Abortion Debate: Kerry Baldwin and Dr. Walter Block

The abortion issue has held a prominent position in legislative policy this year. From New York passing up-to-birth abortion and New Mexico nearly criminalizing doctors who don’t perform abortions, (the bill ultimately failed) to Alabama and Ohio successfully passing heart-beat bill bans on abortion. Mainstream news is (finally) reporting the necessity of fetal tissue use in vaccines. (Yet another volatile debate). Pro-abortion advocates fear the dystopian Handmade’s Tale may come to pass, and anti-abortion advocates fear the wrath of God will be poured out on America for “national sin.”

Can you feel tensions rising?

Though libertarians disagree on this issue, we tend to have a better grasp on how to deal with it. We know that our rights are based in self-ownership and property rights, but how do these apply to children and more to the point, how do they apply (or not) to the fetus in the womb?

If you’ve been around libertarianism long enough you’ve probably heard of Dr. Walter Block and his “principled compromise” on his concept known as evictionism. He’s suggested that abortion is a complex action of eviction plus killing, and that a woman has a right to evict, but not kill where the fetus is viable outside the womb. He concedes that the fetus has the rights of a self-owner but that it qualifies as a trespasser, and thus the woman is no more obligated to provide life support than a trespasser of any other property. But, he argues, that where eviction can’t avoid killing (eg. abortion), then the act of killing is well within the libertarian idea of a proportional response.

I disagree with Dr. Block in the following ways:

  1. The fetus cannot be legitimately categorized as a trespasser.
  2. Even if the fetus can be legitimately categorized as a trespasser, abortion violates the libertarian concept of a proportional response. (eg. You can only use deadly force in response to a threat on your life. Inconvenience is not legitimate grounds for use of deadly force.)
  3. Rothbardian property rights provides for limited positive rights of the fetus against the mother (which in turn disallows legal abortion from conception except where the mother’s life is threatened).
  4. The existence of rape doesn’t require a legal exception for abortion/eviction, bar none, and actually undermines justice for the woman.

You can listen to my current episodes on abortion here:

Dr. Block and I are actually going to debate this!

On December 8, 2019, The Soho Forum is hosting a live, Oxford-style debate between Dr. Block and me on this issue.

I’m really excited about this opportunity, and many of my podcast listeners are also quite eager to hear this debate. What’s unique about this debate is that we’re not arguing from ethics. So far as I have ever seen, no philosophical argument against abortion has ever been made without invoking ethics. In fact, this approach often breaks down when it comes to cases of rape because prolife ethicists are left with either requiring an ethical duty on women beyond mere personal responsibility (hence the fear of the Handmaid’s Tale), or their exception for rape makes an inconsistent argument. The question at stake in this debate is not a strictly moral one. Rather it’s concerning only the legal question of civil justice and the legitimate use of coercion.

I do want to say that Dr. Block and I essentially agree that a free market will produce the best conditions to end the practice of abortion. Neither one of us are suggesting that legal prohibition of abortion will “solve” the abortion problem. The legal argument is merely one facet and one that must be settled if we’re going to speak about abortion in terms of rights.

If you are in the NYC area, you can purchase tickets to see this debate, which will be held at the SubCulture Theater in downtown Manhattan at 3:00 pm on Sunday Dec. 8. It will also be recorded and published online courtesy of Reason Foundation.

If you’re tired of the old, worn-out arguments over abortion, then you don’t want to miss this debate.

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B.A. Philosophy, Arizona State University. My writing focuses on libertarian philosophy and reformed theology and aimed at the educated layperson. I am a confessionally Reformed Christian orthodox Presbyterian in the tradition of J. Gresham Machen (1881 – 1937)
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