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Libertarian perspectives on abortion

Libertarians promote individual liberty and seek to minimize the role of the state. The abortion debate is mainly within right-libertarianism between cultural liberals and cultural conservatives as left-libertarians generally see it as a non-issue as they 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] Libertarian conservatives claim libertarian principles such as the non-aggression principle apply to human beings from conception and that the universal right to life applies to fetuses in the womb. Thus, some of those individuals express opposition to legal abortion.[3]


Support for legal abortionEdit

Russian-American novelist Ayn Rand argued that the notion of a fetus's 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] She also wrote: "Abortion is a moral right—which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered".[4]

Anarcho-capitalist philosopher and Austrian school economist 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, explaining the right of the woman to "eject the fetus from her body", Rothbard also wrote that "every baby as soon as it is born and is therefore no longer contained within his mother's body possesses the right of self-ownership by virtue of being a separate entity and a potential adult. It must therefore be illegal and a violation of the child's rights for a parent to aggress against his person by mutilating, torturing, murdering him, etc."[7] Rothbard also opposed all federal interference with the right of local governments to fashion their own laws, so he opposed the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. He believed that states should be able to author their own abortion policies.[8] 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".[9]

19th-century individualist anarchist Benjamin Tucker initially concluded that no one should interfere to prevent neglect of the child, although they could still repress a positive invasion. However, Tucker, having reconsidered his opinion, resolved that parental cruelty is of non-invasive character and therefore is not to be prohibited. Tucker's opinion is grounded on the fact that he viewed the child as the property of the mother while in the womb and until the time of their emancipation (at the age of being able to contract and provide for themselves) unless the mother had disposed of the fruit of her womb by contract. In the meantime, Tucker recognized the right of the mother to dispose of her property as she sees it fit. According to Tucker's logic, "the outsider who uses force upon the child invades, not the child, but its mother, and may be rightfully punished for doing so".[10][11]

Walter Block, Rothbardian writer and 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.[12]

In "The Right to Abortion: A Libertarian Defense", the Association of Libertarian Feminists 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".[13]

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.[14][15]

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

Harry Browne, the Libertarian Party candidate for President in 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".[16]

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 fewer, 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".[17] The party's 2012 presidential candidate Gary Johnson wanted to keep abortion legal.[18]

U.S. Libertarian Party national platformEdit

The official position of the United States Libertarian Party is unconditionally pro-choice, admitting no legal restriction on abortion for any reason, by any method, or at any stage of gestation. Its 2012 political platform 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."[19]

Other organizationsEdit

Other pro-choice libertarian organizations include the Association of Libertarian Feminists and Pro-Choice Libertarians.[20][21]

Opposition to legal abortionEdit

The pro-life libertarian 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. Doris Gordon of the group notes that the principles of both the 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]

Anti-abortion political officialsEdit

Pro-life Libertarian and former Republican congressman 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.[22]

His main position calls for overturning Roe v. Wade and letting the states decide the issue. Ron Paul's 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".[23] In 2008, the Libertarian Party candidate for President was Bob Barr who has called abortion "murder" and opposed legalized abortion.[24]


  1. ^
    • Doug Bandow, The politics of envy: statism as theology, p. 280, Transaction Publishers, 1994 ISBN 1-56000-171-2, ISBN 978-1-56000-171-3 Quote: "the majority of libertarians are pro-choice"...
    • Marc Jason Gilbert, The Vietnam War on campus: other voices, more distant drums, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001, p 35 ISBN 0-275-96909-6, ISBN 978-0-275-96909-7 Quote: "On the whole, however, centrist and conservative libertarians usually espoused expected libertarian views on such issues as abortion, where the individual's right to be free from coercion by others (either individuals or the state) too precedent over questions of morality or religion."
    • George F. Johnston, Abortion from the religious and moral perspective: an annotated bibliography, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003 page 160, ISBN 0-313-31402-0, ISBN 978-0-313-31402-5 Quote: "Most Libertarians, on the grounds that a woman has the right to control her own body, support legalized abortion."
    • John Micklethwait, Adrian Wooldridge, The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, Penguin, 2004, p. 252 ISBN 1-59420-020-3, ISBN 978-1-59420-020-5 Quote: “Libertarians support abortion as part of their general support for individual rights.”
    • Charles W. Dunn, J. David Woodard, American conservatism from Burke to Bush: an introduction, Madison Books, 1991, p 41, ISBN 0-8191-8069-6, ISBN 978-0-8191-8069-8 Quote: "...libertarians would say that the government should not regulate abortion since that is a personal matter."
    • Mary Ruwart, Ask Dr. Ruwart column, formerly available at Advocates for Self Government website. Quote: "The predominant 'pro-choice' viewpoint, as expressed in the current version of the Libertarian Party platform, is backed by principled arguments as well. Libertarians believe that no one should be enslaved to support another, including a pregnant woman 'enslaved' to carry a fetus she does not want. A woman's body is her property, to do with as she wishes."
  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. Also see: McElroy, Wendy (2002). Liberty for Women. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee. p. 156. ISBN 978-1566634359. OCLC 260069067. Libertarians for Life declare that abortion is not a right but a 'wrong under justice.'
  4. ^ a b 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. ^ Rothbard, Murray. "Children and Rights". The Ethics of Liberty. pp. [1].
  8. ^ "Making Economic Sense". Retrieved 2014-08-18.
  9. ^ "The Religious Right: Toward A Coalition". Retrieved 2014-08-18.
  10. ^ Watner, Carl (March 1975). "Spooner vs. Liberty". Originally published at The Libertarian Forum. 7 (3).
  11. ^ Watner, Carl (March 1975). "Spooner vs. Liberty". The Complete Libertarian Forum 1969–1984, vol. 1, pp. 2810–20. Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2006. ePub edition. Originally published at The Libertarian Forum. 7 (3).
  12. ^
  13. ^ Sharon Presley and Robert Cooke, "The Right to Abortion: A Libertarian Defense, Association of Libertarian Feminists web site, 2003.
  14. ^ Abortion is Pro Life at Capitalism Magazine's site Archived March 5, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ See also Leonard Peikoff, Abortion Rights are Pro-Life at Capitalism Magazine, January 23, 2003.
  16. ^ Harry Browne, The Libertarian stand on abortion, Harry Browne personal web page, December 21, 1998.
  17. ^ Michael Badnarik on Abortion, voters guide 2004.
  18. ^ Libertarian gets on Minn. ballot for president, Associated Press, August 24, 2012.
  19. ^ From the founding of the party until 2008 there were explicit pro choice planks in the platfoms with the original 1972 platform only explicitly opposing restrictions on the first hundred days of pregnancy but in 1974 the words “the first hundred days” was dropped to just say ”We further support the repeal of all laws restricting voluntary birth control or the right of the woman to make a personal moral choice regarding the termination of pregnancy“ later platforms added more words to be clearer adding both the word abortion and explicitly opposing al laws requiring waiting periods consent of anyone else other than the woman etc. in 94 mention of RU 486 was mentioned by name as well as language including all other reproductive healthcare in 1996 language was added recognizing that legitimate pro life libertarian positions were a possibility but that government should not be a player on this question and in no wa should restrict or subsadize any abortion procedure in 2000 most of the explicit anti abortion prohibition language was removed but the position of keep the government out remained it has remained similar until today [2] National Platform of the Libertarian Party, 1.4 Abortion, adopted in Convention, May 2012.
  20. ^ Sharon Presley and Robert Cooke, "The Right to Abortion: A Libertarian Defense", Association of Libertarian Feminists web site, 2003 and Pro-Choice Libertarians website.
  21. ^ List of Just Some of the Reasons Libertarians Want Government out of the Abortion Issue, at
  22. ^ Ron Paul (1983). Abortion and Liberty. Foundation for Rational Economics and Education, ISBN 9780912453026. OCLC 9682249
  23. ^ Jacob Sullum, Rand Paul on Abortion, Reason Magazine, May 26, 2010.
  24. ^ Raffi Khatchadourian, The Third Man, Bob Barr's Libertarian run for the White House, The New Yorker, October 27, 2010.

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