The London Libertarian

The London Libertarian

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PhilosophyPosted by Jan Lester Mon, May 12, 2014 13:55:40

abortion Abortion is *libertarian for two separate and cogent reasons, as well as being *utilitarian: 1) though a *person in the sense of being a member of our species, the unborn human is not a person in the *morally relevant sense of intellectual development; 2) the unborn human is not *proactively imposed on when someone stops giving the gift of life-support.

1) The unborn human being, at whatever stage of development and given whatever technical label, is not a person in the intellectual-attainment sense—because not yet capable of *critical-theorizing—that is necessary to give normal human beings their peculiar moral value. It is a potential person, but then so are any sperm and ovum that could be conjoined; or even any food that could eventually be converted into a person (the *Scholastics distinguished active potential, requiring action to stop it, from passive potential, requiring action to start it; but this appears to involve the ultimately incoherent *act-omission doctrine). If it is not inherently immoral to kill a non-person, as most *animals are, then it is not inherently immoral to kill an unborn human. Neither is it inherently immoral to kill an infant not yet a person, though there might be bad social side-effects of one kind or another (such as greatly upsetting some people who might also resort to violence); it is probably best to draw a line for infanticide, erring on the side of non-personhood, maybe sometime in the first year or two after birth and always well before speech indicates personhood. And the agreement of any parents or guardians would be necessary and sufficient, as they have *property *rights in the non-person.

It might be suggested, as a reductio, that by this standard an unconscious or comatose person is only a potential person, and so morally on a par with an unborn as regards killing him. But, as long as consciousness can be recovered, it looks far more reasonable to see this as a person whose consciousness is temporarily interrupted, and so full rights remain.

2) Even if an unborn human were a person in the intellectual sense, it would not be infringing his *liberty, or negative rights, to withdraw the uncontracted-for support of the womb so that he perishes. This is merely to discontinue giving a gift. It might be suggested that, at least if it is a person, there is a (quasi-)*contract between the mother and the unborn human to bring him to term. But there is no kind of offer or acceptance of that offer (or any quid pro quo), which contracts require. There is just support given and then stopped. It is like starting and later stopping a bank order that *charitably supports someone in genuine *need; or throwing a drowning man a rope but then not pulling him all the way to safety. See *act-omission doctrine. (However, merely to abandon one’s child when he is older so that he suffers would be proactively to impose on him: we caused that suffering. So we have a *duty to ensure his continued care in some way. But that duty does not arise through contract either.)

As for utility, forcing women to bear unwanted *children cannot plausibly increase overall welfare compared to allowing them to bear children when they wish to do so.

People who accept *religion, are particularly likely to deny either or both of 1 (insisting, or merely presupposing, that human beings cannot conceptually or practically be separated from intellectual personhood) or 2 (insisting, or merely presupposing, that there is some kind of contract to support the unborn that is created by its mother, and possibly father too; or that to fail to support is here somehow equivalent to killing). What they often also believe, is that the unborn has a personal soul that has been called into existence, and so the unborn cannot morally be killed or even abandoned. In such cases, this underlying metaphysical belief is what has to be criticized.

If people feel strongly that abortion is murder, then they can choose to live in *private-property areas, or join any private *organization, where abortions are contractually proscribed on pain of whatever penalties they wish (including a no-opting-out clause if they want it: see *specific performance).

However, what we do to the unborn where they later go on to become persons can proactively impose in the same way that what we do to children can (see *age of consent; *circumcision, infibulation, etc. of children). Though the outcomes to the child be the same, there is a crucial causal and moral difference between *proactively imposing a *cost (which is unlibertarian) and merely withholding a benefit (which is libertarian); but which is which is less clear with an unborn because it is both dependent and a potential person.

On a related issue, where the man provides his sperm freely and without contract during sexual intercourse, he cannot have any rights concerning the unborn. And in the same way, a woman who freely chooses to risk unprotected or imperfectly protected sex without a contract does not have any rightful claims over the man if she becomes pregnant. To gain any such rights a contract is required.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

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