Pro-life Libertarianism is Better Than the Texas Abortion Law

The State of Texas has thrown the US Supreme Court a curve ball with their new anti-abortion law. They’ve succesfully circumvented Roe v Wade by allowing citizen enforcement through civil suits. To be clear, abortion is still not criminal in Texas. But, the risk of obtaining abortion now includes the potential for civil damages. While many conservative pro-lifers see this and other anti-abortion laws as wins for the unborn, it raises libertarian questions about the conventional abortion debate.

Pro-life Libertarianism is Better Than the Texas Abortion Law

For most Americans, abortion is still seen only as a necessary evil. They recognize abortion is often the culmination of compounding problems. Christians have been ensnared in the left-right pendulum swing on this issue. They end up torn and choose to “lean” one way or the other. This apparent intractability even led the Libertarian Party platform to ambiguity on abortion.

Is there no way forward? Or are we actually standing on the precipice of real solutions to this contentious issue? Unlike the Libertarian Party, philosophical libertarianism suggests the latter.

What is the goal of conventional pro-life laws?

I asked this question in a debate I had at the Soho Forum in New York City in December 2019. Is the goal to save lives, or to prosecute women? The Texas law attempts to save lives by penalizing abortive intent. But a real consequence of this could be use of legal coercion, or blackmail. Current criminal law isn’t much better. Criminal prosecution can only take place after the crime has occurred. It incentivizes “not getting caught.”

Studies show our justice system doesn’t produce the deterrent effect it claims. Criminalizing intent to abort leads only to a draconian world of pre-crime. That’s not a good answer either. Criminalization cannot end the practice of abortion. And the conventional pro-life strategy results in regulating an industry they claim to not want.

The only way to end the practice of abortion, is to mitigate economic demand for it. Women seeking abortion must voluntarily choose life-affirming options. Parliamentary tricks to subvert the Supreme Court won’t change the felt need for abortion services. The one person standing between the fetus and the rest of the world is the woman. So she matters.

Libertarianism is based on the idea that human rights are absolute. This was the clarion call of classical liberals (and Christians) such as John Locke and Mary Wollstonecraft. And Christianity acknowledges this through civil and moral prohibitions of murder, theft, and enslavement. (See Ex. 20:13, 15; 21:16; Deut. 5:17, 19; 1 Tim 1:9-10).

Conflict on the abortion issue exists for two reasons:

  1. Americans compromise on human rights
  2. The motivations of both sides are seen as diametrically opposed.

What has been the consequence? Judicial malfeasance of sexual crimes against women and children, and perpetuating poverty and medical paternalism.

Pro-life Libertarianism breaks the abortion stalemate in three ways

  1. Absolutizing human rights,
  2. True justice for sexual crimes,
  3. Leveraging market forces to end the practice of abortion through persuasion, not coercion.

The libertarian principle of self-ownership is the idea that no one has a higher claim on you than you have on yourself. Christians sometimes balk at the idea we “own” ourselves. After all, 1 Cor 6:19-20 reminds us we “are not (our) own [but] are bought with a price.”

In relation to God, we are only self-stewards; in relation to others, however, we are self-owners. I write more about this objection in my review of You Are Not Your Own, by Alan Noble.  Both our self-stewardship before God and self-ownership before others establishes our human rights. In other words, our rights do not come to us through any other human being, nor through the state.

Absolutizing human rights with self-ownership

Christian libertarians contend self-ownership begins when the process of conception is complete. This is roughly three days after fertilization. At this time, the human zygote is “autonomous and self-organizing,” the necessary precursors of self-ownership.

Many of those who lean pro-choice get nervous here. History has shown us that women’s rights have been anything but absolute. The closest we’ve ever come is control of our reproduction. The problem is abortion cannot be a reproductive right. Abortion is an act of violence taken against fetal self-ownership. By absolutizing fetal rights, however, we absolutize women’s rights and disambiguate reproductive rights. Which brings me to point two.

In terms of self-ownership, women own something particularly unique. We own a means of production; that is, the ability to produce new humans. Entailed in our self-ownership is our agency. Women have a right to choose whether they’ll use their body to produce new humans. But her right to avoid producing a new human is naturally limited when a new human is produced inside her.

A woman bears the greater cost in reproduction. Which means contraceptive failure is a greater risk to her. This is nonetheless her choice. This choice necessarily involves assuming her own risks. Action is the manifestation of a woman’s agency, and her agency is paramount.

The pro-choice error is supposing women have a right to choose which humans will be born. This implies human rights are contingent on our mother’s altruism; our mother choosing to recognize (or not) our human rights. That’s matriarchy and is just as evil as patriarchy. We are free to choose, but we are not free from the consequences of our choices. So we must calculate our risks and act accordingly.

But what happens when women are victims of sexual violence?

True justice for sexual violence

Current definitions of rape fail to grasp the self-ownership of the woman. The libertarian principle of self-ownership reveals what the crime of rape actually entails:

  • Rape denies a woman’s self-ownership,
  • Seizes control of her means of production,
  • Denies a woman’s determination and power to control her body, her associations, and assume her own risks,
  • Imposes all intended and unintended consequences on her,
  • dehumanizes her since the consequence of the trauma causes her to behave more from impulse, instinct, and reflex.

Essentially, rape is the individual manifestation of war. 

We’ve been told these are reasons why abortion is ultimately necessary. But these are actually the rights violations by the rapist.

Abortion is crumbs from the table of justice. Presenting abortion as the necessary remedy for rape, diminishes the crime of rape. It’s the rapist’s use of force at play when a woman carries an unwanted fetus from rape. It’s the rapist restricting the woman’s liberty interest. The legal principle we can deduce here, is not abortion. It’s restitution owed by the rapist to the woman and her fetus. How many women have been denied this justice for sexual violence?

A libertarian legal order demands justice for the woman; it demands the rapist pay for his crime. And it denies the illegitimate use of force, even by women. Rape is the strongest argument in favor of abortion, but it’s clear this argument results in injustice.

Matters of mothers’ life and health follow. These are pretty simple: you save the life that can be saved. But the motivation to save life and maintain good health, incentivizes us to innovate. It becomes a problem to solve, and human beings exist to solve problems. How do we solve problems? This brings me to my final point: leveraging market forces to end the practice of abortion through persuasion.

Women leverage market forces and can voluntarily end abortion now

Of course, the term ‘market forces’ often invokes the idea of Capitalism. Americans have a love/hate relationship with Capitalism. It’s even becoming the new hot button issue. Libertarians are often associated with Capitalism. But the vast majority would agree that the American iteration is problematic. This is a discussion all it’s own so I’ll recommend readers get our book, Faith Seeking Freedom: Libertarian Christian Answers to Tough Questions.

It’s important, however, to bring full circle the matter of abortion. It’s not good enough to simply argue where we draw the line on rights. That’s the more obvious part of the debate.

Many criticisms of the pro-life movement are that they don’t solve the problem of unwanted pregnancies. Pro-choicers are correct to identify this inevitable fact. To end abortion, we must deal with unwanted pregnancies. The conventional debate then devolves into questions of how to legally coerce wantedness. That’s impossible and immoral!

A woman’s right to choose goes beyond her uterus

Libertarianism doesn’t view the desire to prevent unwanted pregnancies as problematic. It may not be in a woman’s self-interest to get pregnant. We honor that! We also don’t view the desire to provide life-affirming options for unwanted pregnancies as problematic. These two desires reflect nothing more than the necessity for the division of labor between preventing unwanted pregnancies and availability of life-affirming options when they occur. Labor is divided when “people specialize in different tasks in order to produce goods and services in the first place.”

Why is this important? What a woman requires to prevent unwanted pregnancies is less about access to abortion and more about availability of life-affirming options. It’s everything from:

  • more effective forms of contraception,
  • self-defense methods, training, products, or services to protect against predators,
  • education on what abusive relationships look like and how to avoid/escape them,
  • a judicial system that recognizes the rights she has in her own body,
  • insurance plans to payout in the case of rape from unknown assailants,
  • and plenty of economic opportunities to build her own financial stability.

A freed market provides women with more life-affirming options in every aspect of life

What a woman requires for life-affirming options when unwanted pregnancies occur, is much more than available adoptive services. It’s everything from affordable food, health care, child care, education, housing, … basically all the things that go into raising a child. It might even be legal representation to escape an abusive relationship. Progressives contend this is grounds for some kind of tax-payer funded social safety net.

Libertarianism shows how a freed market does a better job of providing these things. Tax-funded programs actually make these things more expensive. This inevitably hurts the very people they’re intended to help. In the end, they’re unsustainable anyway.

Women actually make up the primary consumers and perhaps you can see why. These are only a few examples of what is necessary for women to prevent and respond to unwanted pregnancies. When we look at the whole picture, we find abortion is a small piece of the puzzle.

Economies thrive and prosper when women are free!

The nature of  innovation is to provide higher quality, less expensive, safer, and more effective goods and services. We actually persuade women to voluntarily choose to end the practice of abortion, by leveraging these market forces. It’s the regulation offered by consumers – by women – that drives innovation.

When the government cuts off our regulatory power through economic interventions, they are essentially taking our agency from us. Women are already familiar with this in the form of medical paternalism. Economic freedom results in eliminating the lower quality, more expensive, less safe, and even archaic goods and services. One of those could be abortion services.

We actually have it within our power to ensure the bodily autonomy, agency, security, and prosperity of women by absolutizing fetal rights.

And we save babies in the process!

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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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