Monday, February 22, 2010

Abortion: This Libertarian/Anarchist's Opinions

Updated 2-22-2010

Abortion is an issue that is only good for one thing: dividing people. I have read libertarian positions on both sides that were absolutely adamant that their position was right, and that the other side were monsters. The libertarian debate centers on just a couple main points: is the embryo a human being with all its rights intact, or is it a part of the mother's body, or is it a human being, but if not wanted, a trespasser? I am convinced that if abortion is wrong, it would still be wrong even in cases of rape or incest. The embryo had no choice in the matter, and many really good people began in horrible ways.

First off, I will say that no one, including me, knows for certain if abortion is right or wrong, they just think they do. That is because there is not enough scientific data to make a truly rational decision. Emotions on both sides cloud the mind and make coherent thought difficult.

Still, a few thoughts occur to me. I can not tell a human fetus from the fetuses of several other creatures by looking at them. I would bet that even the experts would have a very hard time telling a chimpanzee from a human until late in the pregnancy. A fertilized egg is life, but not a separate life. There are religious ideas of when the embryo becomes a separate life-form from the mother, but not really any convincing scientific proofs. I do know that once a baby is born it is a separate life-form, a person, with all its human rights intact. I can't remember anything that happened to me before I was around 2 or 3 years old. I went through some traumatic experiences that I can't recall at all, so it really doesn't concern me that they occurred. I would not care if I had been aborted. I wouldn't miss me at all.

Almost no one claims that a simple fertilized egg is a person, and almost no one claims that a full-term baby isn't one. The true dividing line is somewhere in between those extremes. No one knows for sure where it is, though many people "believe" they know where. In case of doubt I would tend to side with the mother, whom I can easily recognize as a complete, sapient human being who undoubtedly has all her rights functioning.

I feel that when the day comes that embryos can be transplanted or put into an artificial womb at any stage of development it will make abortion, as a divisive issue, fade away. So why do "pro-life" activists not spend their time, money, and talents on designing this technology? I think it is because they prefer to tell others how to live their lives instead. It is harder to use unwanted pregnancies to condemn a person's sex-life if the pregnancy is not a burden. In a great many cases, and from personal experience, I do think a desire to demonize sexual activity lies behind much "pro-life" activism".

This brings us to the religious objections. Almost all objections to abortion are at the core religious objections, which is fine until you try to impose your religion on someone else who does not share your religious views. Murder is wrong, but opinion is divided if abortion qualifies as murder. Not that "majority opinions" should decide any issue for anyone. It seems to come down to whether or not you believe humans have "souls". And if they do have souls, are those souls installed at conception or sometime later?

The issue of souls brings up another question in my mind. Just say that the conservative Christian claim that humans have souls and that they get those souls at conception (which is the claim I was raised with) is correct. Then assume for a moment that their other claim is also correct and that there is only one very specific way for those souls to go to Heaven. I was also taught that aborted and miscarried fetuses, babies, and young children got a free pass into Heaven because they did not yet understand "right and wrong", so were still innocent. That would mean that almost everyone (based on percentages) in Heaven would be one of these "free pass" souls. Aborted babies would almost certainly end up in Hell if they weren't aborted, considering that parents who would abort would not train their children in the proper way (once again, according to the conservative Christian position I was raised with). So, it seems a bit cruel to send all those people to Hell just to promote your agenda.

I would not use public funds to finance abortions or any other medical procedures, because there is no such thing as "public funds"; it is all stolen ("tax") money.

I think the best intellectual exercise for thinking about this is what L. Neil Smith asks: Say you are right and abortion is murder. How do you propose to regulate it? Do you make all pregnant women register to make certain that their pregnancies are not terminated? What if you can't yet tell by looking that they are pregnant? Should all women and girls of reproductive age submit to a monthly pregnancy test to keep tabs on them? Where do you come up with the new bureaucracy, "The Department of Reproduction", to regulate pregnancy? Who pays for it?

I am not a woman and can't get pregnant, so for me to pretend that I am an expert on pregnancy or abortion would be dishonest. I do have another thought that does concern men even more directly, though. As long as abortion is legal, men should be able to legally terminate any financial or parental responsibility for a child that they do not wish to father. After all, that is what abortion does for women. If it is right for one person, it is right for everyone.

I would never send government or its agents after a person who seeks an abortion. Mostly, it comes down to my attitude of "keep your filthy government off of my life!"

So, what is my personal opinion? I don't really like abortion, but would not forbid it to people who feel differently than I do about it. I do not think abortion is a good first choice for birth control. There are so many other options that are easier and cheaper. I have obviously never had an abortion, nor have I ever encouraged anyone to have one, even in cases where it would have been very bad for me if a pregnancy had occurred. In this way I have done my part to not add to the number of abortions. Keep your own house in order and mind your own business. It's the way of Liberty.



  1. I don't like it either, from a personal perspective, from a moral perspective and even from a practical perspective. Nevertheless there are some good modes of thinking here, and you've hinted at some.

    "What should the penalty be?" is a break-thinking question. If abortion is murder and the penalty for murder might rightly be death, what shall we do? In my mind there is no answer to this but "let the mother decide". To think otherwise is to assert that the unborn has a greater right to life than the mother, which should be patently absurd even to those who don't embrace libertarian philosophy.

    There are hideously cruel yet morally consistent ways to think about a pregnancy.

    A zygote, an embryo, a fetus -- up to a certain point -- cannot live without the support and shelter of the mother's body.

    As libertarians, we do not allow positive rights. Therefore, we cannot assert a positive right for the unborn to continue to be nourished by the mother. We must then acknowledge the right of the mother to stop nourishing the unborn, in the same vein as we must acknowledge that there exists no duty upon anyone to sacrifice themselves to provide for the sustenance of one who cannot provide for themselves. This excludes most if not all modes of abortion available today with our technology, but the principle, I think, holds. Some will say that here is a slippery slope toward a world in which parents who refuse sustenance to their born, thriving children are justified. I don't think any of us want to live in that world.

    Likewise, we cannot assert the unborn's right of tenancy in the undesiring mother's body without violating her rights. Kicking deadbeat tenants out of the house you own may seem a far piece from ejecting a zygote/embryo/fetus, but if we are to have a consistent view of negative rights to property in one's own body we must allow for the mother to evict the unborn. Similar objections, as above, can be raised, and my own reactions remain the same.

    In the latter two cases we have real problems in that when abortion is performed today there is essentially no chance for the unborn to thrive, even assuming that the removal process is non-destructive, which it almost always is.

    None of these arguments will satisfy the true believers on either side of this moral divide. Likewise, no amount of argumentation will ever quell the doubts and guilt felt by those forced into this most horrible and personal of choices.

  2. I'm not going to try to respond to everything here, most of the arguments are well known, and it seems somewhat pointless to hash it out here in the blog comments.

    However, I think it is probably worthwhile that two of your arguments are really quite untenable.

    First, you say that once a child is born it is a separate person with all its rights intact. Yet you go on to argue (though not as a main point I admit) that part of why abortion isn't important is because the kid won't remember it anyway, because they're not here.

    Except, that argument also works for children around 1-3 years of age as well. And really, since none of us are around to care once we're killed, it applies to all of us.

    Second, you make the appeal to how you enforce it. This is a valid question to consider, and an important one. However, you made the mistake (I think) of taking it too far, of assuming an excessive solution to the problem.

    If it is classified as murder, then you prosecute it as such. When the crime is known, you prosecute it like any other murder. Yes, that means some will get away with it. But it does create a prohibitive effect for most of the population - just like murder laws and the societal norms that surround them do.

    You don't need to register every living human being and have them check in regularly in order to enforce laws against murder. You just deal with the lawbreakers as they become known.

  3. Pulaski,

    I think there's a real problem with your statement as well. You say that you don't allow positive rights - yet it would seem to me that as a society we would generally frown on a parent simply deciding to stop feeding the children they have given birth to.

    I really don't think it's outside the line for libertarians to suggest that people who make choices bear the responsibility for them.

    If you buy a house, you bear the responsibility to pay the bill. If you make a contract, you have a responsibility to hold up your end of it.

    I honestly don't think this is any different. There is an implicit contract made by virtue of the choices made by the individuals involved. They now must deal with the consequences. There are means to extract yourself from the implicit contract, but like most contracts, they usually don't include terminating the other party.

  4. As I say, these are only my thoughts on the subject. I don't agree with most other people's thoughts on the subject and I am not demanding that you agree with mine.

  5. "I went through some traumatic experiences that I can't recall at all, so it really doesn't concern me that they occurred. I would not care if I had been aborted. I wouldn't miss me at all."

    Careful with comments such as these. It could be read that you are OK with being murdered. Since you wouldn't be around after being murdered, you wouldn't miss yourself at all.

    I think it is important to point that out since you are asking the question of whether abortion should be considered murder (for the record I think it isn't).

    I understand where you're coming from though. In essense you wouldn't miss yourself after you were murdered, but other living people would. In the case of abortion, the only person with a real attachment to the fetus is the mother, and it is ultimately her own decision about whether she wants to give birth or not.

    "The issue of souls brings up another question in my mind. Just say that the conservative Christian claim that humans have souls and that they get those souls at conception (which is the claim I was raised with) is correct. Then assume for a moment that [...]"

    When you start bringing in christianity into the discussion, you lose all rationality. It just doesn't work no matter how you try to put it together. Trying to reason with christians or bring in any of their worldview assumptions doesn't help you to make a case.

    "As long as abortion is legal, men should be able to legally terminate any financial or parental responsibility for a child that they do not wish to father. After all, that is what abortion does for women. If it is right for one person, it is right for everyone."

    YES. Thanks for repeating again and again that if rights should exist at all then they should exist for EVERYONE EQUALLY.

  6. Anonymous,

    If I couldn't see my own murder coming, or anticipate it and understand what the event meant, I probably wouldn't really care. Cognitive ability makes all the difference. As I said, I realize that isn't a good argument for or against, just some random thoughts I was having about the issue.

    I only bring Christianity into the discussion since that is the basis for most opposition to abortion. I'm not really trying to make a case here.

    Thanks for contributing to the discussion in a rational way. It is always appreciated.

  7. Regarding your Bubble Theory of Property would be impossible to defend your property rights without being able to differentiate your property from my property. Property, in the sense of land, comes with a unique address.

    Property, in the sense of your body, has two unique IDs. One you are given when you are born...a social security number. But even before you are born nature assigns you a unique ID...DNA.

    It's not the state that confers on you natural rights when you are born. Those natural rights are conferred on you by nature as soon as "you" are you in the most fundamental sense of the word.

    DNA allows us to easily identify where your fist ends and somebody else's nose begins. DNA is our identity and our individualism.

    The only time that an individual should lose their property rights is when they violate the property rights of another individual.

    So as far as I can tell...from the theoretical perspective, the pro-life position is the only consistent position for those who hold property rights to be inalienable.

    Personally though I'm pro-choice.

  8. Xerographica- I wouldn't bring a SSN into the discussion at all, since it is not an identity, but a tracking number that has nothing to do with who you are.

    Yes, you do have unique DNA, but so does every other creature on the planet, both living and dead. The DNA doesn't confer rights. A corpse once had rights, and a zygote may someday (if it survives long enough) have rights. If you get a donor organ, that organ has unique DNA, but it has no rights of its own. It is part of you, and you have rights over it.

    The debate here is when that bearer of unique DNA becomes an individual. Not as a zygote, and months before birth, but the exact line is not truly known.

    Rights can not be lost. You don't lose your property rights by violating the property rights of another, you simply don't gain any additional rights by your actions. If you break into my house you are violating my property rights. If you steal some of my stuff you have no property rights over that stuff even if it is in your possession, so if I take it back you have not lost your rights to it; you never had any rights to it in the first place. (This is why taxation doesn't transfer the right to use the money to The State, and why anything bought with that stolen money doesn't belong to The State for The State to control.)

    Until the fetus is an individual person, the "pro-choice" position is more correct, after that threshold has been crossed, the "pro-life" position is more correct (even though those labels are incredibly deceptive).

    So, using my "bubble theory"- until the fetus becomes a separate individual person it can have no rights. It is a part of the "bubble" of the mother. If you want an abortion, there is plenty of time to have one before the fetus is a person.

    Once it becomes a person then it has a bubble of its own even as it is surrounded by the mother's property. The mother can not violate those property rights that exist below the surface of the baby's body, and can not attack or enslave the baby as long as the baby doesn't steal, attack, or violate the terms of its use of the mother's property (trespass). The mother can throw it out of her property for any reason at any time if the baby is doing something that she feels violates her property rights, using force if necessary. Remember that everything you have a right to do is not necessarily the right thing to do at the moment. It doesn't matter if the baby showed up due to the mother's actions. Whether you want to say "she shouldn't have had sex if she didn't want to get pregnant" or "You shouldn't have nice possessions and leave your door unlocked if you don't want to be robbed"... either one reminds me of the crude and flippant remark "If you dress that way you should expect to be raped". So, really, we end up right back where we began.

    (For those who happen across this and may not be familiar with my "bubble theory"- The discussion on my "Bubble Theory of property rights" can be found here.)

  9. The goal is differentiation. Your SSN differentiates you from me. In boot camp it was more important than my name. In programming a unique ID is the basis of relational databases...this blog has a unique ID that differentiates it from other blogs...33774205.

    Back in the California gold rush days people would stake their claim...which differentiated their property from other people's property.

    Without differentiation there are no property rights...everything would be a collective.

    The bearer of unique DNA becomes an individual as soon as they have unique DNA. This effectively differentiates them from others. Using any other criteria to establish individuality is a veritable mine field. No other objective line can be drawn.

    Whatever the capacity, or developmental stage of an individual...if you invite them onto your property they do not lose their bubble. The situation just becomes a bubble within a bubble.

    The donor organ example doesn't work because the owner of the organ was not coerced into transferring their rights to their organ to you. Full self-ownership means that you are able to completely, or partially, sell or give yourself to another person.

    Nearly all "rights" based libertarian philosophy is fairly clear that violating the rights of others is the only justification for having your rights violated.

    Plants and animals do have DNA and it's fairly reasonable to say that we violate their property rights when we eat them. Society as a whole says it's ok (in most instances) just like they say abortion is ok...just like they say taxes are ok.

    From the strictest "rights" based approach (anarcho-capitalism) all taxation is theft. From the consequentialist approach, taxes are justified in order to fund goods that the market would underfund.

    From a more reasonable "rights" approach we could say that theft of your property is justified only to the extent that the money being stolen is used to protect everybody's property rights.

    However, he pragmatarian approach to taxes is by far the most reasonable.

  10. SSN's are arbitrary and not based upon anything real. The numbers can be changed, stolen, borrowed, forgotten...whatever. And the person's identity isn't altered one iota. You could give two or more people the same SSN and they would still be differentiated in more substantive ways. Or, I could give each human a unique nonsensical name, and threaten them at gunpoint to use it, but it would be no more "real" than a SSN. But, if you embrace that number and accept it as your identity, then that is your business. I do get your point about differentiation being essential to identity. All electrons are identical and impossible to differentiate, so they are interchangable and none matters individually in the least.

    I did cover the "bubble within a bubble" part in the previous comment. Once the unique "differentiated DNA" becomes a person, that is. Until then, unique DNA or not, there are no rights inherent in that DNA.

    As far as the organ donor, all I was saying is that the transplanted part retains its unique DNA identity, yet it has no rights. Just as a zygote with unique DNA has no rights yet. Even by your argument ("Full self-ownership means that you are able to completely, or partially, sell or give yourself to another person") the zygote and the fetus (and even a newborn) are not fully self-owning since they can not do this. Yet, I do believe a newborn has all its human rights fully functional even if it is unable to exercise them for a while.

    I don't consider rights to be transferable between species. A mouse has no right to not be tortured and eaten by a cat. Nor does a person have a right to not be eaten by a bear, just as the bear has no right to not be hunted by the person. A human is capable of behaving as though other species have rights we should respect, though, which makes it possible for us to be better (nicer and more humane) than other species. That can be the case with abortion as well. And I find no fault in people who do this. I only find the fault when they threaten to use the force of the State to impose their beliefs (which have no scientific basis).

    Taxation is theft. It is as simple as that and there is no justification that holds up to scrutiny. There are all kinds of "but we really, really want/need that money" excuses. but a mugger in the alley could make the same claims and they would be just as "valid". Or not.

    I'm not seeing how this is reasonable at all: "From a more reasonable 'rights' approach we could say that theft of your property is justified only to the extent that the money being stolen is used to protect everybody's property rights." You violate property rights in order to protect property rights? That's downright Orwellian!

    I also don't worry about "free riders" since everyone will be a free rider at somepoint in a truly free society. Am I willing to give up liberty to "GET those nasty free riders"? Not on your life.

  11. Becoming a "person" is incredibly more arbitrary than being an individual. Individuality is easy to define but how do you define a person? Saying that one day an individual becomes a person is as arbitrary as saying that somebody becomes an "adult" on their 18th birthday.

    Ideologically it's fine to say taxes are theft. Practically's more valuable to appreciate that people see Robin Hood as a hero...not a villain. Trying to paint Robin Hood as a villain only makes you the villain. Which, given that we live in a democracy, is the equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot.

    When you say that you aren't willing to give up liberty it sounds like I'm saying that we should start coercing people to pay taxes. That liberty has already been taken from you.

    Lew Rockwell said of Walter Block..."...his prose burns with a passion for this single idea: if human problems are to be solved, the solution is to be found by permitting greater liberty."

    A pragmatarian solution would increase your would have the additional liberty to directly choose which public goods your tax dollars help fund. This would allow the invisible hand to decide whether the private or public sector should produce a "public" good. If you're correct that free-riders truly aren't a problem then anarcho-capitalism will be the long term result of a pragmatarian approach.

  12. I would define a "person" as an individual human being who is alive, is sapient, and is capable of exercising his/her rights if not interfered with. A human corpse or a human fetus is each missing at least a couple of those criteria. I don't think that's very arbitrary at all, but you're welcome to your interpretation.

    Robin Hood was the tax protester, not the tax collector. He only returned the stolen property to its rightful owners after taking it from the thieves.

    Just because a liberty has already been violated isn't a good reason to support the continued violations. I could say that since murder already happens we might as well make sure only "worthless people" get murdered, or that people be allowed to choose how their murder will be carried out. I would rather recognize that taxation is theft, that it has been made "legal" by bad people, and then ridicule the legalization of an obviously unethical act. After all, you can legalize slavery or rape and that doesn't make either of them right.

    Any "option" you aren't allowed to opt out of is no option.

    I am pragmatic to a point, but that point doesn't include supporting acts of evil against my neighbors just because I might think those acts are useful.

  13. Being alive is certainly of some use as it disqualifies a corpse but it does not disqualify a fetus. Other than that, plenty of people would not be able to pass your "turing test"...people in comas or with brain damage, children up to a certain age and people of very low IQ.

    Robin Hood was protesting what was being done with the taxes. The King had sole discretion how the taxes were used. Afterwards representatives had shared discretion how the taxes were used. This was considerable progress.

    The discretion/power decentralizes with modernity. The next fundamental step is to allow tax payers to have sole discretion how their taxes are used. The tax hand went from completely visible to partially visible and now to completely invisible.

    Based on my own judgement...people have not sufficiently evolved since Roman Times to do away with taxes. If you're right that we have sufficiently evolved then a pragmatarian system will reveal as much.

    The process is simple. If FedEx is more efficient than USPS...then less and less people would allocate their taxes to USPS until it is completely gone. The same process would be repeated with every single public organization.

    It would be survival of the fittest organization and everyone would benefit from the process.

  14. Those you claim would not pass my "Turing test" most certainly would. Unless the brain damage was too great or the coma was irreversable. Even then, those who cared about that (possibly former) person would be perfectly free to provide for their care, while no one else would be forced to do so. The children would always pass the test.

    If Robin Hood was only protesting how the tax money was spent, why did he not just take it and then give it to the "public good" he thought deserved it rather than returning it to the rightful owners?

    I would have no issue with your "pragmatarianism" if you allowed an option to opt out. Otherwise it is just a way to continue evil and harm under the illusion of consent. If you think you must wait until humans have "evolved enough" before you think it's OK to stop harming them, I think it is evidence that the flaw lies within yourself; not humans at large.

    If your idea is so great, why not take it just one tiny leap farther. Let people choose whether they can afford to support anything beyond their own family, what to support, and how much to donate? Everything that is truly needed will be provided by someone in a free society voluntarily- without having money stolen for the purpose. If the loss of taxation causes some "service" or "public good" [sic] to vanish, then obviously no one wanted it enough to pay for it. If you force people to give up X% of their income no matter what, there will be a lot of surplus money that people just thoughtlessly assign to something they don't really want just because they are resigned that the money is gone anyway.

  15. What questions would be on "Kent's Test"?

    The "flaw" within me is the very foundation of the system you's self-interest. It's what drives the invisible hand.

    There are plenty of people that believe the invisible hand fails with many goods that we can consider "public goods". The only reason these goods fail is because everybody benefits from these goods even if they don't pay for them. Therefore, it's in people's self-interest not to contribute to their funding. Once you force people to fund this set of goods then the invisible hand is back in action.

    Unlike most of society, you don't believe that the invisible hand significantly fails with any goods. If you scroll down my post on libertarianism there are quotes on what great libertarians felt were goods that the invisible hand failed with.

    Society is not willing/able to make the leap to libertarianism just like I'm not willing/able to make the leap to anarcho-capitalism. If I can't make the "small" leap to anarcho-capitalism then society will never be able to make the "huge" leap to anarcho-capitalism.

    The beauty of the pragmatarian system is that no leaping is required. If you're right then we'd find out soon enough. If you're wrong then we won't have to deal with the aftermath.

    Sure, some people might thoughtlessly allocate their taxes...but given the positive correlation between education and wouldn't be a lot of money. The bottom 40% of the US population owns less than 1% of the wealth.

    Besides, what would be an example of a "thoughtless" assignment? People could always just assign all of their taxes to congress if they wanted.

  16. xerographica,

    I wonder if you could help me with this,

    "Why should the government be limited? There are two main theoretical justifications."

    The question is flawed. First justify government, then perhaps we can talk about how it ought to be formed. Do you have a justification for government?

  17. I'm sorry, but you are just hung up on "taxation" when that's only one of the evils of The State.
    If that were the only evil committed by externally-imposed government, it would be enough to invalidate its justification, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. You'd probably be more comfortable at the website I discuss here.

  18. Kent, if the "evil" state is an accurate reflection of society then your solution to "let people set boundaries and enforce their own rights" wouldn't change anything.

    If the "evil" state is not an accurate reflection of society then the solution is to fix it so it accurately reflects society.

    Transferring some power and control from congress to tax payers would help ensure that the state more accurately reflects society.

    Thanks for sharing that website. If I get a chance I'd like to analyze it from the pragmatarian perspective.

  19. If men are good, you don’t need government; if men are evil or ambivalent, you don’t dare have one.” Robert LeFevre

    You can't "fix" something that is fundamentally flawed and unnecessary. It doesn't matter if it "accurately reflects society" or not. That power and control doesn't belong to the taxpayers any more than it belongs to congress. It is not within my rights to control the non-aggressive, consensual behavior of other people, nor to decide how their money is spent. No matter how much I might wish to. For me to try to do so would be wrong.

  20. How would abortion be handled in a future Libertopia? Maybe like this: Staci's Abortion