Libertarians are divided on the abortion issue.
The key consideration is this: Is abortion a necessary individual right of the mother, or is the pre-born human a rights-bearing person deserving of liberties and undeserving of aggression?
But let’s begin with an area more likely to have broad libertarian agreement: minimal government interference.
As it reads in the 2020 U.S. Libertarian Party platform, “Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.”
This ought to mean that, where abortion is legal, those who oppose abortion on moral grounds should be free to voice and vote their convictions, and not coerced to support the practice with their tax dollars. National and international governing agencies should not incentivize abortion for economic, social, or racial reasons. Medical professionals who are conscientious objectors to abortion should not be forced to do them, either in medical school or in their practices. Private organizations and medical clinics that offer women aid in continuing their pregnancies should not be harassed or prevented from functioning by government-sponsored programs. If a baby survives an attempted abortion and is born alive, he or she should receive medical attention.
In the United States, as we greet 2020, many of the liberties listed above are gone or in peril.
In New York state, for example, under the Reproductive Health Act, abortions are allowed up to the moment of birth; non-doctors can be allowed to perform them; and there is no obligation to care for a born-alive infant. If a woman with a wanted fetus is attacked and her child dies, she cannot prosecute her attacker. Abortion has been named a “fundamental right,” thus anyone who is found hindering that right is now open to claims of discrimination. Pro-life pregnancy centers are being called “fake clinics” by a state-funded public awareness campaign. And in November, a New York judge blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to protect the conscience rights of medical professionals.
So the liberties of those who work to defend the lives of the pre-born are curtailed. Now what of the pre-born child? Does abortion go against the libertarian principle of non-aggression?
Pro-choice libertarians say that a woman cannot be forced to house another body; the pre-born human is the aggressor, and can be killed. The preborn have no rights as persons until birth.
Pro-life libertarians hold that the child had no choice in her conception, so her parents need to take responsibility for their actions and give her care. The bright line of birth as the requirement for personhood is arbitrary. There is no one defining moment between conception and birth, but a series of developments.
In this view, nothing magical happens at birth to make a non-person a person. The child is still totally dependent on others, and will be for years, which is why independence cannot be the requirement for personhood. Developed consciousness or the ability to reason is also not a logical requirement for personhood; if it were, the rape of a woman inebriated beyond reason or unconscious would not be an inhumane crime.
So, if libertarianism protects the rights of all innocent human persons, and the pre-born are persons, they should be protected from aggression. On what principle then are millions removed (often violently) of their most important and foundational right — the right to life itself? The principle deciding life or death for the pre-born is simply the subjective judgment by others as to whether that child is wanted or convenient.
In human history, when a group of people is considered dangerous (the Jews in Nazi Germany) or private property (African slaves in the U.S. before the Civil War), they are de-humanized as a first step to rationalize their extermination. Today, pre-born children diagnosed with Down syndrome in the womb are routinely aborted, usually because the parents and doctors do not think their lives are worth the effort of their care. Children in general seem to be viewed more and more as commodities in a consumer culture, to be chosen or rejected based on desirability.
There is nothing libertarian about killing innocent humans because of age, location, ability, religion, or ethnicity. When the government and law condone this kind of lethal aggression, no one can be guaranteed true and lasting freedom.
Maria McFadden Maffucci is the editor of the Human Life Review, www.humanlifereview.com, a quarterly journal devoted to the defense of human life, founded in 1974 by her father, James P. McFadden, Associate Publisher of National Review. She is President of the Human Life Foundation, based in midtown Manhattan, which publishes the Review and supports pregnancy resource centers. Mrs. Maffucci’s articles and editorials have appeared in the Human Life Review, First Things, National Review Online, National Review, Verily, and Crux. A Holy Cross graduate with a BA in Philosophy, she is married to Robert E. Maffucci, and the mother of three children. Her interests include exploring opportunities for individuals with special needs. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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