Libertarians and Abortion

Liberals are pro-abortion (or “pro-choice,” as they prefer to call it), and Conservatives are pro-life (or “pro-birth,” as the stance is sometimes referred to). It’s a fairly straightforward, black and white dynamic, at least on the surface. As seems to be the case more often than not, libertarians come in and add some grey to the mix. The Right and Left tend to make a bigger deal of whether Libertarians should consider abortion morally acceptable, much less legal, than Libertarians themselves.

In fact, the Libertarian party itself takes no stance on the issue, opting instead to fall back on its overall theme of self-determination and cessation of government interference. In 1974, at the Libertarian Convention in Dallas, Texas, the Statement of Principles, which the party adheres to today, was adopted. Personal liberty is the crux of the Libertarian Party, and is Part 1 of the Statement of Principles. Part 1.5 speaks to the issue of abortion, stating, “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.” This is not exactly a ringing endorsement or a scathing admonishment.

More than once, the task of organizing Libertarians has been likened to herding cats. Joe Kent, a Libertarian organizer, expressed as much in a piece written for Liberty International, just a few days before the 2016 election. He’s not far off the mark, if at all. Libertarianism is such an individualistic view, that it is often difficult to get a group of Libertarians to get behind a specific stance. Some of my most heated arguments have been with other Libertarians. The core philosophy of the movement is that each person should have control over themselves, without another person or entity imparting its will over another. The belief is paradoxical, in that it is both extremely straightforward, and exceedingly vague at the same time.

The issue of abortion follows that very mold, existing as complicated and simple all at once. The simple part is that each person should be in control of their own body. Easy. One would be hard-pressed to find a Libertarian that would argue against that point. The disagreement occurs when we try to determine when a person is a person. For the individual who believes a person does not become a person until birth, then abortion does not defy the central principle of autonomy over one’s own body. On the other hand, a person who believes that a person becomes a person at conception views abortion as the uninvited use of force and aggression against the self. Neither side has abandoned the guiding principle of non-aggression or autonomy.

As this is an explanation rather than an argument, the case rests with that scenario. Neither the Left nor the Right may accurately argue that Libertarian values dictate that a Libertarian must fall to one side or the other on the issue of abortion. They may argue from a moral perspective regarding the specific issue, but not on principle. Libertarians may do the same. One might argue that abortion is murder, and should therefore be considered morally wrong. That person may not, however, argue that because Libertarians believe in autonomy of the self, that a Libertarian must also condemn abortion as morally wrong.

Libertarianism finds within it those who would otherwise be considered Liberal, as well as those who would otherwise be considered Conservative. The one thing the party agrees on is that no entity may rightly enact force on another without consent. Where and when that autonomy begins, though, has yet to be solidified.

Alex is currently in his 3rd year of law school. He graduated college with a degree in Social Science with a focus in Homeland Security, and is an avid student of philosophy and behavioral science.