THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 169, April 15, 2002
Freedom to Abort? NO! (Closing)
by W. James Antle III
Exclusive to TLE
The inviolability of the individual is central to libertarianism. True libertarians agree that each individual owns their own body. The abortion issue highlights a controversy between those who believe this self-ownership gives a woman dominion over the body of the pre-born child and those who don't.
Whether this child comes into being as a result of the union of sperm and egg or through the use of cells from the human body through cloning, a fundamental change takes place where the components necessary for human life produce a specific physical organism that is a member of the human species. Quickening, religious concepts such as ensoulment and other commonly cited criteria for the beginning of human life are insufficient. The real question is this: When does a new, defined physical organism that is human come into existence? That specific physical organism is an individual going through the stages of development that constitutes the continuum that is human life.
The answer to this question must be objective, for subjective definitions do not offer an adequate guarantee of either individuality or rights. Mr. Westmiller has ably made the case for "personhood" being necessary for rights rather than simple humanity. The problem with his arguments is that his standards for "personhood" do not apply even to all born human beings. While a compelling moral argument can be made about the uniqueness of the human species based on reason, it does not offer an actual definition. Indeed, subjectively defining personhood in the way Mr. Westmiller proposes raises implications for individual rights -- if reason defines personhood, why then do people with superior mental abilities not have a greater claim to individual rights and those with lesser abilities a lesser claim? Or is there some base use of mental faculties required for the presence of rights?
At the embryonic stage, we have a specific self-integrated physical organism that, if its development is uninterrupted, will develop into something we would all recognize as a person. On their own, sperm, somatic cells and other components necessary for the creation of this unique organism do not posses this capability. If a person washes their hair or even masturbates in the shower, the dandruff or sperm they wash down the drain might be something that could have been used to create a human life. But no specific physical organism that is a complete member of the human species is washed down the drain.
Mr. Westmiller's arguments about the logical consequences of ascribing rights to a pre-born child -- a "pregnancy police" to regulate women, the execution of women seeking abortions and banning birth control, etc. -- would require a full rebuttal of their own. Suffice it to say for this discussion that denying the existence of a right to destroy a pre-born child does not logically require one to endorse any of the above and in fact most pro-lifers don't. Moreover, many of Mr. Westmiller's concerns did not come to pass when abortion was proscribed in the United States or where it is proscribed now.
A right to control one's own body does not confer a right to willfully participate in acts known to result in the creation of a new human organism without its consent and then destroy that organism solely for convenience. Responsibility is not enslavement and the deliberate destruction of an innocent human being is not a right.
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