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Saturday, 16 May 2009

The Illiberality of Abortion

A submission to The Christian Libertarian Blog Carnival.

Laws permitting abortion on demand are often deemed to be liberal. Political liberals are frequently ardent defenders of such laws. My contention is that support for abortion on the grounds of liberality is mistaken for the following reasons.

Most contemporary liberals advocate a form of the harm principle, famously articulated by Mill in On Liberty,

The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.[i]

Mill here draws a distinction between other-regarding actions, actions that harm other people, and self-regarding actions, those that harm oneself. He argues that society, either by law or by social pressure, cannot justly regulate any action a person performs unless it is other-regarding; that is, it harms people other than the agent him/herself. As Mill’s position is typically interpreted harm is understood to be governed by the principle volenti non fit injuria (where there is consent, there is no injury) and hence refers to things done to other people without their consent. On this interpretation, self-regarding actions are those that people consent to and that harm no non-consenting, third party. As Mill himself notes, a self-regarding action is that “which affects only himself, or affects others with their free and voluntary, and undeceived consent”.[ii]

The most common version of the harm principle is known as the non-initiation of force principle; Rothbard sums it up well,

The libertarian creed rests upon one central axiom: that no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else. This may be called the “nonaggression axiom.” “Aggression” is defined as the initiation of the use or threat of physical violence against the person or property of anyone else. Aggression is therefore synonymous with invasion.[iii]

I do not subscribe to the harm principle or the non-initiation of force interpretation of it (I give some reasons why here). However, in this series of posts I will adopt it for the sake of argument so as to examine what follows for abortion. Abortion involves killing a fetus, usually by dismembering it. Moreover, the fetus does not consent to it. Hence if a Liberal is to support abortion he/she must do so for only one of two reasons. Either,

(a) the fetus is a person but its existence inside the mother without her consent constitutes a form aggression, and hence, the mother’s action of killing it is defensive; or, (b) a fetus is not a person.

Only if one of these two options is adopted, can a liberal support the non-initiation of force principle and permissive abortion legislation and remain consistent.

Failed Avoidance Tactics
At this juncture it is worth noting that two very common tactics of avoiding this conclusion fail. The first is to defend abortion, on the basis of the perceived positive social consequences of ‘liberal’ abortion laws. In popular political discourse, and in some feminist writings, abortion is defended on consequentialist grounds; it is argued that abortion prevents unwanted children, children who are likely to be poor, abused, neglected or engage in crime. It is hailed as a solution to over-population and the existence of handicapped people. It prevents adult and teenage women from falling into economic hardship and stress and enables them to complete their education, pursue their careers and so on.

The problem with this line of argument is that this is only cogent for liberals if they assume that abortion does not violate the non-initiation of force principle. If abortion does violate this principle then allowing abortion on these grounds would be tantamount to saying that people can engage in aggression (as Rothbard defines it) they can initiate lethal force against others provided doing so brings about positive consequences, like lower crime rates, less child abuse, lower population rates, access to education and employment, etc. This conclusion contradicts the non-initiation of force principle which states that one cannot justly pursue social utility by violating an individual’s right to life, liberty or property; the very basis of their opposition to socialism.

The second avoidance tactic is to appeal to slogans such as “you can’t force your morality onto others, you can’t legislate morality”. The problem with these claims is that the non-initiation of force principle is itself a moral principle and liberals believe the state should enforce this principle and should defend people against others who would violate it. This forces a dilemma upon liberals who cite this slogan; either the claim “you can’t force your morality onto others” applies to the non-initiation of force principle or it does not. If it does, then abortion involves an unjust imposition of morality onto another only if you assume it is not the initiation of force. If it does not, then liberalism as a doctrine collapses as the state has no duty to protect the life, liberty and property of its citizens from aggression. In fact, it entails the conclusion that acts of aggression such as rape and murder should be decriminalised alongside abortion.

It follows then that the liberal cannot rationally avoid the question. If one is to both support ‘liberal’ abortion laws and hold to the non-initiation of force principle, one must do so either on (a) or (b) above. I think neither is terribly defensible.

Is the Fetus an Aggressor?
Consider first (a), the contention that a fetus can be considered an aggressor because it is intruding upon a woman’s body without her consent; an intrusion grave enough to justify the use of lethal force. In this respect then, being subject to an unplanned pregnancy would be on par with being the recipient of a serious assault such as being raped or severely beaten. Frank Beckwith and Steve Thomas in Consent, Sex and the Pre-Natal Rapist, have demonstrated several problems with this claim. It leads to the conclusion that, in certain circumstances abortion is justified without the consent of the woman.

Consider the following scenario. A young woman is involved in a car accident and is rendered unconscious by her injuries. She is brought to a hospital where, still comatose, she is examined by a doctor. While performing some tests, the doctor determines that the woman has been pregnant for several weeks. Furthermore, suppose that evidence comes to light to suggest that the woman is unaware of her pregnancy, perhaps her close friends know nothing of the pregnancy, her diary shows no knowledge of being pregnant, and so on.

Adopting McDonagh's understanding of pregnancy as morally equivalent to rape or assault, what is the doctor's obligation to this unconscious patient? It would seem that, under these conditions, the doctor is morally required to perform an abortion to rid his patient of the 'massive intrusion' being imposed upon her by her unborn offspring. After regaining consciousness, the woman would have to be told that she's undergone an abortion for a pregnancy of which she was not aware, for there was good evidence that no consent had been given and that she was under assault.[iv]

Beckwith’s point is that if the fetus is morally or legally on par with an aggressor who intrudes upon a woman’s body without her consent, such as a assailant or rapist then it would follow that in the case sketched above the doctor would be justified (and arguably would have an obligation) to abort despite the fact that no consent from the women had been obtained.

Consider, that if one saw a person having sex with an unconscious woman and one knew the woman had not consented, it would be absurd to wait for the woman to wake up to see if she wanted to consent to sex. One would be obligated to intervene. “[T]he doctor in the midst of the situation, aware of the pregnancy in the absence of consent, must see it as the rape-in-progress of his unconscious patient. How could he do anything else but end the assault?”[v]

Now I assume that liberals would oppose the idea that any woman who both does not know she is pregnant and is unconscious should be subjected to an abortion without her consent. If this is the case then it is clear that they do not think that an unconsented to pregnancy constitutes an act of serious aggression. If the fetus is an unjust aggressor then liberals are committed to coercive abortions. If coercive abortions are not liberal then the fetus is not an unjust aggressor.

Is the Fetus a Person?
If the fetus is not an unjust aggressor then a liberal defense of abortion must be based upon (b), the idea that a fetus is not a person, a being that possesses the rights to life, liberty and property that liberals believe the state exists to protect. Now a fetus is clearly a human organism. After 14 days at least, it is an individual living being that is a member of the species homo sapiens. To justify abortion via (b), the liberal needs to tell us what property a human being possesses that grounds the right to not be subjected to the initiation of force, to not be killed. Further a liberal must also be able to plausibly maintain that a human organism does not acquire this property until after the fetal stage.

Prominent New Zealand Libertarian commentator, Peter Creswell, takes the view,

[T]he foetus is not yet a human being, but a part of a human being – the mother – who has rights over it. To be an actual, rather than merely potential, human being is, among other things, to be physically separate, which a foetus is not.[vi]

This claim is erroneous. First the “parts of” relationship is transitive; if a brick is part of a wall and the wall part of a house then the brick is part of the house. If a fetus is part of a woman’s body it follows then that any organ that is part of the fetus will be part of the mother. A woman pregnant at eight weeks then possesses four arms, four legs and two brains. If the fetus is male, she will have both a vagina and a penis and be both male and female. Conclusions that are even more bizarre follow if the woman is pregnant with twins. She could have three faces, three brains, six arms, two penises and a vagina, three hearts, six kidneys and so on.[vii]

Moreover, PC’s contention that “to be an actual human” one must be “physically separate” entails that conjoined twins are not human. Consider conjoined twins Bob and Scott. If Bob is a human being then since Scott cannot live independently of Bob, Scott must not be a human person (the converse is equally true). Yet it is difficult to see what property Bob has that Scott lacks which would justify considering one of them human and the other not simply because neither is dependant of the other. It appears then, that one would be forced to conclude that they both are and are not, human. Perhaps PC is simply giving a poorly worded defence of the viability criteria, which I have previously critiqued here.

However, the usual liberal response is to ground the right to not be subjected to the initiation of force, to not be killed, in certain psychological capacities that human beings typically display; such things as sentience, rationality, self-awareness, autonomy, etc.

Despite the pervasive appeal of this approach, it faces serious problems. Boonin notes that those who attempt to ground humanity in the amount of brain development an organism has face a dilemma. “Any appeal to what a brain can do at various stages of development would seem to have to appeal to what the brain can already do. Or to what the brain has the potential to do in the future.”[viii]

Either option leads to problems for a defender of the permissibility of abortion who does not also want to endorse infanticide. This is because “by any plausible measure dogs, and cats, cows and pigs, chickens and ducks or more intellectually developed than a new born infant.”[ix] Suppose, then, one takes the first horn and appeals to what the brain can already do. However, unless one wishes to affirm that cats, dogs and chickens are human beings, “appeals to what the brain can already do” will “be unable to account for the presumed wrongness of killing toddlers or infants.”[x] Suppose, then, one takes up the second horn of the dilemma and appeals to “what the brain has the potential to do in the future;”[xi] Boonin notes that this will entail that feticide is homicide. “If [such an account] allows appeals to what the brain has the potential to do in the future, then it will have to include fetuses as soon as their brains begin to emerge, during the first few weeks of gestation.”[xii]

A couple of examples will illustrate this. Suppose the liberal appeals to sentience, the capacity for consciousness and the ability to perceive pleasure and pain. This criterion will mean abortion is permissible up to 24 weeks.[xiii] The problem is that this criterion also catches cats, dogs, cows, and chickens as well all. All of which are as sentient if not more sentient than new born infants and post-24 week fetuses.

If the liberal draws the line at sentience, he/she will have to hold that farming, butchers shops, McDonald’s restaurants, Kentucky fried Chicken restaurants all engage in unjustified aggression against people because they kill sentient beings without their consent. Further, to remain consistent, the liberal will have to maintain a policy of outlawing all these industries and prosecuting those who engage in them for murder and cannibalism.

Suppose the liberal appeals to more advanced psychological states such as self-awareness, rationality or autonomy. Such accounts of the grounding of rights will exclude the animals mentioned above and will exclude human fetuses. The problem is, according to this account, newborn infants are not persons either.

In a definitive study of infanticide, Michael Tooley compiles an impressive array of neurological and physiological data that demonstrates that infants are not persons in this sense until some time after birth.[xiv] The price of this line of inference is the reduction of newborn infants to the ethical level of cows. A newborn cow, and certainly a mature cow, is more person-like than an infant is. It is difficult to understand by this view why killing and eating infants is any more problematic than consuming a Big Mac.

Of course the liberal can avoid this by claiming that it is the potential to acquire properties such as rationality, self-awareness, autonomy, not their actuality that matters. This will enable one to claim infants are protected by the non-initiation of force principle and will exclude animals. But the problem of course is that foetuses will also be protected by the non-initiation of force principle because fetuses also have the potential to possess these properties.

In summation, liberal proponents of the non-initiation of force principle can only support abortion if they are willing to be inconsistent and arbitrary in their application of the principle or if they are willing to endorse not just infanticide but the eating of newborn infants or state mandated vegetarianism or coercive abortions. These policies are an anathema to most liberals; as such, abortion is not liberal.

[i] John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (London: Penguin Classics, 1985), 69.
[ii] Ibid. 71.
[iii] Murray N Rothbard, For A New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto (New York: Collier Books, 2002) 23.
[iv] Francis J. Beckwith & Stephen Thomas, “Consent, Sex, and the Prenatal Rapist; A Brief Reply to McDonagh’s Suggested Revision of Roe v Wade,” Journal of Libertarian Studies 17: 3 (2003): 4.
[v] Ibid, 6.
[vi] Peter Creswell “Not PC: Cue Card Libertarianism – Abortion”
http://pc.blogspot.com/2005/05/cue-card-libertarianism-abortion.html.
[vii] Here I am influenced by Peter Kreeft, The Unaborted Socrates (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 45-47 and Francis J Beckwith, Politically Correct Death, 124.
[viii] David Boonin, A Defense of Abortion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) 125.
[ix] Ibid, 121.
[x] Ibid.
[xi] Ibid.
[xii] Ibid.
[xiii] It is generally accepted that sentience occurs around 24 week’s gestation. There is some dispute over this and some scientists date sentience in the first 14 weeks of gestation.
[xiv] Michael Tooley, Abortion and Infanticide (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983) Ch. 11.5.

RELATED POSTS:
See our Feticide Label

22 comments:

  1. Hi Mand M,
    Francis Schaefer is a great Libertarian Christian who argued against legal abortion.
    Check out his book ‘A Christian Manifesto’.
    Please remember PC of Not PC does not speck for all Libertarians or all members of the Libz party but for the atheist cult of Ayn Rands Objectivism and there is a huge difference.
    Objectivists make such absurd claims that a fetus is not a human being.
    Myself, Tim Wikiriwhi am a Christian Libertarian and member of the Libz and personally oppose abortion as evil and a type of murder yet cannot see how it can be banned in a fee society because my beliefs are based upon my personal religion…just as PCs sub-human fetus is based upon his Atheism.
    We are at a stand off.
    In a Libertarian society that sovereignty of the woman will be upheld but As a Libertarian Christian I can fight to stop the State performing abortions which will seriously reduce the body count and stop Taxpayers like myself from being forced to finance infanticide.


    And in my book even if we as libertarians must accept the sad fact that cannot impose our Christian values upon others and save all the children, we know we are free to speak out against abortion and to promote the Gospel of grace which is the only real solution.
    This is not an age ‘of the kingdom’ where Jewish law is to be enforced!
    If men don’t want their children aborted they had better pick a mate who holds godly values!
    It is a age of the gospel of grace and freedom from pharisaic laws…an age of Libertarian self reliance living peacefully with all men.
    Finally I know God will be the final judge and all the abortionist will be called to his court.
    I have written a lot of Christian Libertarian stuff in arguments against PC, Dawkins Darwin and Rand over the years. PC has banned me from his blog!
    Real man of free speech. Ha ha!
    He is a friend though we hate each others religious bollocks!
    Tim Wikiriwhi.
    Dispensational King James Bible believing Libertarian Christian.


    Recent blog post: The site ... does not match member ID7586

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  2. Tim, you said:

    "[I] personally oppose abortion as evil and a type of murder yet cannot see how it can be banned in a fee society because my beliefs are based upon my personal religion."

    From one libertarian Christian to another, that is absolute bollocks.

    abortion is either right or wrong - whether it should be banned or not has as much to do with your beliefs as does the price of fish.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Tim, you said:

    "[I] personally oppose abortion as evil and a type of murder yet cannot see how it can be banned in a fee society because my beliefs are based upon my personal religion."

    From one libertarian Christian to another, that is absolute bollocks.

    abortion is either right or wrong - whether it should be banned or not has as much to do with your beliefs as does the price of fish.

    Recent blog post: Gimme a Break...

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  4. Hi MandM,
    Excellent article thanks Matt, well argued.
    ...however the links don't work.

    Recent blog post: 500th Post

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  5. Thanks for pointing that out Andy, I have fixed them.

    Recent blog post: Tuesday Night: The Moral Cosmological Argument

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  6. Tim Wikiriwhi, you wrote: "[I] personally oppose abortion as evil and a type of murder yet cannot see how it can be banned in a fee society because my beliefs are based upon my personal religion…just as PCs sub-human fetus is based upon his Atheism.
    We are at a stand off."
    If abortion is homicide, the killing of a human being with moral status, then it offends the harm principle and the state should legislate against it. This is a fact claim, like Andy says it is either right or wrong; the fact of homicide is not a religious claim.

    Further, the fact that you might take that view because of your religion does not detract from the facts. Further, why is your set of beliefs any less valid in policy decision making than PC's atheism? Why can an atheist assert his views onto society but a theist cannot? If each are just sets of views the holder has good grounds for thinking are correct then why can't the holder bring them into public life? Who gets to decide that the correct view is atheism? The majority? Isn't that kinda collectivist?

    You also wrote:"In a Libertarian society that sovereignty of the woman will be upheld..."

    Why? I too an fairly libertarian but nothing I have read in Rand or Mises or anywhere else says that women's sovereignty enables them to get away with killing people. The harm principle applies to all. While a woman, like a man, is free to do whatever she pleases with her body, no matter how stupid, her bodily sovereignty is limited at the point her choices cause harm to another person.

    The question again returns to the assumption made by many libertarians, particularly objectivists, that the fetus is not a person. However, assuming that something is the case is not evidence and neither is it sound argument.

    Have some faith in your convictions and stand against the sloppy reasoning being advanced by many in libertarian circles. :-)

    Recent blog post: Bullying Update

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  7. Andy,
    You cannot give social/political rights to the unborn. Until birth they are not citizens, not part of the social contract which is between local Men, not Man and God or any other combination. God himself recognizes men in the womb, and as Christians we recognize Gods sovereignty but we do not live in his kingdom and so the unborn are not protected by our social conventions of Law.
    The unborn are not part of our society any more than folk in Timbuktu. They pay no taxes nor contribute to the maintenance of our society nor are they legally protected whilst abroad.
    It is not the purpose of Law or the duty of our government to investigate all murders, at all times, and places.
    Our Laws don’t carry that sort of universal authority and it is silly to try and make them so.
    Political life is a limited membership and begins at registration of birth. This is when the State gets involved.
    Many die before or at birth and will never have entered the political arena.

    The nature of the social democratic beast is to keep writing new laws and to accrue more power to itself, especially when on moral crusades. Anti abortion laws are the start of an entirly new body of tyrannical law deemed necessary to protect unborn children from their mothers.
    You have opened Pandoras box!
    Having thrown out the sovereignty of woman over her own body as a fundamental obstacle to your legislative bent, and assuming you hold the usual anti abortion stance Why should your arbitrary declaration of conception be the demarcation point on humanity?
    If you give rights to the unborn, Does Onanism or using contraceptives constitute forms of abortion?…do viable human sperm and ova have rights as Potential Humans?
    Is it just to deny the woman so many of her basic rights for the sake of the so-called rights of her unborn children?
    Should smoking drinking pregnant women be criminalized?
    Is it ok to put Pregnant woman in Jail…are you not jailing an innocent for the sake of the guilty?
    Should every miscarriage be investigated as a possible murder or motherly manslaughter?
    Is abortion necessarily evil in all cases?
    Who judges?
    Do you include handicapped unborns as having rights with the healthy?
    What about a woman’s right to abort severely handicapped unborn?
    Is a Mother being uncaring when she chooses such a course of action when faced with this terrible situation?
    Is it being Humane to ban such abortions, or the results of rape and incest?
    Would you grant consent for any abortions at all and if so why?

    The reality is Human Government and Law cannot solve all our woes, nor save all the children.
    It can be a very oppressive tool in the hands of a religious lynch mob.
    The Principle of Individual sovereignty is a corollary of the principle of equality before the Law and so cannot be overridden without destroying the principle of Legal equality.
    Men and Woman are different but equal.
    Men are Sovereign over their bodies as are woman over theirs.
    Men control childbirth by carefully protecting their seed and carefully choosing a wife.
    That is his self responsibility, and duty to God.
    He has total control over himself and his seed.
    A Woman’s control over her own pregnancy is self evident and total.
    God has made the life and death of the unborn child the prerogative/ moral responsibility of the woman not the Man.
    No Law of man can change the nature of things!
    God could have made woman lay eggs sharing the burden of responsibility of incubation between both parents as is common in the bird kingdom. This would put gestation outside the woman’s body and so would not present us with the same set of dilemmas as we face.
    But God did not so choose, and there is little we can do about it!
    Denying the principle of Individual sovereignty over our own bodies is the beginning of the end of Christian liberty. Passing Bad laws that transgress these fundamentals of justice is unforgivable.


    Do all innocent children go to heaven? The irony is that most of these aborted children have been saved from hell as they were [...]

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  8. Tim

    I find your arguments unpersuasive.

    1. First, you caricature my position as opposing abortion because I “personally find repugnant due to our personal religion…” but that’s false I oppose it because I believe its homicide, this is the same reason I oppose killing infants or killing adults actions no libertarian seems to have a problem outlawing.

    2. I agree that we should not advocate for the “legal suppression of unbelievers” and that “The state can never become an extension of our means of practicing our faith! “ I agree unfortunately I never argued for that, what I argued was that the state should suppress homicide wether practised by a believer or unbeliever.

    3. You suggest that abortion “cannot be banned in a free society without serious encroachments upon the rights of Woman over their own bodies” but that is precisely what I disputed in my post, simply repeating a conclusion I have argued against is not a response. As I noted, on libertarian grounds a women has a right to do what she likes with her own body. She does not have a right to destroy other people’s bodies without their consent. A fetus is not part of a women’s body, its another person. Hence laws against abortion do not restrict a women’s rights.

    4. You claim “It is only when abortion is Legal can a Christian woman claim any virtue by abstaining from it by choice. If it is Illegal then it is no virtue to abstain from it” this argument however applies to any action including infanticide and killing adults. If killing new born babies is illegal then parity of reasoning would suggest that there is no virtue in refraining from it. Does it follow infanticide should be allowed?
    5. You state “This is how the CCS Missionaries eradicated Cannibalism here back in the 1800s …By appealing to Christ and Moses, not by passing laws and then executing a persecution. We are agents of Gods grace not a Taleban that throws stones at harlots and infidels. “ Two things, first I am not advocating stoning infidels or harlots I simply said homicide should be illegal. Second, while what you say about cannibalism is true, I am not talking about eating a dead body, I am talking about homicide killing a human being, and when missionaries have encountered cultures where homicide was permitted they have done more than preach. India is an example, in India the religious cultural mores of some permitted them to burn a mans wife when he died, missionaries did not just preach against this they made it illegal. To say “I think people should be free to choose to kill another’s wife” is absurd and it’s not less absurd when it’s a person’s child as opposed to another’s wife


    Recent blog post: Tooley, Plantinga and the Deontological Argument from Evil Part I

    ReplyDelete
  9. Tim

    I find your arguments unpersuasive.

    1. First, you caricature my position as opposing abortion because I personally find repugnant due to our personal religion… but that’s false I oppose it because I believe its homicide, this is the same reason I oppose killing infants or killing adults actions no libertarian seems to have a problem outlawing.

    2. I agree that we should not advocate for the legal suppression of unbelievers and that The state can never become an extension of our means of practicing our faith!“ I agree unfortunately I never argued for that, what I argued was that the state should suppress homicide whether practised by a believer or unbeliever.

    3. You suggest that abortion “cannot be banned in a free society without serious encroachments upon the rights of Woman over their own bodies” but that is precisely what I disputed in my post, simply repeating a conclusion I have argued against is not a response. As I noted, on libertarian grounds a women has a right to do what she likes with her own body. She does not have a right to destroy other people’s bodies without their consent. A fetus is not part of a women’s body, its another person. Hence laws against abortion do not restrict a women’s rights.

    4. You claim “It is only when abortion is Legal can a Christian woman claim any virtue by abstaining from it by choice. If it is Illegal then it is no virtue to abstain from it” this argument however applies to any action including infanticide and killing adults. If killing new born babies is illegal then parity of reasoning would suggest that there is no virtue in refraining from it. Does it follow infanticide should be allowed?

    5. You state “This is how the CCS Missionaries eradicated Cannibalism here back in the 1800s …By appealing to Christ and Moses, not by passing laws and then executing a persecution. We are agents of Gods grace not a Taleban that throws stones at harlots and infidels. “ Two things, first I am not advocating stoning infidels or harlots I simply said homicide should be illegal. Second, while what you say about cannibalism is true, I am not talking about eating a dead body, I am talking about homicide killing a human being, and when missionaries have encountered cultures where homicide was permitted they have done more than preach. India is an example, in India the religious cultural mores of some permitted them to burn a mans wife when he died, missionaries did not just preach against this they made it illegal. To say “I think people should be free to choose to kill another’s wife” is absurd and it’s not less absurd when it’s a person’s child as opposed to another’s wife.



    Recent blog post: Tooley, Plantinga and the Deontological Argument from Evil Part I

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  10. I agree unborn children cannot be part of a social contract as they are incapable of entering into valid contracts. The problem is the same is true of new born infants, young children, mentally impaired adults; none of them can enter into valid contracts either. Yet oddly libertarians don’t claim people are free to kill infants, or mentally impaired adults if they choose, so this seems like special pleading here.

    2 The unborn are not part of our society any more than folk in Timbuktu. They pay no taxes nor contribute to the maintenance of our society nor are they legally protected whilst abroad. Yes, and new born infants do not pay taxes, do not contribute to the maintenance of our society and are not protected when abroad. Hence, by this reasoning, parents should be allowed to kill new born infants if they choose to. But libertarians don’t support this because they recognise this is homicide.


    3. Political life is a limited membership and begins at registration of birth. This is when the State gets involved. Many die before or at birth and will never have entered the political arena. I see a person has rights when the state registers them, that seems a very odd position for a libertarian to take. Suppose the state has a convention of not registering people until a year after birth, what if they choose not to register ethnic minorities?

    4. Having thrown out the sovereignty of woman over her own body as a fundamental obstacle to your legislative bent, and assuming you hold the usual anti abortion stance Why should your arbitrary declaration of conception be the demarcation point on humanity? If you give rights to the unborn, Does Onanism or using contraceptives constitute forms of abortion?…do viable human sperm and ova have rights as Potential Humans?
    Is it just to deny the woman so many of her basic rights for the sake of the so-called rights of her unborn children? This assumes that (i) attributing humanity to the unborn is arbitrary and (ii) that laws against abortion contradict the sovereignty of a women over her own body. I actually address both these claims in my post and argued against them. Hence the point is irrelevant.

    5 Should smoking drinking pregnant women be criminalized? actually you face this question regardless of your stance on abortion. Because smoking while pregnant effects children after they are born. Suppose I put poison onto my neighbour’s water supply ground and three years latter a two year old dies from cancer as a result. I am guilty of homicide despite the fact that the performed the action before the child came into existence. Hence, even if one grants that fetus are not humans until, if a women smokes before birth and as a result the child that is born is harmed then that still is assault. So I fail to see any difficulty here that’s not also a difficulty for the pro abortionist.

    Do you include handicapped unborns as having rights with the healthy? What about a woman’s right to abort severely handicapped unborn? Is a Mother being uncaring when she chooses such a course of action when faced with this terrible situation? Interesting, so disabled people have less rights than healthy people. Tell me Tim do you think that women should be able to kill disabled new born infants or disabled adults? Why not, it wouldn’t be because this is homicide would it?

    6 The reality is Human Government and Law cannot solve all our woes, nor save all the children.
    It can be a very oppressive tool in the hands of a religious lynch mob.
    agreed on both points, but no one is saying that we should have a religious lynch mob (or a secular lynch mob which history suggests is much worse) nor are we saying the state should [...]

    ReplyDelete
  11. Tim

    1 You cannot give social/political rights to the unborn. Until birth they are not citizens, not part of the social contract which is between local Men, not Man and God or any other combination. I agree unborn children cannot be part of a social contract as they are incapable of entering into valid contracts. The problem is the same is true of new born infants, young children, mentally impaired adults; none of them can enter into valid contracts either. Yet oddly libertarians don’t claim people are free to kill infants, or mentally impaired adults if they choose, so this seems like special pleading here.

    2 The unborn are not part of our society any more than folk in Timbuktu. They pay no taxes nor contribute to the maintenance of our society nor are they legally protected whilst abroad. Yes, and new born infants do not pay taxes, do not contribute to the maintenance of our society and are not protected when abroad. Hence, by this reasoning, parents should be allowed to kill new born infants if they choose to. But libertarians don’t support this because they recognise this is homicide.


    3. Political life is a limited membership and begins at registration of birth. This is when the State gets involved. Many die before or at birth and will never have entered the political arena. I see a person has rights when the state registers them, that seems a very odd position for a libertarian to take. Suppose the state has a convention of not registering people until a year after birth, what if they choose not to register ethnic minorities?

    4. Having thrown out the sovereignty of woman over her own body as a fundamental obstacle to your legislative bent, and assuming you hold the usual anti abortion stance Why should your arbitrary declaration of conception be the demarcation point on humanity? If you give rights to the unborn, Does Onanism or using contraceptives constitute forms of abortion?…do viable human sperm and ova have rights as Potential Humans?
    Is it just to deny the woman so many of her basic rights for the sake of the so-called rights of her unborn children?
    This assumes that (i) attributing humanity to the unborn is arbitrary and (ii) that laws against abortion contradict the sovereignty of a women over her own body. I actually address both these claims in my post and argued against them. Hence the point is irrelevant.

    5 Should smoking drinking pregnant women be criminalized? actually you face this question regardless of your stance on abortion. Because smoking while pregnant effects children after they are born. Suppose I put poison onto my neighbour’s water supply ground and three years latter a two year old dies from cancer as a result. I am guilty of homicide despite the fact that the performed the action before the child came into existence. Hence, even if one grants that fetus are not humans until, if a women smokes before birth and as a result the child that is born is harmed then that still is assault. So I fail to see any difficulty here that’s not also a difficulty for the pro abortionist.

    Do you include handicapped unborns as having rights with the healthy? What about a woman’s right to abort severely handicapped unborn? Is a Mother being uncaring when she chooses such a course of action when faced with this terrible situation? Interesting, so disabled people have less rights than healthy people. Tell me Tim do you think that women should be able to kill disabled new born infants or disabled adults? Why not, it wouldn’t be because this is homicide would it?

    6 The reality is Human Government and Law cannot solve all our woes, nor save all the children.
    It can be a very oppressive tool in the hands of a religious lynch mob.
    agreed on both points, but no one is saying that we should have a religious lynch mob (or a secular lynch mob which history suggests is much worse) nor are we saying the state should [...]

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  12. What a can of worms we are playing with here!
    I am sad you think it is plausible to criminalize pregnant woman who smoke and drink.
    This is a frightening legislative avenue!
    This is socialism not Libertarianism.
    Do you not blink at the fact that your logic turns motherhood into a dangerous liability, and literally enslaves her to her child until they leave home?
    Should it then be illegal to sell smokes and alcohol to pregnant woman? (Why dont you just say ban the lot?)
    What about those who hapless moderns who cook themselves rubbish food buying themselves videos instead of veges …yet further criminal offences I suspect?
    What about the morning after pill?
    How will you stop woman keeping their pregnancies secret and having home abortions?
    We all know such clandestine industry flourishes under prohibition and all the ghastly medical misadventure that entails!
    Will you demand an amendment to the Hippocratic oath?
    Will you compel all pregnant woman to register their pregnancies so that the state can police its laws?
    Will you introduce random pregnancy testing like random breath tests for alcohol offending?

    I dont expect answers here.

    I am thoroughly convinced the side effects of your legislative medicine are ten times worse than the disease which it cannot cure but only make much more horrific like drug prohibition.
    The problem is too delicate for such a blunt tool.
    I have written a reply to many of your other points but will refrain from posting it, unless you indicate you are keen for this discussion to continue.
    I fear overstepping my welcome.
    Thank you for a very interesting and challenging conversation.

    Tim Wikiriwhi

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  13. Tim, You seem to miss my point entirely, You suggested that if one accepts that a fetus is human then it follows that it should be illegal to smoke while pregnant, this is because smoking while pregnant harms fetuses. I pointed out that an analogous argument applies to infants, smoking while pregnant harms new born infants, hence if your argument were sound it would follow that one cant oppose infanticide without making smoking while pregnant illegal.

    Now you and the Libertarian party oppose infanticide (as I think you should.So my response to your post is simple, if your argument is sound then everything you say in the above comment applies to your own position, in which case I suggest you answer those questions yourself. On the other hand if you believe you can consistently oppose infanticide without falling down the slippery slope you paint above I can oppose feticide without doing so.


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  14. Yes I am sorry Matt, your scenario is another classic that I have never thought through in that form.
    My mind jumped onto another relevant point that socialist meddlers, whom deny the Libertarian principle of Private property, fresh from their legislative victory over of banning smoking in the workplace, Cafes, bars and Pubs, now busy themselves pontificating about smoking around infants at home and if they should succeed in generating more new socialist Laws in regard to infants and mothers, how that would be shortly followed by more of the same law in regard to our related subject of Smoking Pregnant woman. It could also happen the other way around as they share the same anti Individual-sovereignty rationale which both the principles of private property and Personal sovereignty over our own bodies are overturned as constitutional safeguards.
    You have a much weaker view of the importance of the principle of Individual sovereignty and as such you expand the jurisdiction of the state beyond its just limits. Your quote of John Stuat Mill is no safeguard to human freedom as harm to others is such an ambiguous notion.
    I have spasms thinking about life under the Nico-Nazi socialism being incrementally imposed the end of which must be the utter prohibition of smoking on private property on the basis of "freedom from harm".
    You share the same collectivist moral grounds when you argue that fetuses like non-smokers are people, and as such no behavior by others is tolerable that might bring them harm and so ought to be legislated against.
    Without the protection of a Libertarian constitution, this subtle Socialist quazi-right of ‘freedom from harm’ is assumed as justification for Nanny State legislation that is currently overriding any consideration of our most basic rights and liberties in the very same manor as their Quazi-rights of Indigenous peoples allows parliament to make racist laws.
    Racists want a Constitution that gives legal favoritism to Maori.
    You are prepared to have a constitution that is inclusive and prejudiced towards the rights of unborn children over the rights of their mothers.
    Today The State sponsors the mass killings and we both are appalled by this, and both seek legal remedy, yet in different directions. I seek to reduce the roll of government, you seek to increase it.
    The Libertarians seek to halt this situation without substituting one set oppressive laws for another.
    You would make it a crime for a junky woman to choose to abort her deformed baby for its own sake.
    You would force doctors to attempt to save absolutely every dysfunctional baby in the womb.
    Tell me who do you expect to carry the burden for the tragic consequences of your Regime?
    Social welfare and the taxpayer?
    Is it really the place of Human Government to make criminals of such people, or those who help loved ones die to with dignity?
    You put too much responsibility in the hands of politicians.
    I am as against suicide as I am abortion and hope myself to heroically bare out to the end, yet when the hour comes and the pain is overwhelming, who can blame or deny others the right of rejecting euthanasia for themselves? By this same terror I will not make a criminal of a woman for aborting a deformed baby.
    By its fruit your prohibition is found to be simply more socialism and any and it’s portent for increasing human misery makes it unconscionable.
    Tim Wikiriwhi.

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    Recent blog post:
    The site ... does not match member ID7586

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  15. Regarding your scenario Matt, I see no case for the state to prosecute a Law for the sake of a child poisoned before birth (say by Melamine ingested by an unaware mother) ,just as I see no case for banning smoking or drinking on behalf of the unborn child or infants. It is wicked to be so callous a parent, yet there is no just basis for Law from this angle.
    But Fret not! There is some legitimate legal protection and recourse to the Law in many situations upon the grounds of the unaware Mother of a poisoned unborn child and her right to make claims of wrongdoing, loss and injury, just as when a pregnant woman is assaulted and her baby dies, the prosecution has a case of extremely serious violence against the woman, both for her physical harm and personal loss which demands the requisite level of justice.
    In this way though without civil rights, the unborne are legally protected to an enormous degree by the same sort of legal concepts that protect our most cherished possessions. It is in this way that the welfare of other sentient beings can also be legally protected without giving them rights but that is a digression.
    A constitution is supposed to be the vanguard of Justice keeping meddlesome busybodies in check, not give them a free hand.
    Your position hangs on the notion that abortion is harmful / deadly towards a human being and say it is a clear case of homicide no different to all other homicides but this is not so.
    Granted there is a separate Human life in the womb, yet the legal prohibitions against all the other types of homicide actually prop up the rights of citizens and don’t involve the suppression of any whereas the Anti abortionist seek to pit the Civil rights of the woman in conflict with the Natural rights that in their view unborn babies possess. Not only this but you come out squarely in favour of the unborn baby saying superior considerations override all ‘selfish’ considerations a pregnant woman might have.
    You seek the creation of Civil rights for the unborn of such magnitude to take precedence over the current civil rights of woman.
    It is the heart of socialism to say rights of individuals are in conflict and that the duty of the state is to make legal compromises to mitigate the consequent evils as they see them.
    How different a notion of Government that is from the Libertarian who admit no conflict whatsoever between valid rights and that the Stat must be constitutionally barred from intervening in private matters and from making legal compromises with our rights!

    Nothing you have said has moved me from my Libertarian position to believe absolute anti abortion Laws would be good for anyone, even the aborted. (Would you like to be one of hundreds of thousands born to unfit mothers who wish you were dead?)
    You have problems with enforcement.
    You open the door to a whole raft of New oppressions.
    You would increase the duties of state and blow costs all the way to hell.
    You would fill our land not with churches but state orphanages.
    You reduce the rights of parents to make their own life decisions.
    We Don’t Live in a godly world and never will, this side of Human Government.
    The Law of the land is not the law of God.
    The state is not Gods inquisitor.
    You ask too much from society and thereby open the door to religious fanaticism at law.
    I will never abort any child of mine, nor will I frivolously condone it in others but will preach against it, thus as long as I have the freedom, No anti-abortion laws are needed on my behalf except constitutional prohibitions against the State performing them.
    That absolves us as Taxpayers as the source of a governments power from all responsibility without adding unjust burdens upon us that your laws would impose.
    I’m a libertarian Christian dedicated to having such a constitution as quickly as possible.
    Preach the Gospel, Not legalism!
    Tim Wikiriwhi


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  16. Tim, you are an inconsistent libertarian. Do you completely disregard Mill's harm principle? You say,

    "Would you like to be one of hundreds of thousands born to unfit mothers who wish you were dead?"

    However it is absolutely, categorically NOT up to any of us (survivors of abortion) to make this call.

    Instead we must ask the unborn child for her opinion on this. Oh wait, we can't ask them... So we apply reason, and err on the side of caution.

    Tim, you accuse Matt of seeking to increase the role of the government. You could not be more incorrect. Both Matt and I consider that the government has stepped outside its role. But you must agree with us that it is a Biblical principle that murder is wrong. And also that it is the State's responsibility to punish wrong and uphold good.

    Put yourself in the position of an unborn child facing an abortion Tim. Watch this video, and then tell me that you're ok with abortion.

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  17. "Who gets to decide that the correct view is atheism? The majority? Isn't that kinda collectivist?"

    No...it is kinda Democracy. What is the alternative to a majority making these decisions through elected officials? Some sort of elite ruling moral class? Like the Taliban? OK - that's a little emotive. But seriously. What would you suggest?

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  18. Andy,
    Tell me how Mills principle of harm would have saved Socrates or even Jesus?
    Only the Principle of the right to free speech would have been capible of doing that!
    Both were condemned on the principle that they were mischievous and bringing harm.
    And maybe they were!
    You cannot delegate to government an authority you don’t have yourself as a natural right, and none of us has the natural right to interfere with the pregnancy of others! That is not a law you have the right to delegate/ pass.
    Tim Wikiriwhi

    Recent blog post: The site ... does not match member ID7586

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  19. Another possible liberal argument for abortion is the right to do what you want with your labour, including withdrawing it (eg from growing a baby). Ultimately, that's not a very satisfying argument either, and doesn't particularly capture the experience of being pregnant - but then I think liberalism as an ethical tool is of limited use in the abortion debate.

    Classical liberalism wasn't really formulated with women's lives in mind. Even those such as Mills who thought about the role of women within liberalism didn't really imagine women would have autonomy on a similar basis to men - or they assumed that, if women did have autonomy, they would still choose the path of marriage and children (ie would gain their subsistence through their husbands, rather than direct workforce participation, for example).

    In the formative days of liberalism, men had an unquestioned right to call the shots in their own homes, including decisions around the sexual activity and reproductive lives of their wives, so there was no need to invoke the rules of the liberal state to adjudicate on issues of women's reproduction. Neither women nor unborn children had full legal personhood - but they weren't thought to 'need' it, because they had husbands/fathers to make the decisions for them, and these decisions belonged firmly in the private sphere beyond the concern of the state.

    Later versions of liberalism have transferred to women almost all of the legal rights enjoyed by men, but the legal person imagined by classical liberalism was male, and was never going to be faced with sharing his body with another person for 9 months. Looking to liberalism for guidance on the abortion issue is fraught, because it involves trying to take an historically private (and male-controlled) domain and subject it to public rules. I think this may be asking liberalism to do more than it's historically set up to do.

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  20. "...the legal person imagined by classical liberalism was male, and was never going to be faced with sharing his body with another person for 9 months."

    Here you touch on a very important point. The only harm to a woman from a successful pregnancy is that she has to "share her body" for 9 months. The harm to an infant from aborting is death.

    So I am happy to admit that the mother does suffer something from the pregnancy - but what she suffers is:

    1) Far less than the child would suffer if she aborted it.

    2) Her own choice. She chose to put herself in a position where she might get pregnant (apart from the very rare case of a pregnancy from rape of course). No pregnancy should be a complete surprise!

    If she has got herself pregnant, then putting up with 9 months of pregnancy is still only her accepting the consequences of her own actions.

    If we say the woman can kill her child to avoid taking personal responsibility for her own actions, how on earth is that liberal? What happened to personal responsibility? What happened to the harm principle?

    Classical liberalism is still completely relevant on this issue.

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  21. Hi Anna, My argument is not intended to be a defense of Millian liberalism which i consider to be flawed.My point is that many who do support abortion do so on Millian grounds ( stating that women have rights to do whatever they like with their bodies for example) and my suggestion is that these grounds do not support the conclusions they think it does.




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  22. the legal person imagined by classical liberalism was male, and was never going to be faced with sharing his body with another person for 9 months.

    Thinking about this some more its not clear that this is as unique a situation as you suggest. Male Siamese twins for example frequently share their bodies with others now suppose it was true that there was an operation that conjoined twins could take which meant they would be separated, and the waiting list was nine months. I don’t think anyone would argue that one twin had a right to kill the other.

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