debate. That means the audience votes on the resolution at the beginning and end of the event, and the side that gains the most ground—mostly by picking up votes from the "undecided" category—is victorious. Block prevailed by convincing 13.85 percent of audience members to change their minds. Baldwin was not far behind, picking up 12.31 percent of the audience.

Block is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics at Loyola University New Orleans, and a prolific author on Austrian economics and libertarian theory. He's the author of Defending the Undefendable I and II, among many other books.

Kerry Baldwin is an independent researcher and writer with a B.A. in Philosophy from Arizona State University. Her work can be found at MereLiberty.com and at the Libertarian Christian Institute.

The Soho Forum, which is sponsored by the Reason Foundation, is a monthly debate series at the SubCulture Theater in Manhattan's East Village.

Produced by John Osterhoudt.
Photo credit: Brett Raney.

Filaments by Scott Buckley https://soundcloud.com/scottbuckley Creative Commons — Attribution 3.0 Unported — CC BY 3.0

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  1. “Walter Block and Kerry Baldwin debate whether women should have the legal right to terminate their pregnancies.”

    Ugh, such transphobic framing. You’re better than this, Reason. You know damn well transmen and non-binary people can get pregnant too.

    1. Trumpian, do you suffer from gender dysphasia? I mean, half your Schtick here is complaining about tampons in men’s rooms and how bad your hairy balls make you feel. Question: Are you in the midst of a gender reassignment surgery and can you tell us what hormone shots you are taking. I’m not implying one gender or the other here but, fuckin’ a, you are one hairy bitch.

      #Impeach

      1. It’s funny to me that OBL gets under your skin with his fauxliberaltarian shtick.

    2. Another good discussion here

      It seems like most reasonable people are arriving at a similar conclusion: abortion before the third trimester is ok, abortion during the third trimester is not ok.

      1. That is where the American debate seems destined to end. Unless the anti-abortion absolutists piss off the mainstream too much, and earn a slapdown.

  2. ” she should retain the legal right to evict the fetus at any time during her pregnancy.”

    Up until labor !

    Abortion is based upon trespassing laws and taking action against a person trying to leave the property (like shooting them) is very questionable

    1. Basing it on trespassing laws is retarded.

  3. Why is this being reposted?

    1. murder obfuscation takes two days

    2. The previous posting was a video and this one is only the audio?

    3. Maybe Reason didn’t like the way the comments were going? They cleared the older ones on this re-post. Libertarian censors?

      1. Fascism is the natural conclusion of liberalism.

        When your liberty is more important than everyone else’s.

        Abortion is the initiation of force against another person.

        The woman used her free choice to participate in the only activity that can place a vulnerable person within her own body. That choice includes the contract to allow that person to leave unharmed in nine months.

  4. pregnant women have always done what they want.
    it is not a question of legal or not BUT in safe condition or
    with a knitting needle !

    1. Kermit Gosnell’s patients are just lucky they had access to SAFE, LEGAL and TAXPAYER FUNDED abortion.

      1. Are you saying that Gosnell’s clinic met any of the criteria you put in all caps? SAFE certainly did not apply to Gosnell’s practice. LEGAL didn’t either, or else he wouldn’t have pleaded guilty to avoid a potential death sentence. TAXPAYER FUNDED abortions don’t exist in this country as far as I can tell.

        1. Really? We give Planned Parenthood half billion dollars per year. So yeah, we’re funding abortions.

  5. The Libertarian Party has had unrestricted abortion as a plank of its party platform since its inception. This isn’t even a question. Granted it’s only been recently that Libertarian Inc, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, adopted the “taxpayer funded”, “with full exemption from medical regulations”, “for schoolchildren without parental consent”, “twice on Sundays” and “post-birth abortion is not infanticide, leave Ralph Northam alone” provisions. But this issue has long since been decided. Christianity has no place in libertarianism. Morality has no place in libertarianism.

    1. As a philosophy libertarianism does not have any stance on abortion and to say otherwise is as disingenuous as saying it’s a completely amoral philosophy. Additionally, whether the party in the past has had unrestricted abortion as a plank says nothing to its continued or past validity. The reasons are written aboutique extensively in an earlier thread. Check it out if you wish to learn.

      Lastly, to say Christianity has no place in libertarianism is beyond idiotic given individual liberty includes freedom of religion and thought.

      But nice try using both appeal to authority and No True Scotsman fallacies in such a short reply.

      1. As a philosophy libertarianism does not have any stance on abortion

        Libertarianism is not a philosophy, so there’s your problem. It’s a weak ethical framework of social organization. Philosophy deals with the nature of knowledge, reason, morality and language. “You can’t initiate violence against anybody else unless they do it first” is not a philosophy.

        The Libertarian Party is a pretty good arbiter of libertarianism since it advances the political interests of libertarian ethics. And the fact that they’ve disagreed with your position for 45 years should probably tell you something. If everybody else disagrees on your interpretation of their ideology, it’s rarely everybody else who is wrong.

        Lastly, to say Christianity has no place in libertarianism is beyond idiotic given individual liberty includes freedom of religion and thought.

        As we’ve already established, libertarianism is inherently amoral. It makes no moral proposition of any kind. Strict adherence to the libertarian ethical concept as a way of life requires the same amorality of its adherents. Christianity – and every other religion for that matter – brings its own set of morals and ethics which are in violent conflict with libertarianism’s lack thereof. There’s no place for Christianity or religion in general in libertarianism for the same reason there’s no place for atheism in Christianity or for free enterprise in Marxism.

        But hey tell yourself whatever you need to if it alleviates some of your cognitive dissonance.

        1. Libertarianism is absolutely a philosophy describing how best governments should work. And describing it as an ‘ethical framework’ means it includes morals such as live and let live vs might makes right.

          And if it’s amoral, as you incorrectly assume, why would it be anti-Christianity? Isn’t it a moral choice to believe one set of ideals over another?

          But as stated, believing in live and let live over other possibilities is absolutely a moral position. Your belief it isn’t will not change it.

    2. Since ,the idea that rights exist is a moral concept, what exactly is in libertarianism?

      1. Libertarianism is not based on rights, it’s based on the non-harm or non-aggression principle, which is an ethical framework for social organization, not a moral precept.

        1. The NAP is definitely an objectively moral precept. It tells us what action is objectively immoral, initiating force.

    3. “taxpayer funded”

      Is this a proposition that costs of abortion be covered by government assistance programs like Medicaid that you mean? If so, then I’d agree with that. But I would also suggest that taxpayer money would be better spent reducing unwanted pregnancy in the first place. A good idea is better sex education for young people, rather than wasting millions of dollars on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that do nothing to reduce teen pregnancy (or possibly produce harm by being so uninformative). Making sure that all effective forms of contraception are available to any woman regardless of income would be another. Reducing barriers to obtaining effective birth control is yet another. Many forms of medication birth control are more than safe enough to justify over-the-counter status, for instance. But the religious right busybodies are always afraid that teens (or any other woman not married, for that matter) will have sex if they actually understand the biology and medical issues surrounding it. Nevermind that they have sex already when they don’t fully understand what they are getting themselves into.

      “with full exemption from medical regulation”

      I assume you mean the obviously bogus obstacles that the previously mentioned religious right busybodies put in the way of getting abortions and use to shut clinics down. And here I thought that conservatives and libertarians were against government regulations that are completely unnecessary and unjustified.

      “for schoolchildren without parental consent”

      Parents don’t own their children. Minors still have some independent rights to make their own choices about their own lives. If a fundamentalist parent says, “No, my child will pray away her diabetes rather than take insulin,” should that be the final word? Pregnancy comes with physical burdens and risks that justify allowing adolescents the right to decide for themselves whether to remain pregnant.

      The rest is hyperbole not worth responding to.

      1. “Is this a proposition that costs of abortion be covered by government assistance programs like Medicaid that you mean? If so, then I’d agree with that.”

        Too late to edit, but I realized that I should clarify. I do think that abortion should be covered under any medical insurance plan, including taxpayer funded ones.

  6. I look at abortion this way. I start with a premise that everyone should agree with:

    Every woman has an absolute right to decide not to become pregnant.

    Pregnancy carries physical burdens and risks of complications that include death. Maternal mortality statistics in the U.S. have been climbing over the last two decades, unlike in other wealthy countries. The risk seems small in terms of odds, but it works out to around a 1 in 5000 chance of death for a woman by becoming pregnant. (23.8 deaths attributable to pregnancy per 100,000 live births in 2014)

    This data relates directly to my next premise that I think everyone should agree with:

    No one should ever be legally obligated to place themselves at significant risk of serious injury or death solely for the benefit of another individual.

    To be specific, against their will. Once a person voluntarily becomes a rescue worker, law enforcement officer, etc., then the safety of others is their legal responsibility even when that includes putting themselves at risk.

    We call people heroes that put themselves at risk to help others. And we celebrate those that made the ultimate sacrifice to try and protect or help others. But we call such altruistic risk-taking heroic precisely because we don’t judge someone as being a bad person if they decide that the risk to themselves is too great to try and save someone. People only have a legal obligation to help someone in distress if they can help without putting themselves at significant additional risk. (Such as calling 911)

    Given these two premises, how do we argue that a woman must remain pregnant against her will? The developing life that is terminated in abortions prior to the third trimester (and the vast majority of non-emergency abortions are performed long before that) is not equivalent by any objective measure to someone who has been born, given a name, and lived a conscious life.

    When I have more time, I’ll listen to the podcast to see if either side of the debate addresses my thoughts.

    1. Ok. Now do 20 weeks gestation. Ban abortions after 20 weeks?

  7. “While a pregnant woman should be legally required to help the fetus survive outside of her body whenever that is possible”

    This makes the pregnant woman’s (you transphobic bigot!) responsibilities dependent on the technology of the time.

    Should she be required to transplant the fetus to a willing human host, an artificial host, or fetal life support after conception? Wouldn’t this imply that post conception birth control should be illegal?

  8. Abortion is murder. The initiation of force against another living human being.

    The woman’s only personal free choice was used to participate in the only activity which placed another vulnerable human being within her own body.

    In order not to subsequently murder that person the contract of her initial choice includes allowing that person to leave in nine months without being harmed.

    1. In other words, women should stop being sluts. No mention of the role of men in the creation of the “human being,” I notice. Maybe ixnay on the slut stuff if you want to make a point people can get behind.

      The real problem, of course, is that you’re so against force, presumably especially state force, that you want the state to lock up or execute 25% of all American women. They are all murderers by your definitions. Premeditated.

      1. Men don’t have abortions.

        1. They’re typically the ones holding the keys to the cells you want to put a quarter of all women in for life.

          1. Fuck off faggot. You don’t have a horse in this race, and you’re a proven sociopath. So we know you don’t really care.

            I’m not a fan of Rob, but he makes more sense here than you do.

            1. Actually my problem is I feel too much.

  9. Was this a debate? I heard two people against abortion trying to justify their view that women don’t have the right to control their bodies. Not only abortion, but if you believe life begin at conception then you throw out all birth control that is not a barrier method. If your a libertarian and believe in limited government, then why not for women. The woman is in the best position to determine what is best for the situation. She may want the child and continue the pregnancy. But she may also feel that she is not ready to parent, does not have the resources to parent, may feel that she has enough children to take care of at this time, and she may have to deal with a difficult decision for a child that may have no quality of life or even have a life after birth. Let talk about empowering women to make those decisions and not try to figure out how the government can force them to have a child.

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