has been a contentious topic in libertarian thought for some
time now. On the one hand, there are libertarians who hold any
restrictions on a right to abortion as being "akin to slavery,"
since they force a woman to have her body used to "host"
an intruder whom she wishes to be rid of. For instance, Steve
strongly pro-choice and I do believe that one can and should
find constitutional protection for the right to choose…. I think
that forcing pregnant women to carry to term is akin to slavery,
and in the same way I would not tolerate a state that permitted
slavery, I am unwilling to tolerate the banning of abortion
at the state level."
other hand, for libertarians who understand a foetus to be a
full-fledged human being, abortion represents a specific type
of murder. Whatever legal apparatus exists to protect rights,
whether that of a limited state or some non-state system, ought
to protect the life of this helpless individual and forbid abortion.
That is the position of, for instance, Ron
no way out of this impasse? I suggest there is, and will begin
my effort to indicate the direction to head with an analogy.
Imagine you are sailing your boat along at sea, minding your
own business, when you hear a noise behind you. You turn around
and find a bedraggled looking man climbing from out of the waves
onto your craft.
God you happened by!" he says. "My ship sank, and
I’ve been clinging to the mast for a day now. I had almost given
solemnly at him, walk across the deck, pick him up, and throw
him back in the ocean. "You see," you explain to an
imagined audience of shocked onlookers, "he was trespassing.
I came out here for some solitude, and the idea that now I’m
compelled to accommodate him makes me into kind of a slave,
people's view and in most legal regimes, this justification
is pathetic and you are guilty of murder. And I think that verdict
is correct. (I realize some libertarians may disagree, and my
argument may be unconvincing to them.) But what of your complaint
that you are being enslaved by being forced to take this unwelcome
that you cannot toss the man off your ship does not compel you
to go anywhere you were not going before. If the interloper
says he would really prefer to be let off in Boston rather than
your destination of New York, you can tell him to bugger off.
Most importantly, you are not compelled to keep the man aboard
one moment longer than is necessary to get him to safety. At
the first moment you reach a populated land, your responsibility
for the man’s fate ends. Yes, you are inconvenienced, but that
is all – and in a decent society, when you are in a unique position
for being able to save someone’s life at the cost of a minor
inconvenience to yourself, you are obliged to do so.
that the analogy to abortion is straightforward. A woman may
not have meant to have "picked up" the passenger she
is carrying and might find his presence annoying, inconvenient,
etc. However, it is certainly not the passenger’s fault he finds
himself there, and he has committed no tort against her. To
deliberately kill him is just as much an act of murder as your
tossing the shipwreck victim back into the sea – in fact, the
position of the foetus is stronger than that of the shipwreck,
because the shipwreck had to purposefully crawl aboard the ship,
while the foetus found itself there willy-nilly.). On the other
hand, once the woman can "put ashore" the foetus,
she can ethically rid herself of the unwanted burden.
as I see it, the ethical way to end an unwanted pregnancy is
to deliver the baby at the first moment it is likely to be viable,
and place it up for adoption. This may seem burdensome, but
advances in medical technology are pushing that "first
moment" back earlier and earlier, so that soon it will
approach the initial detection of the pregnancy itself. It won’t
be long before a foetus can quickly and easily be relocated
in an artificial womb of some sort, or the womb of a willing
mother. Once that happens, what excuse will there be for killing
the child? The woman may complain that this still leaves her
with the perhaps unsettling knowledge that she has a biological
child somewhere, one whom she doesn’t know. Not to diminish
the true unease that may cause, but I think it pales compared
to the distress caused by being chopped up inside a womb.