Few topics have divided libertarians like the topic of abortion. Misconceptions of the general libertarian perspective in relation to other ideologies have already been cleared, but there remain numerous assumptions about who libertarians “side” with when it comes to abortion.
Abortion is one of the few issues that one can defend from both angles with a libertarian perspective. It all depends on each libertarian’s individual beliefs.
Are Libertarians Pro-Life or Pro-Choice?
A poll on the Being Libertarian Facebook page showed a near even split, with 58% being pro-life and 42% being pro-choice. Results from ISideWith shows a much larger gap in the opposite direction, with 55% of libertarians being pro-choice and 29% being pro-life. The remaining 16% considered themselves personally pro-life, but taking the pro-choice position, believe that the government, specifically, has no right to ban it.
The Libertarian Party platform takes a neutral position (or as close as one can get on the issue), stating that the government should not be involved in either prohibiting it or providing resources for it.
The Pro-Life Libertarian
If one is pro-life, it usually means that one believes that an unborn child is a human life and thus deserves all human rights that accrue to the individual, including the right to life. If this is the case, then it is a violation of the unborn child’s right to life to abort it.
Pro-life libertarians argue that even if the child is occupying a woman’s body (her personal property), the woman has no right to abort the child, since it was the actions of the child’s parents and not any choice of the child that resulted in the child occupying the mother’s womb. A popular analogy made by pro-life libertarians involves an individual with a private plane offering a ride to one of his friends, who accepts the offer. The owner of the plane does not have the right to suddenly order his passenger off his property while the plane is several thousand feet in the air.
Because pro-life libertarians believe that abortion is tantamount to murder, it is not oppression by government to legislate against it. Declaring otherwise would be equivalent to stating, “I’m personally against murder, but it’s no business of the government to ban it.”
The Pro-Choice Libertarian
The pro-choice libertarian opposes the idea that a fetus is entitled to the same right to liberty that the mother has and, therefore, forcing a woman to carry a child is denying her the right to self-ownership and control over her own body. As Murray Rothbard put it, “no being has a right to live, unbidden, as a parasite within or upon some person’s body.”
Because women have this right, pro-choice libertarians declare government restriction of abortion to be a violation of the non-aggression principle. To support government action against abortion would be equivalent to legislating morality and personal beliefs, a role that government should not have.
The “Personally Pro-Life But It’s Not My Business” Libertarian
This less popular view, depending on who you ask, is considered either a middle ground or a subset of the pro-choice view. (The latter position is taken by the ISideWith poll referenced earlier.) These libertarians side with the pro-choice crowd in opposing the idea that abortion is equivalent to murder (and therefore not a human rights issue) but are not supportive of it as an option they would consider for themselves.
A position unique to the libertarian sphere is the concept of evictionism, a framework put forth by Walter Block and Roy Whitehead. Evictionism acts as a compromise to the debate by separating abortion into two parts: eviction (removing the fetus from the womb) and murder.
Block and Whitehead argue that a woman has the right to evict the fetus, but not to terminate it if it’s possible for the fetus to exist outside the womb with the help of medical technology. They point out that as technology advances, the point at which a fetus can exist outside the womb will inch closer to earlier stages of development, and thus the earlier the limit on abortions will be placed.
Because of the fundamental differences in beliefs about the human rights of the fetus, both positions can be justified from a libertarian perspective. For the foreseeable future, this is one issue that libertarians will remain strongly divided on.