The pro-life movement, long a central pillar of social conservatism, will likely move to implement additional laws and regulations in light of the results of November’s elections. For Libertarians, the issue of abortion presents a unique conundrum. How can an ideology which embraces personal freedom and opposes government control possibly leave room for pro-life federal regulation? The central argument isn’t over a woman and her body but is instead a question of how you define personhood.
First, what exactly is on the horizon now? Even in their wildest dreams, the most ardent pro-life advocates realize that a total ban on abortion in all cases from the day of conception is unlikely to ever become the law of the land, especially at the federal level.
The new President’s Pro-Life Coalition is committed to a four point agenda:
- securing a Supreme Court nominee with a pro-life view
- passage of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which outlaws nearly all abortions later than 20 weeks after conception.
- eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood. (though the President has said repeatedly he supports PP women’s health initiatives outside of abortion.)
- make permanent the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortions’
If enacted, these four agenda items swing the pendulum solidly towards the pro-life point of view.
Conservative Republicans overwhelmingly believe that abortion should be illegal in almost all cases. Liberal Democrats, in general, skew toward the opposite. Independents generally fall somewhere in the middle, although a majority support the legal status of abortion in all or most cases. Some in that group label themselves as Libertarian. Framed in the proper light, with emphasis on basic definitions, a pro-life view can be reconciled with the core tenants of Libertarian philosophy.
The Libertarian Party states the following on their website, “Libertarians strongly oppose any government interference into their personal, family, and business decisions. Essentially, we believe all Americans should be free to live their lives and pursue their interests as they see fit as long as they do no harm to another.”
So the question is whether laws that impose restrictions on a woman’s right to do as she pleases with her own body fly in the face of the very spirit of libertarianism.
To end the debate right there would be to ignore the important final phrase in the libertarian maxim: as long as they do no harm to another. Another what? Another American. In that case, the central argument is not whether abortion should be legal or illegal, but instead over how the federal government defines a person. Today’s laws hold countless examples of how an individual is prohibited from doing something when it endangers or limits the rights of another. A Libertarian can support a law limiting or banning abortion if they believe that the unborn child is a human. An American person.
Determining the point between conception and birth at which the living embryo in a woman’s womb becomes a person is the crux of the matter for the conflicted Libertarian. If you believe that a person is created immediately after conception, then opposing abortion in its entirety is completely compatible with Libertarianism. The philosophy provides no guidance on how to decide who is and is not a person. It only stipulates freedom can be limited when that freedom involves taking actions which harm another.
Most people have already formed in their minds a belief regarding personhood. One would think that the federal government has made this determination as well. Sadly, that’s not the case. The text of Roe v. Wade, found at Justia’s US Supreme Court Center, is particularly revealing: “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.”
Dissecting the issues could fill volumes. But put simply, the court punted on the issue of personhood.
Pro-life legislation is coming, and the climate in Washington is going to warm up for those looking to limit abortion. While social conservatives rally behind this burst of momentum, Libertarians will fall on both sides of the issue. To the ones who support the pro-life agenda: you can keep your Libertarian bona fides. Laws against kidnapping, extortion, and terrorism protect liberty for all by limiting freedom for some. The ideological conflict attached to abortion rights disappears when that group of “all“ includes the unborn.
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