One of the defining differences between conservatives and liberals in the United States lies within their conflicting stances on abortion. Conservatives tend to view unborn children as human beings, believing that a human’s life begins immediately after conception. Liberals, on the other hand, tend not to view unborn children as human beings, generally due to either their inability to sustain life on their own or their lack of physical development. This difference in base views leads many conservatives to believe that liberals, by supporting abortion, are propagating the mass murder of young, living human beings, while it also brings many liberals to believe that, by denying women the right to abortion, conservatives are infringing on their bodily autonomy.
The issue of abortion isn’t one that can be easily solved overnight, but compromises can be made, allowing members of both camps to come together. For instance, anyone who recognizes a human’s innate right to self-defense likely also recognizes a right to abortion when the mother’s life is in danger, regardless of whether they hold conservative or liberal ideals. If humans have an innate right to protect their own life (which is a hallmark of American thought, dubbed the “unalienable right” to Life in the Declaration of Independence), then it follows that abortion should be considered a viable option for a mother, if her life would otherwise be in danger. Therefore, the vast majority of people can agree that abortion to save a mother’s life is, at the very least, not morally wrong.
Another extreme although somewhat less unifying case relating to the morality of abortion occurs in the face of rape. Due to the empathetic nature of human beings, most people, regardless of their political lean, want to believe that abortion should be justified in the case of rape, to save the mother from the extreme anguish of needing to bear an unwanted and unwelcome child. However, this argument is not based as concretely in self-defense as the “mother’s life in danger” case due to there being no actual physical threat to the mother. Mere emotional anguish can’t be used to justify murder through self-defense, or else many cases of murder that are clearly morally abhorrent will become justified.
Therefore, at first glance, it appears that even in the case of rape, unifying conservatives and liberals is impossible, despite both sides wanting to side with the rape victim. However, this isn’t actually the case. A conservative argument for abortion in the case of rape does exist; one must only view the situation as a private property issue rather than a self-defense issue. Once such a viewpoint is taken, clear moral justification for abortion in the case of rape can be established.
The Private Property Argument for Abortion in the Case of Rape
If one is able to accept the premises that: private property rights are moral; a person’s body is the property of that person; and the moral right to self-defense covers not only one’s self, but also one’s property, then logically, one must support the conclusion that abortion in the case of rape is moral. This is because, in the case of rape, the baby (a living human being), is trespassing on the property of the owner (the mother’s body) without the consent of the owner (the mother). Therefore, the owner (the mother) may exert her right to self-defense, and remove the trespasser (the baby) from her property. If the only way to do this is through the murder of the trespasser (the abortion of the baby), then the owner (the mother) is justified in doing so, thanks to her right to defend herself and her property.
Although this argument might sound strange on a superficial level due to argumentatively equating a child in a mother to a trespasser on someone’s property, the argument holds up logically. Also, this private property argument for abortion in the case of rape can’t be abusively applied to cases outside of rape. In such a case where a women has consensual sex with a man and conceives a child, even if she doesn’t want to conceive the child, that child may not be viewed as a trespasser within the mother’s body due to the mother’s knowledge that her action may result in the conception of a child. If a woman knows that having sex may result in the conception of a child, but she has sex regardless and conceives a child, then it becomes her duty to care for the human she knowingly welcomed into her body.
The significance of the argument laid forth above lies primarily in the fact that its premises lie in well-agreed-upon conservative values. Property rights, bodily autonomy, and self-defense are not only cornerstones of western thought, but also foundational ideological pillars which conservative thought is based upon. Perhaps, by leaning on such an argument, both liberals and conservatives can come together and support abortion in the case of rape, or at least refuse to condemn it, effectively defending both liberty and morality.
* Kage Kowalski is a student of computer science and philosophy at Bradley University. As a long-time self-described radical libertarian, he openly advocates ideals defending freedom and liberty.