Libertarian perspectives on abortion

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Libertarians promote individual liberty and seek to minimize the role of the state. The majority of libertarians support legal access to abortion as part of their general support for individual rights, especially in regard to what they consider to be a woman's right to control her body.[1] Religious right and intellectual conservatives have attacked such libertarians for supporting abortion rights, especially since the demise of the Soviet Union.[2] Other libertarians claim libertarian principles such as the non-aggression principle apply to human beings from conception, and that the right to life thus applies to fetuses. Some of those individuals express opposition to legal abortion.[3]

Support for legal abortion[edit]

Philosopher Ayn Rand argued that the notion of a fetus having a right to life is "vicious nonsense" and stated, "An embryo has no rights... a child cannot acquire any rights until it is born."[4]

Philosopher Murray Rothbard[5] wrote that "no being has a right to live, unbidden, as a parasite within or upon some person's body" and that therefore the woman is entitled to eject the fetus from her body at any time.[6] However, Rothbard also opposed all federal interference with the right of local governments to fashion their own laws, so he opposed the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. He believed that states should be able to author their own abortion policies.[7] He also opposed taxpayer funding for abortion clinics, writing "it is peculiarly monstrous to force those who abhor abortion as murder to pay for such murders."[8]

Dr. Walter Block, professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans, provides an alternative to the standard choice between "pro-life" and "pro-choice" which he terms "evictionism". According to this moral theory, the act of abortion must be conceptually separated into the acts of (a) eviction of the fetus from the womb; and (b) killing the fetus. Building on the libertarian stand against trespass and murder, Block supports a right to the first act, but, except in certain circumstances, not the second act. He believes the woman may legally abort if (a) the fetus is not viable outside the womb; or (b) the woman has announced to the world her abandonment of the right to custody of the fetus, and (c) no one else has "homesteaded" that right by offering to care for the fetus.[9]

In "The Right to Abortion: A Libertarian Defense," the Association of Libertarian Feminists has created what they call a "systematic philosophical defense of the moral case for abortion from a libertarian perspective." It concludes: "To sacrifice existing persons for the sake of future generations, whether in slave labor camps for the utopian nightmares of Marxists or fascists, or in unwanted pregnancies, compulsory childbearing, and furtive coat hanger abortions for the edification of fetus-worshippers, is to establish hell on earth."[10]

Capitalism Magazine supports the pro-choice position, writing:

A fetus does not have a right to be in the womb of any woman, but is there by her permission. This permission may be revoked by the woman at any time, because her womb is part of her body... There is no such thing as the right to live inside the body of another, i.e. there is no right to enslave... a woman is not a breeding pig owned by the state (or church). Even if a fetus were developed to the point of surviving as an independent being outside the pregnant woman's womb, the fetus would still not have the right to be inside the woman's womb.[11][12]

Libertarians at the November 12, 1989 pro-choice march in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Libertarian Party political platform (2012) states: "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."[13]

Harry Browne, the Libertarian Party candidate for President for 1996 and 2000, rejected the terms pro-life and pro-choice and stated about abortion: "Whatever we believe abortion is, we know one thing: government doesn't work, and it is as incapable of eliminating abortions as it is of eliminating poverty or drugs."[14]

The Libertarian Party's 2004 presidential candidate Michael Badnarik had a similar position, writing: "I oppose government control over the abortion issue. I believe that giving the government control of this issue could lead to more abortions rather than less, because the left-right pendulum of power swings back and forth. This shift could place the power to set policy in the hands of those who demand strict population control. The government that can ban abortion can just as easily mandate abortion, as is currently the case in China."[15] The party's 2012 presidential candidate Gary Johnson supports "a woman's right to choose up until the point of viability"[16] and wants to keep abortion legal.[17]

The Pro-Choice Libertarians group lists some of the reasons libertarians may oppose government involvement in the abortion issue based on various views of morality, rights of the mother and the fetus, the proper role of government.[18]

Opposition to legal abortion[edit]

The group Libertarians for Life argues that humans in the zygotic, embryonic, and fetal stages of development have the same rights as humans in the neonatal stage and beyond. The organization notes that the principles of both the U.S. Libertarian Party and Objectivist ethics require some obligation to children and counter with an appeal to the non-aggression principle:

Non-aggression is an ongoing obligation: it is never optional for anyone, even pregnant women. If the non-aggression obligation did not apply, then earning money versus stealing it and consensual sex versus rape would be morally indifferent behaviors. The obligation not to aggress is pre-political and pre-legal. It does not arise out of contract, agreement, or the law; rather, such devices presuppose this obligation. The obligation would exist even in a state of nature. This is because the obligation comes with our human nature, and we acquire this nature at conception.[3]

Arguments have also been made reconciling the apparent conflict between the rights of the women and rights of the child (the woman has the right to abort her child and the child has the right to life) by invoking responsibility; libertarians believe you can take risk, but assume the responsibility for that risk. If you have sex and get pregnant it is not the woman's right to abort her child, but her responsibility to provide care. A clear example for would be skydiving; with such an act there is a calculated risk of performing such an act and in the same way there is a calculated risk of having sex. The way that both parents (the father) would be held accountable would be through child support.[citation needed]

Furthermore, in line with the non-aggression principle, the non-aggression principle says that you have to pay for damages that you cause. If you break a window you have to pay to replace that window in a libertarian world, and in the same way since you brought the child into dependence to you you have to provide child care. You are not obligated to provide child care to other peoples children, because you did not bring them into dependence to you, but to the child you conceived.[citation needed]

Other arguments have been made down the line of if you look at history and you will see that a low value of human life and totalitarian states run parallel and that is no coincidence (Hitler would be a perfect historical example). Countries that value liberty value human life, because you can not be free unless you are living, and that one of the purposes of government is to protect life. Likewise, if you look at least in America and see abortion and euthanasia increasing you see a decrease in liberty. Pro-life Libertarian Ron Paul says in "Abortion and Liberty":

It’s no coincidence that today’s argument over abortion comes at a time when freedom in general is threatened in the United States, as well as in other Western countries. Nor was it accidental that genocide, abortion, and euthanasia were all practiced under Hitler, and that all three characterize totalitarian states. Even today, Communist governments vary their positions on abortion strictly on economic calculations of whether more or fewer slaves are needed.

Ron Paul calls for overturning Roe v. Wade and letting the states decide the issue. His son, Republican Senator Rand Paul, calls himself "totally pro-life" and supports "any and all legislation that would end abortion or lead us in the direction of ending abortion."[19] In 2008, the Libertarian Party candidate for president was Bob Barr who has called abortion "murder" and opposed legalized abortion.[20][21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ David Boaz, The Politics of Freedom: Taking on the Left, the Right, and Threats to Our Liberties, Cato Institute, 2008 ISBN 1-933995-14-9, ISBN 978-1-933995-14-4 page 3
  3. ^ a b Doris Gordon (1995, 1999). "Abortion and Rights: Applying Libertarian Principles Correctly". Libertarians for Life. 
  4. ^ Ayn Rand, The Voice of Reason excerpted at Ayn Rand Lexicon entry on Abortion.
  5. ^ "Literature of liberty," Cato Institute, v. 4, p. 12, 1981.
  6. ^ Rothbard, Murray. "Personal Liberty". For a New Liberty. pp. 131–132. ISBN 0-930073-02-9. 
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Sharon Presley and Robert Cooke, "The Right to Abortion: A Libertarian Defense, Association of Libertarian Feminists web site, 2003.
  11. ^ Abortion is Pro Life at Capitalism Magazine's site
  12. ^ See also Leonard Peikoff, Abortion Rights are Pro-Life at Capitalism Magazine, January 23, 2003.
  13. ^ National Platform of the Libertarian Party, 1.4 Abortion, adopted in Convention, May 2012.
  14. ^ Harry Browne, The Libertarian stand on abortion, Harry Browne personal web page, December 21, 1998.
  15. ^ Michael Badnarik on Abortion, voters guide 2004.
  16. ^ Gary Johnson on Choice,
  17. ^ Libertarian gets on Minn. ballot for president, Associated Press, August 24, 2012.
  18. ^ List of Just Some of the Reasons Libertarians Want Government out of the Abortion Issue, at
  19. ^ Jacob Sullum, Rand Paul on Abortion, Reason Magazine, May 26, 2010.
  20. ^ Leo Standora and Michelle Caruso, Flynt: Georgia Senator Ducked Sex Queries, New York Daily News, January 12, 1999.
  21. ^ Raffi Khatchadourian, The Third Man, Bob Barr’s Libertarian run for the White House, The New Yorker, October 27, 2010.

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