Self-ownership vs. private property
When we look at the two major libertarian principles, we see the NAP and private property rights. It is true that the unborn child has self-ownership. But the degree to which one has self-ownership is always conditional. One does not have complete self-ownership if one is on someone else’s property. Since the pregnant woman’s body is her property, the fetus then is one someone else’s property. This renders the fetus’ self-ownership conditional. The unborn child does not have a right to be in a woman’s womb; it merely has the privilege. If it does not have a right to be there, then it cannot have a right to remain there.
A house guest is invited and therefore has a privilege, but most certainly not a right to be there and remain there. The libertarian’s argument that if bad things happen to the guest if he or she is uninvited and asked to leave, does not lead to a conclusion that this guest will then have obtained a right to remain on someone else’s premises. Someone’s private property rights, in libertarianism, are not conditional to another person’s needs; not even to his survival.
People that are no invited, or are no longer invited, on someone else’s property do not have unconditional self-ownership. Other clear examples include burglars, rapists, murderers, trespassers, thieves and all other sorts of aggressors. Defensive action, as well as compensation for damages, against them is completely warranted because the self-ownership rights of their victims have been violated first, and by doing so the aggressor has forfeited his own self-ownership rights.
An unborn child that is unwanted can be classified as a trespasser, and as such is violating the pregnant woman’s rights before she could ever violate the rights of the unborn child. Her defensive actions against un unwanted pregnancy are therefore acceptable within libertarian philosophy. An abortion cannot be murder, because by being in another person’s body without them being wanted there, they lose their self-ownership rights.
To those libertarians that claim that the unborn child does have self-ownership, and will continue to have self-ownership for the duration of the pregnancy, I say: “Fine. Then let the unborn child feed itself; dress itself; shelter itself; nurture itself; warm itself; sustain itself, et cetera.”
But we all know the problem: it cannot do these things. It must depend on the body of the pregnant woman to do this for him. But within libertarianism, no person can have a right to force someone else to do this. If we accept that an unborn child cannot do the things that the rest of humanity can (or else depend on voluntary help to do so), then we must also accept that an unborn child’s rights cannot be equal to the rights of the rest of humanity.
The unborn child as property
A case can easily be made that an unborn child is actually not a separate entity at all, and is part of the woman’s body – part of her own private property – for the duration of the pregnancy (or at least until evictionism has taken place). After all, the fetus cannot survive outside of her body; it must remain inside, and part of, her body in order to survive. But if something is inside of her body, it must be her property. Those who disagree would look rather foolish if they insist that the fetus is not her property, yet rather than insist she give it up to the rightful owner keep it within her instead. Who would ever insist that someone keeps with her property that she does not own and does not wish to keep?
Not only is the fetus inside of her; it is feeding off her body’s resources. It is also attached to her body by an umbilical cord. How could it not be her property? It is most certainly more her property in any logical sense, than an animal could be. Yet most libertarians would insist that a human can do with his/her animal property whatever he/she wishes. Here again, the pro-life libertarian shows his logical inconsistency when it comes to abortion.
It is quite clear that the pro-life libertarian must bend him or herself in pretzel-like shapes to be able to justify either banning abortion, or punishing a woman for it after the fact. There is no comparison whatsoever between the ‘life-conditions’ of a born person and those of an unborn person. The latter requires the physical subjugation of another person; the former does not. The latter is part of, and inside of, another person’s physical body; the former is not. The latter cannot survive without using another person’s life, body or the body’s resources; the former can, or at least must depend on voluntary assistance; it cannot force anyone.
In order to either ban abortion, or punish it after the fact, one must ignore the basics of what the NAP and private property rights, within libertarian context, really stand for. One must deny the reality of action and response; offense and defense; cause and consequence. One must deny that a pregnant woman has a right to her own body when she is pregnant; deny that she has private property rights and self-ownership. One must assert in so many words that a pregnant woman must be a physical slave to someone else’s needs for the duration of 9 months. One must do a 180 and support positive rights in order to justify the banning or punishing of abortion; the positive right of the unborn child to live at the expense of the private property rights, and self-ownership of another.
The pro-life position, to be quite frank, is not a libertarian position; it is a conservative one. It is an understandable one, a respectable one, a sympathetic one. But a conservative one, nonetheless. It wants to momentarily forget the right order of things when applying the NAP and private property rights, because it sympathizes with the unborn child. But sympathy is an emotional argument, not a logical one, nor a moral one (moral from the libertarian perspective, that is). Is it any surprise that most of the pro-life libertarians also seem to be conservative libertarians on other issues? I don’t think so.
When you see the pro-life position with libertarians, there is the substantial chance that you will also see conservative positions on the family as a whole, on religion, on immigration, on gays, drugs and the libertine lifestyle in general. It is what I consider to be a ‘non-libertarian’ morality that informs these positions. They may come from religious doctrine, or simply from traditionalism. Maybe even simply from irrational bigotry. The conservative libertarian knows that it cannot regard most of these other issues as issues of aggression (being gay, using drugs, being a hedonist etc. are not acts of aggression), but they have obviously been convinced that abortion can somehow be construed as an act of aggression against another human being, therefore see ways in which libertarianism can take a stand against it.
Not so. For all the reasons listen above.
The pro-life libertarian must conveniently ‘switch off’ the self-ownership rights and private property rights of a pregnant woman, in order to get to their anti-abortion position. But it doesn’t work that way. The anti-abortion libertarian must choose whether he or she is anti-abortion, or a libertarian.
I will now list some pro-life arguments and my short responses to them.
– The fetus is a human.
So is the trespasser or any other person violative of another’s private property rights. That the fetus is human says nothing about the question of rights and defense of rights.
– The fetus has rights just as anybody else.
Rights are always conditional. That is why we can use self-defense. People who violate other’s rights, forfeit their own.
– Abortion is the worst solution.
Any better solution outside of forcing women to continue carrying the child or otherwise compromising their private property rights can and should be considered if available.
– You wouldn’t kill a guest you invited.
Actually, if you invited a guest, tired of him, asked him to leave, and he refused, you would have the right to use force if necessary to remove him from the premises. Tragically, with the unborn force is necessary. That the fetus has no way of leaving voluntarily and alive, does not alter the fact that the property is owned by the woman and she has the right to remove unwanted people from it. It is precisely because it is a fetus, and cannot do such things, that make abortion tragic yet unavoidable in such cases. Pregnant women would surely have preferred to remove the unborn child safely. But they cannot. That is why abortion is unfortunately the only remedy.
– How about Walter Block’s guest on a plane analogy?
There is no analogy. The plane ride lasts a number of hours. Pregnancy lasts 9 months. The plane ride may be annoying; the pregnancy may be hazardous physically and psychologically and certainly painful. The pregnancy is even guaranteed to make a woman sick (morning sickness). There is no analogy to be made when the characteristics of the two examples being compared are so different.
– It is disgusting and immoral to commit abortion.
Libertarianism does not deal with taste, good sense or subjective morality. That is why it is preposterous that some libertarians whine about hedonism or libertinism. Libertarianism has nothing to say about equality or equal treatment, nor about libertine lifestyles. Libertarianism is a philosophy that deals with what ought to be allowed by general objective law, or local contractual law. One is permitted to feel about abortion any way one pleases. One is also allowed to completely sever any relationship with anybody that has either committed abortion, plans to commit abortion, or believes abortion is and should be a right. Freedom of association means freedom to disassociate. One can boycott establishments that are ‘pro-choice’. One can write polemics against pro-choicers. One can use all of their (negative) rights to let others know how they feel about abortion.
– Abortion is an abomination in the eyes of God.
God has nothing to do with libertarianism.
– If libertarianism would truly allow for abortion, then I cannot possibly be a libertarian.
You’re right; in that case you’re not. If you are a libertarian, you must accept the logical and moral conclusions that libertarianism leads to even if you don’t like them.