Libertarians on Abortion

On May 2, 2022 a leaked report showed that the Supreme Court of the United States would be overturning the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that affirmed that there is a Constitutional right for someone to obtain an abortion. 

Abortion is likely the greatest wedge issue of our time. However, Americans as a whole are less divided over this question than hardcore left and right politicians would lead you to believe. Pew Research finds that 60% of Americans polled think that abortion should be legal in some or most cases with 26% saying it should be illegal in most cases, and only 13% saying illegal in all cases. 

These numbers change substantially however when broken down by old-party affiliation. 80% of Democrats, according to Pew, support abortion being legal in most or all cases, while 63% of Republicans believe it should be illegal in most or all cases.

The abortion argument has been used to control duopoly voters for more than 40 years. If a Democrat starts to question their party’s fiscal policies or their failure to end the War on Drugs or make any meaningful reform to our criminal justice system, they can be pulled back in line by a reminder that the other side wants to take choice and bodily autonomy away from women. Should a Republican take issue with their party’s infatuation with a megalomaniac, or their rhetoric and policies on immigration, they will swiftly be reminded that a vote for the other team is a vote for “killing babies.” 

One thing is abundantly clear: if you are looking for a political party that has no space for nuance or compassion in the conversation on abortion, there are already two parties for you. Take your pick. 

As ever, Libertarians approach this topic differently than the status quo. As the ruling political tribes have sprinted toward their extremes and taught their members to see all others as their enemies, the Libertarian Party has remained consistent, and yet nuanced in the face of a difficult issue that deserves careful thought and debate — not the political football treatment it gets from Republicans and Democrats. 

The Libertarian Party platform reads thusly on abortion:

1.5 Abortion

Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.

 

Amongst Libertarians, thoughts on abortion are varied. Below are some of the many personal opinions expressed to us just recently by Libertarian Party members on this difficult topic.

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I was raised with pro-life values that I carried with me through my journey leaving the Republican Party and finding the Libertarian Party. I’ve been a proud pro-life Libertarian for many years.

The longer that I have been involved in politics and fighting for liberty in our lifetime, the more examples I have seen of the government making a mess of everything it touches. They created an opioid crisis and severe infringement on liberty with their War on Drugs. The immigration/border issue is constantly made worse by government overreach, and the violence so often displayed by police officers causes me to pause before ever considering giving MORE power to the state.

I want to see abortion end. I don’t think abortion is the best we as the human race can do; for women or for potential lives in the womb. However I also know that creating more government and an even more authoritarian police state is not the best we can do and is likely to lead to some horrible outcomes. I will continue to fight to make abortion unnecessary, without involving government force.

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My philosophy as a Libertarian is carried on several key fundamentals: the non-aggression principle, private property rights, self-ownership, and the belief that liberty is the best way to enable individual human flourishing. Reproductive rights fall into that in multiple aspects: nobody else has the right to decide if, when and how you become a parent. Nobody else has the right to impose upon your property or your body without your informed, ongoing and unambiguous consent. 

Abortion is just one aspect of reproductive rights: this applies to contraception, IVF, surrogacy, adoption, sterilization, birth methods and the termination of a pregnancy. Individuals should be making these choices for themselves, not looking to the government to impose the decisions of others. None of us has the right to decide for someone else making this profoundly personal choice. We can see what government prohibitions do on countless other topics — we can also look to other countries and see what these prohibitions do to civil liberties. We know better than to use the force of government here. 

I’m “pro-choice”, but I’m also “pro-quality-of-life”: to enable individual human flourishing, it’s essential that we determine our own destinies — including if, when, and how we bring life into being. Through that, we can enable a world in which every parent is willing, every child is wanted, and all of us are free.

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Abortion is a terrible thing. It’s never a first choice. More often than not, abortion is a desperate act by a desperate person in a desperate situation. It affects all involved — the woman choosing to end the pregnancy, and the life living in her womb that ends before it ever really begins. Stigmatizing women in this situation only drives them to even more desperate acts, often including ending their pregnancy in shadowy clinics with sketchy practices. Nobody wins when abortions are forced underground, and statistics have shown time and again that countries where abortion is legal have lower rates of the procedure than those where it is banned. Rather than attempting to ban that which we find distasteful, we who call ourselves “pro-life” must always be “pro-everyone’s-life” and, instead of making desperate women into criminals, ensure that the option of abortion remains open. Ending abortion will not come simply by passing a law. It will only come by treating the women who are compelled to make the decision as human beings with full agency and deserving of the respect and dignity to which every human is entitled.

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Abortion is an issue where Libertarians acknowledge good faith arguments on both sides. It is an issue that currently presents no easy answers, since the rights and bodily autonomy of both mother and unborn child in these circumstances seem irreconcilably in conflict. The eventual solution is less likely to come from political institutions than from advances in medical science. Advances in artificial wombs may hold the key in finally presenting a solution that recognizes a woman’s individual autonomy and property right over her own body – including the right not to continue with an unwanted pregnancy – while still preserving the life and rights of her unborn child. I believe that day is close. But when technological progress opens a door to that solution, we will only succeed in walking through it if we have managed to preserve in our approaches to each other, even on this contentious issue, compassion, decency, and a recognition and respect for our shared humanity.

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When my mother had me, she was ~15, on her own, and impregnated by someone she doesn’t know. She’s had other abortions, so she wasn’t ethically opposed, and I had some pretty severe heart defects detected before birth that doctors thought would be fatal within a few months. I was a prime candidate for being aborted, so I’m pretty strongly personally pro-life. 

My main issue with the state banning it is that government cannot be trusted with the power necessary to police it. It could lead to huge violations of doctor-patient confidentiality and it’s not something that can be effectively stopped without massive amounts of overreach.  

Efforts to curtail abortion would be better used to make adoptions easier, to advance prenatal care, and to help advance sex ed and contraception programs to make abortion obsolete. 

Plus, while I think of abortion as killing an innocent life, I don’t think of women who’ve had abortion as murderers. I don’t think it would serve justice to police it as if it were.

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As someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about and reading about ethical philosophy more broadly, and the issue of abortion more specifically, I’ve come to the conclusion that the issue is mostly a battle of intuitions. Nobody has a solid airtight argument for if/when a fetus becomes a person with an inalienable right to life that would supersede someone’s right to expel something from their own body.

For that reason, I default to pro-choice, since my default position on any matter is that the burden of proof is on the person arguing that the government should be involved, and I don’t believe the pro-life argument is strong enough to clear that burden of proof.

Additionally, I do think maintaining the proper operation of our Republic, including its intentional federal design, is important. Roe v Wade, while in accordance with my desires on a policy level, was clearly stretching the intent of the Constitution in order to legislate from the bench, and should be overturned for that reason.

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I was always pro-life. I then found myself in an abusive relationship, pregnant, and for the first time in my life understanding the desperation that I previously didn’t think could ever be enough to justify ending a pregnancy. I was wrong.

Abortion was nothing I ever wanted to experience — and yet the moment I saw the positive test, I knew it couldn’t happen. I knew it wasn’t right. And I took care of it as soon as I possibly could. I discovered that I knew nothing about the realities of abortion before going through it myself. 

I still grieve the need for abortion. I long for the day when abortion is unnecessary and unthinkable because we have created a society that is so radically supportive of women who end up unexpectedly pregnant. That day might come. I know that it won’t happen though as long as this issue remains a political hot potato and as long as there are efforts to limit access to contraception, ban comprehensive sex education, or as long as there is an outright refusal to talk with compassion and nuance between those of us who disagree. Politicians who want our votes are never going to bring us to a common ground understanding here or help solve this question. I am not opposed to finding a compromise that can bring some peace between us — but I can no longer stand for removing access entirely from women who are in a situation that no one outside of it can understand.

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If unhindered by power hungry governments and the dizzying political theater that constantly fills the airwaves, humans would be much more likely to be able to have real discussions and find solutions to our problems. The personal views expressed here show a variety of thought, earnest compassion, and a desire to care for individuals. This is the culture the Libertarian Party is building one of free thought, intellectual honesty, and a recognition of the inherent rights and dignity we all share.