L. Neil Smith's
Freedom to Abort: NO!
by W. James Antle III
Exclusive to TLE
Among libertarians it is axiomatic that freedom does not empower people to violate others' rights. To dispute this premise is to effectively disavow the existence of freedom in any meaningful sense; freedom at that point simply becomes a noble-sounding word used to say might makes right.
Nevertheless, this flawed definition of freedom often intrudes in libertarian discussions of abortion. This is in no small part reinforced by many abortion opponents' reluctance to discuss the freedom issue, preferring instead to argue that abortion should be prohibited because it is immoral. Yet the immorality of an action does not offer sufficient grounds to prohibit it by law. Abortion is to be opposed not simply because it violates certain moral codes, but because it constitutes an initiation of force. It is the deliberate destruction of a pre-born child.
Pro-choice libertarians frequently reject the phrase "pre-born child" as a contradiction in terms. Yet nothing comes into being at birth that did not already exist. At conception, a being comes into existence that is both alive and by definition a member of the human species, with 46 chromosomes (plus or minus in cases of certain genetic abnormalities such as Down's syndrome). This being is genetically distinct from its mother, with an independent genetic code and is growing and developing by virtue of its own direction. A pre- born child is dependent on its mother, but is not a part of her and is growing and developing in the direction of a mature human being, unless that process is interrupted thereby ending the developing life of that human being. Conception marks the beginning of the continuum of each individual's development as a human being.
To avoid this inescapable biological reality, pro-choice advocates raise questions about "fetal personhood." It is ironic that pro- lifers are often criticized as having solely religious motivations for their beliefs when the pro-choice side of the debate uses subjective philosophical and theological criteria to negate objective biological facts. From the perspective of embryology, the humanity of the being in the womb is clear. It is pro-choicers who seem inordinately concerned with such concepts as ensoulment.
Implicit in the arguments about fetal personhood is the idea that human beings possess organisms rather than exist as organisms. We do not occupy organisms; we are organisms. These arguments also assume that non-persons somehow can become persons. Libertarian writer Edwin Vieira notes, "If the change [from non-person to person] was biologically inevitable from conception, given time, then this change is not a change in essential nature." The controversy over late-term abortions is especially illustrative, as beings are terminated by these procedures at precisely the same stage of development as prematurely born babies.
Recognizing the humanity of the pre-born is not the same as saying "every sperm is sacred." Sperms and eggs are only parts of a human being that contain human life; they will not grow and develop into a more mature human organism, as the pre-born child will. The same is true of somatic cells. Each of these may contain the DNA blueprint for life, but they will not mature or develop into an individual human being on their own. Bill Westmiller was never a sperm or a skin cell, but he was an embryo. Somatic cells, like sperm and egg, can be used to generate an embryonic human being but this does not make these things part of the stages of development in the life of an individual human organism.
This new human being is brought into existence by their actions of its parents. Except in cases of rape, both parents consented behavior that resulted in conception, even if conception was not intended. This means that both parents have the obligation to support their children. We recognize this right in insisting that parents protect and financially support their born children. We do not call these aspects of parenthood "slavery." The very same obligations to this human being exist during the pregnancy, when the pre-born child has the right to be inside of its mother's body.
This isn't to minimize the burdens unwanted pregnancy can impose, or to ignore that this is an obligation of far greater magnitude than will ever be expected of the father. But the fact remains that conflict brought about by unwanted pregnancy is not a conflict of rights unless brought about by non-consensual intercourse. The pre- born child was put in harm's way not with its consent, but by the consensual actions of both parents. If participation in a reproductive act imposes an obligation, this obligation must exist from the moment reproduction takes place.
This essay is only a brief beginning to discussing this complicated issue. Libertarian writer Joseph Fulda summarizes my position well: "It is not choice the abortion advocates desire, but the revocation of choice and its natural consequences."
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