Sunday, September 07, 2008

Libertarian and Pro-Life

Henry Neufeld argues that although abortion is morally wrong, it should not necessarily be illegal. He quite prudently argues that a society may not effectively combat a vice merely by criminalizing it:

This is a position that I believe is logically flawed. I hear it expressed repeatedly. There is an unstated assumption in there, that “making something illegal” is always the best way to attempt to put a stop to it or reduce its incidence.

Murder is illegal, and yet it happens every day. The sale and use of quite a number of drugs are illegal, yet we have one of the worst drug problems in the world here in this country where we are purportedly fighting a drug war. I could cite many examples, including the fact that speeding is also illegal, yet it happens more often than not on most roads here in my own county.

Henry notes that the purpose of his post is not to lay out a case for legalized abortion, but to point out the fallacious reasoning of the automatic criminalization of socially undesirable activities. But I shall, however, use the opportunity to briefly explain why I am both libertarian and pro-life, and how the two positions are not in contradiction.

I take, as a given proposition for public policy, that human life begins at conception. Of course, defining precisely what is human life is a highly nebulous process. It's hard to argue that a two-celled zygote is as human as you and me. On the other hand, a seven-month old fetus is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, fully human. Of course, I've made this distinction without even defining human life -- a philosophical project that I could not even begin to undertake.

Is a minute-old zygote a human being? Is a baby in contraction a human being? The answer is probably somewhere in between. But as a matter of public policy, I'm unwilling to take the risk that the zygote is human and participate in a massive genocide of innocent human life.

As a libertarian, I should reflexively risk the consequences of unrestrained liberty. Henry points out that laws against abortion restrict a person's control over his/her own body, just as drug laws do. But when one person's liberty imposes on another's, the greater imposition is the more unjust. A woman may be inconvenienced by a pregnancy, and even be put as physical risk. But the child dies. Surely that is the greater harm. No one has a right to avoid inconvenience or even medical trauma at the expense of another innocent human life. And a fetus isn't simply a part of another human being; it is a human being itself and therefore deserves human rights.

The state has, at a minimum, three basic functions: protect people from invasion, protect people from violence, and enforce contracts. Abortion is violence against a human life, and therefore restricting it is a legitimate function of the state. And I make this conclusion even with my uncertainty about the definition of human life because the likelihood that a fetus is human is so high, and the moral cost to society for permitting it so horrible, that state intervention to prevent is justified.

41 comments:

Earl said...

Thank you for this post. Sincerely. Earl.

Rev. David Garrett said...

I agree with you in principle, but history has shown that as with speeding and other outlawed activities, women will still seek abortions even if they are made illegal. How many women will die in unsterile back alleys at that hands of a butcher with a coat hanger? For that reason, I regretfully believe abortion is a necessary evil.

John said...

How many women will die in unsterile back alleys at that hands of a butcher with a coat hanger?

How many? Probably a lot.

How many babies will die in abortions? 100%

Which option does the least harm to the least number of people?

Rev. David Garrett said...

...you do realize the baby dies too?

the reverend mommy said...

I agree with you, John, on more than principle. However, I would moderate my position about an abortion when there is extreme medical risk for the mother. And I mean extreme -- not just slight medical problems, but certain death. Then it becomes a choice of saving one life or none. Part of the problem is that we can "save" a pregnancy that could or would have spontaneously aborted -- that is miscarried. I know of many cases where drug therapy and other methods were used to "save" a fetus that later had to be aborted because of extreme medical risk to the mother.

It's another place we've played God and by doing such, created another place we have to make hard ethical decisions.

And I am also ambivalent about the incest/rape thing. To not allow a woman some sort of morning after pill or D and C after a rape seems to be adding insult to injury. Some women could handle it emotionally, some not so much.

And I wonder about Rev. Garrett's argument quite a bit. I actually would like to see some statistics. I know of a woman in one of my congregations who was sterile from a back-street abortion. How different would her life had been if...?

I remember reading somewhere that if abortions after the first trimester were disallowed, it would cut down on thousands of abortions. And anyway, to disallow this would be a way of the mouse nibbling at the elephant -- wear it away a little at a time.

I cannot think about late second trimester abortions without getting physically ill -- the "remains" look so similar the the "babies" I was a chaplain for in the NICU... I cannot get anything but physically ill thinking about women who casually have MULTIPLE abortions instead of using birth control -- that abortions ARE their birth control. (I have a good friend who is a OB who has told patients like this to find another doctor ... she would ask the patient if they had had an abortion and the patient would lie ... Like the doctor wouldn't be able to tell!)

I remember the passage of Roe vs. Wade. I remember how controversial it was. We would not still be debating this issue if there was no passion behind all this -- strong beliefs, strong emotion.

truevyne said...

A quote from Mother Teresa:
It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.

Michael said...

I think the thrust of John's libertarian argument is in what the Church can and should do, rather than the state, in changing hearts and, consequently, the way we perceive and value (or not) the sanctity of life. When even within the Church itself are arguments for abortion in certain cases, the Church's authority to speak at all is diminished because we quibble over what constitutes life or when life begins or the value of this life over that one. There is no way the human mind can come to anything less than ambiguous terms since what "you" believe will not always coincide with what "I" believe to be true.

For instance, David uses the "back alley abortion" argument as a means to protect desperate women from themselves and from "back alley" operators. David's argument seems to suggest that the Church take the stance, "Well, ok, since you're going to do it anyway ..." It is not unlike the Church itself distributing condoms and saying, "Well, if you're going to do it anyway ..."

The Church is not supposed to assimilate itself into the prevailing culture or surrender to it; the Body of Christ is a sanctuary against and from the worldly culture that allows us to do as we choose when we choose. And in our contemporary society in which we expect and demand that government protect us from ourselves, we can even be protected from the consequences of our actions. This is not a reasoned voice of Christ.

doodlebugmom said...

I am pro-choice. Not that I can imagine what it would be like to be put in the position of having to choose, but the option should be left to a woman and her doctor.

Michael said...

Doodlebugmom,

That is a sound tenet of secular libertarianism.

The Progressive Deist said...

While not a zombie post, I am Libertarian and Pro-Choice simply because I don't want the government getting involved in such decisions. Once done they tend to make a bigger mess of things than they already are just by the nature of how controversial they are.

Besides, our focus should be on prevention through proper and comprehensive education for everyone regarding sex as well as making sure women have access to birth control and Plan B (which is not an abortion).

The results where this has been done are dramatic in that the number of abortions has dropped significantly without the need to make it illegal.

Personally, I don't like abortions and would love to see them become a thing of the past but other things need to change before that can take place.

Joe

On a side note, religion should have an impact on what you believe regarding your life but not on others. So, if you believe that abortion is wrong because of religion then you can choose to not have one but you cannot force something as subjective and personal as religion on someone else who does not share your views and beliefs.

Michael said...

I agree with Joe that religion should impact one's own life and become a tool of force or coercion, but I was speaking in terms of what I believe the role of the Church should be in a libertarian system of government. The Church cannot, must not, remain silent. The Church can and must serve as a voice of conscience. What others do after this is entirely a personal decision. See Ezekiel 33:7-11

Michael said...

Correction: NOT a tool of force or coercion. Sorry.

The Progressive Deist said...

Michael,

I agree with you. The church has every right to voice itself and it should. Of course, I hope that the church would push for education and prevention with the goal of making abortion something that rarely if ever happens.

Joe

Michael said...

If by education and prevention you mean according to biblical principles, you and I are in agreement. But if the Church finds itself negotiating and compromising its centuries-old ideals, teachings, and principles with a secular culture, then the Church loses its voice and distinction and becomes just another civic or social organization. After that it's back to the libertarian principle of essentially each to his or her own.

Rev. David Garrett said...

Michael writes: David's argument seems to suggest that the Church take the stance, "Well, ok, since you're going to do it anyway ..." It is not unlike the Church itself distributing condoms and saying, "Well, if you're going to do it anyway ..."

I don't just "seem to suggest" it, I support it... because many of them ARE going to "do it" anyway. That doesn't make it right; that's just a recognition of the reality in which we live.
I don't promote abortion -- again, I said it is "a necessary evil".
Bottom line is, if you are opposed to abortion, then don't have one.

Michael said...

So, David, you support that the Church should surrender its moral authority and prophetic voice given a particular cultural and worldly reality? Where is the distinction of the Church, then?

I'm trying to understand what you're saying especially when I don't want to digress to a battle over semantics. I know that the Church cannot force its will on anyone and I wouldn't support it, but the Church has to speak up somewhere. Where is the Church's distinctive voice in your argument?

John B said...

David's argument is ridiculous.

I don't just "seem to suggest" it, I support it... because many of them ARE going to "do it" anyway. That doesn't make it right; that's just a recognition of the reality in which we live.
I don't promote abortion -- again, I said it is "a necessary evil". Bottom line is, if you are opposed to abortion, then don't have one.


Carry that kind of thinking outward, then Jesus should have handed those who were about to stone the woman caught in adultery a rock, because they were going to stone adulterers anyway. And Jesus definitely shouldn't have said anything, after all if he were opposed to the stoning of women he could have simply not thrown stones himself and that would be sufficient.

Larry B said...

I like your list for essential functions of the state. Are these items that you have developed from your own study, or is there a particular author/scholar you can point to for these?

I essentially agree with your position that the state can and should regulate in the case of abortion and that it doesn't conflict with a libertarian position. Some people confuse libertarian with amoral. Morality, from my understanding, is essential for a libertarian society.

JD said...

2 things:

1.) Everything happens for a reason in God's plan whether we understand it, agree with it, or not

2.) Just because we can doesn't mean we should.

PAX
JD

Rev. David Garrett said...

Re. John B's comment: Funny you should mention the woman caught in adultery. Way back in the Old Testament, God Almighty made adultery illegal – in fact, it's one of the “Big Ten” – and punishable by death! Thus, the woman caught in adultery broke God’s Law, and according to the Law she should have been stoned. Jesus, however, refused to let the “authorities” stone her. In doing so, was he just giving in to the secular culture? Did he lose his distinctive voice?

Larry B said...

Rev. David

While you may interpret the passage on the adulterous woman as such, there are many scholars who understand it differently.

The law was clear that both the woman and the man caught in adultery had to be stoned and that there had to be two witnesses available to testify against them. There was no evidence that the man was also with the mob, nor was there any evidence that the required two witnesses were available.

So it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that not only was Jesus not "flouting tradition", but maintaining adherence to the law and reminding the mob that they were guilty in their actions. His final statement was a reflection of the two witness rule.

This interpretation is also consistent with other actions of Jesus where he does condemn sin and enjoins his disciples to do so as well.

Your interpretation is different and I think not the correct interpretation. But that is of course an individual choice to decide how to interpret.

Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Thanks for the post!

Rev. David Garrett, if I understand your arguments correctly, I am deeply disturbed at the failure to take seriously the radical impact that one person's "private decisions" can have on the life of another human being - often in destructive and death-dealing ways, and the low expectation that people actually might make good decisions if encouraged to do so.

Now, more generally, I think we really ought to have more conversation in this country on when an unborn baby becomes a human being (and therefore one with human rights in our system). It seems to me that genetically speaking, science has taught us that the zigote, even from the first moments is 1) alive, 2) human, and 3) genetically distinct from either parent. It seems to me that there can be no other SECULAR definition of human life that does not exclude many who are clearly human (i.e. some measure of size or intelligence or ability to respond to stimuli would all exclude some living adults).

As I understand it, from a CHRISTIAN perspective, there has been some discussion over the millenia among theologians about when the baby recieves a SOUL - i.e. at the moment of conception, or at 40 days, or whatever. I have only heard discussion about this and would like to hear more from real experts on the great theologians of the Catholic/Ecumenical Tradition.

John b said...

JD

To say that all things happen for a reason according to God's plan is to say that God is the source of sin and evil. Do you really think it has been part of God's plan that 40+ million American children have been killed in their mother's womb in the last 30 years?

Michael said...

David,

In addition to John B's answer to your "adulterous woman" scenario, I might point out that Jesus did not "refuse" anyone anything; He certainly made no move to stop them. What He did do, however, is to become the Voice of Distinction within what had become a secular culture ostensibly using religion for its own sake. Jesus definitively distinguished Himself from the prevailing culture. They were certainly free to stone the woman, but the Voice of reason and conscience - within the spirit of the Law - spoke up. Jesus surrendered nothing, nor should the Church.

roadtripray said...

Joe said, "you cannot force something as subjective and personal as religion on someone else who does not share your views and beliefs."

That statement sounds good on its surface, but if you think about it philosophically, doesn't our religion form our world view about just about everything? What about those whose religious beliefs prompted them to work to abolish slavery? What if they had decided not to impose their religious beliefs on the southern economy which depended on slavery?

Any law with a moral basis can be said to spring from someone's religious convictions. I am having a hard time separating the two. If religion doesn't determine our moral compass, who gets to decide which things are right and which are wrong?

Peace,
Ray

Rev. David Garrett said...

Have you guys read ANY of my comments here? I have said repeatedly I do NOT promote abortion. I personally would not opt for it or recommend it to another.
Yet I believe it is a necessary EVIL and should not be outlawed. So many in our society are desperate and without the hope of the Gospel, and believe they have no other recourse. And unless the Church is going to step in and redeem every unwanted pregnancy, we can't remove that option... otherwise, their ONLY recourse will be the unsafe practices I mentioned in my first comment, resulting in the potential death of BOTH mother and child.
As for the woman caught in adultery, she WAS guilty of disobeying God's Law. Jesus knew that. Regardless of what larry b's "scholars" say, Jesus did not let her off on a legal technicality. Jesus himself could have enforced his Father's Law (as one without sin), but he ignored the Law and chose a path of love and grace instead.
I do not claim to have all the answers on this issue, but if I err (and I may), I choose to err on the side of grace. I take my stand with the desperate and hopeless -- as I believe Jesus did, trying to LOVE them into a right relationship with God... something which no law can do.

JD said...

John B said:

"To say that all things happen for a reason according to God's plan is to say that God is the source of sin and evil. Do you really think it has been part of God's plan that 40+ million American children have been killed in their mother's womb in the last 30 years?"

Actually, that statement doesn't say God is the author of evil. What it does say is that He allows things to happen.

Evil exists in the world due to a corruption of the good God created. The corruption comes from man, influenced by satan.

That comment is more directed toward those that believe in selective abortion due to incest and rape. While a bad thing happened, if it was not in God's plan for a child to be conceived, the child would not have been concived.

While Christians may still debate at what time a baby has a soul, as Dainel refers, we should all believe in the sanctity of life, no matter the manner in which it is concieved.

PAX
JD

John said...

Michael wrote:

I think the thrust of John's libertarian argument is in what the Church can and should do, rather than the state, in changing hearts and, consequently, the way we perceive and value (or not) the sanctity of life.

Although the Church can and should do more for the unwanted and unloved children of the world, I was actually writing exclusively about public policy, not church activity.

doodlebugmom said...

Rev David Garrett

I read what you said,I agree with you. (I would have posted this on your blog, but couldn't)

John said...

Joe wrote:

While not a zombie post, I am Libertarian and Pro-Choice simply because I don't want the government getting involved in such decisions. Once done they tend to make a bigger mess of things than they already are just by the nature of how controversial they are.

Although I prefer limited government, I do not prefer anarchy. Some state functions are legitimate, such as preventing people from committing violence upon others. If a man walks into a mall with an AK-47 and starts shooting people, the state should intervene, even though the man is exercising free choice over his life. For the same reason, I think that the state is justified in intervening to prevent people from killing unborn children.

John said...

David wrote:

Bottom line is, if you are opposed to abortion, then don't have one.

Let's rephrase this a bit:

Bottom line is, if you are opposed to shooting sprees, then don't have one.

If an unborn child is a human life, then its willful killing is murder. It's no different from a mother intentionally smothering her newborn because she can't afford to care for it.

A society which outlaws abortion may fail to provide care for an unwanted child, but that doesn't justifying the mother killing it.

johnmeunier said...

I'll skip the abortion debate. Same old. Same old.

I'm curious, John, where the line for stopping harm to a life is drawn? I don't mean to be adversarial at all with this question. I'm just interested where the line is.

Is the line at intentional and active efforts to harm another person?

What if the harm is incidental or secondary - treating mom's cancer means the baby will die. The purpose of the cancer treatment is not to terminate the pregnancy, but it is the result?

John said...

Larry B wrote:

I like your list for essential functions of the state. Are these items that you have developed from your own study, or is there a particular author/scholar you can point to for these?

I'm not sure how I first heard of this idea, but it goes around in libertarian circles. I'm guessing that I heard it from Harry Browne.

The Progressive Deist said...

Ray stated:

"That statement sounds good on its surface, but if you think about it philosophically, doesn't our religion form our world view about just about everything? What about those whose religious beliefs prompted them to work to abolish slavery? What if they had decided not to impose their religious beliefs on the southern economy which depended on slavery?

Any law with a moral basis can be said to spring from someone's religious convictions. I am having a hard time separating the two. If religion doesn't determine our moral compass, who gets to decide which things are right and which are wrong?"

You are right that your religion does play a part in how you view the world and this is the case for everyone whether they admit it or not. What I was refering to was the desire to use the Bible or any other holy book as the basis for the law in the USA. The Bible is not clear nor really ever mentions abortion so using it for a secular law is wrong in my opinion.

However, in regards to personal beliefs you have every right to dislike abortion and refuse to utilize it since it is legal based on religious beliefs but we should not turn around and state that another person has no right to an abortion (as long as it is legal) based on our religious beliefs.

John stated:

"Although I prefer limited government, I do not prefer anarchy. Some state functions are legitimate, such as preventing people from committing violence upon others. If a man walks into a mall with an AK-47 and starts shooting people, the state should intervene, even though the man is exercising free choice over his life. For the same reason, I think that the state is justified in intervening to prevent people from killing unborn children."

John, c'mon now, you have to know that I was not putting forth anarchy nor am I an anarchist. Also, I find your analogy to be very poor in nature as I am not advocating the right of anyone to harm another and that is the point where the abortion debate comes to a grinding halt. I can argue that a fetus is not life until it is viable outside of the womb and then we will go back and forth.

Regardless, your analogy fails as the born and viable humans outside of the womb have every right to be protected from crazies with AK-47s. This man has no right to exercise any choice over these individuals. However, one can make the argument that a first trimester pregnancy is not a human life yet so the analogy fails.

However, I think that we need to get past the argument of when life begins and focus on reducing abortions through comprehensive sex education, easy access to birth control and easy access to Plan B.

In fact, I am advocating more government in this case.

You may disagree with my position on when life begins but we both agree that abortions are not a great thing and would like to see them go away. However, making them illegal will not accomplish this. Rather, instead of trying to make it illegal we should be doing all we can to properly educate ourselves and finding alternatives to it that will lead to a large reduction in abortions.

Joe

John said...

Joe wrote:

John, c'mon now, you have to know that I was not putting forth anarchy nor am I an anarchist. Also, I find your analogy to be very poor in nature as I am not advocating the right of anyone to harm another and that is the point where the abortion debate comes to a grinding halt. I can argue that a fetus is not life until it is viable outside of the womb and then we will go back and forth.

Regardless, your analogy fails as the born and viable humans outside of the womb have every right to be protected from crazies with AK-47s. This man has no right to exercise any choice over these individuals. However, one can make the argument that a first trimester pregnancy is not a human life yet so the analogy fails.


Ah, but I'm arguing that human life begins at conception, which is our essential difference.

You may disagree with my position on when life begins but we both agree that abortions are not a great thing and would like to see them go away. However, making them illegal will not accomplish this.

Why not?

the reverend mommy said...

John M --

I agree with you -- same old, same old. Mostly by people who will never make the decision to have an abortion or not to have an abortion -- i.e. they lack the equipment to be pregnant. (There's another line of argumentation that is same old, same old...that I will not pursue.)

The one thing that is true here is that passions run high around this issue. For other issues that have had the same sort of emotional currency, by the time the decision was 24 years old, the passion did not run as high.

I wonder where a common ground can be found? I know that I tend to be rather utilitarian around this issue -- I also tend to look at the collateral damage of the arguments. These are the high emotions that caused Eric Rudolph to bomb and kill.

The Progressive Deist said...

John stated:

"Ah, but I'm arguing that human life begins at conception, which is our essential difference."

Which is my point. We get no where arguing over when life begins and end up back where we started. Instead, let us work on solutions to reduce abortions which we both agree on.

John asked:

"Why not?"

A few reasons. First they will become a back alley thing which has already been mentioned. Second, you may succeed in making it illegal but how long will that last before it is made legel again. Then we are back to the legal/illegal waste of time. Finally, the chances of abortion being made illegal are incredibly small so we should focus on prevention and reduction as real end points deserving of our attention.

Joe

The Progressive Deist said...

Here is an article about Comprehensive Sex Education. I certainly don't believe we should start do young but it does show that it is a great way to reduce abortions:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/06/opinion/06blow.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

Please no statements that it is a liberal rag and what not. I know they lean left (or live there depending on your views) but the evidence is there regardless.

Joe

John said...

Joe wrote:

Which is my point. We get no where arguing over when life begins and end up back where we started. Instead, let us work on solutions to reduce abortions which we both agree on.

I'm not willing to give us so easily on allowing a genocide in our midst to continue unthwarted.

A few reasons. First they will become a back alley thing which has already been mentioned. Second, you may succeed in making it illegal but how long will that last before it is made legel again. Then we are back to the legal/illegal waste of time. Finally, the chances of abortion being made illegal are incredibly small so we should focus on prevention and reduction as real end points deserving of our attention.

My reading of the current political climate on abortion is that if Roe v. Wade was overturned, at least a third of states would outlaw abortion within a year. Although some women will travel out of state, and some will have back alley abortions, that's still a lot of lives being saved.

At any rate, permitting abortion is a moral compromise that I'm not willing to see this country take.

It's just like how the abolition movement didn't accept the inevitability of slavery in the South. Abortion is an intolerable blight upon the American conscience.

The Progressive Deist said...

Fine, but you can still work for prevention. The constant fight between keeping it legal and trying to make it illegal is a waste of time and will only lead to more abortions not less.

So, until it is illegal why not focus our energies towards prevention.

Joe

Michael said...

Well said, Joe. And this is precisely where I believe the Church must be if it is to be the prophetic Voice. Give not one inch, refuse to negotiate its principles and ideals, and hold firm to the absolute sanctity of life. The state will wear itself out because the prevailing voice will be only the loudest, and the standard will shift as soon as someone else takes the microphone.