THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 168, April 8, 2002
Freedom to Abort: A Rebuttal to William Westmiller
by W. James Antle III
Exclusive to TLE
From the libertarian perspective, the abortion debate's conclusion must be dictated by the nature of the fetus. If we are dealing with a pre-born child, an individual with inherent rights, abortion constitutes the initiation of force. If we are dealing with something biologically equivalent to dandruff, stopping an abortion initiates force.
Mr. Westmiller confuses the potentiality of somatic cells with that of the child created by conception. The various cells from the human body have no capacity to develop into human beings on their own, they can only do so through cloning. In cloning, somatic cells perform a function analogous to that of sperm and egg in sexual reproduction. Neither by themselves constitutes the complete, distinct human organism that comes to being at conception. This being will on its own naturally develop into a mature human organism that will become an infant, toddler, child, adolescent and adult if this continuum is not interrupted. This cannot be said of somatic cells or sperm. These may contain characteristics of human life, but only the embryo that results from conception is a self-integrating, individual human organism.
An infant is not yet capable of forming abstract concepts, applying logic, or otherwise using reason. Neither are some born human beings with severe mental disabilities. Are we to assume that they are not "persons?" The development of these capacities will naturally continue after birth, and this development process begins before birth. The formation of the pre-born child's brain and central nervous system begins during the first trimester and the full capacities of these systems are not utilized at birth and continue to mature long afterward.
The assertion that human birth is "a seminal event" cannot be supported. There is no fundamental change in the nature of the physical organism located in the womb that takes place prior to it leaving, other than its convenient separation from the mother. Biologically, this physical organism does not differ significantly the day before its birth. Consider premature babies and babies who are inadvertently delivered in failed abortion attempts -- they are developmentally no different than they were in the womb. They are individual human beings. It is conception, not birth, which creates the new, fundamentally different, physical organism. That being remains the same physical organism at birth and all throughout life.
The child has an independent genetic code from its mother, is half the time a different sex and develops own its own, even in the womb. Biologically, it is not a parasite -- it usually does the mother no harm and is the same species as the mother, just to give brief examples. Conception, except in cases of rape, is the result of consensual activity between the mother and father. The activity resulting in conception is what is understood to impose parental obligations on the mother and father; allowing the child to continue in the womb until viability is a logical and necessary extension of this obligation. Societies that have recognized this in law have never experienced the dire legal contradictions that Mr. Westmiller predicts.
To invoke a woman's self-ownership to justify abortion is invalid. If I invite someone to take a flight on a plane I own, I do not have the right to eject them at 30,000 feet in the air simply because the plane is my property. And unlike the pre-born child, my passenger consented to the trip.
Forbidding the destruction of an individual human being is not slavery. It is recognition that rights cannot exist in a free society unless they will be mutually respected by the weak and the strong.