On Liberty and Abortion

I am by nature a libertarian.  It’s as much a matter of personality as philosophy. I’ve never lost a minute’s sleep over a stranger’s private morality. I think people should be able to smoke cigarettes wherever the property owner allows -- the “dangers of second hand smoke” are largely a meddler’s lie.  I think drugs should be legal with the same basic restrictions as alcohol. If you were a pal, I’d tell you to stay off that poison, but in the end, adults have to choose for themselves.

As for people’s sex lives, I take my approach from Ebenezer Scrooge: “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business and not to interfere with other people’s.  Mine occupies me constantly.” I listen with seriousness to the arguments of my fellow conservatives and Christians when they tell me gay marriage will be the end of the world, but I'm personally expecting something more along the lines of a flaming meteor or maybe those octopus guys from Independence Day. As I say, it’s my personality: I just don’t care.

That’s why, for me, the issue of abortion has become a problem. I have always believed that Roe v Wade was an act of judicial tyranny -- a dishonest interpretation of the Constitution that pretends to recognize a right while in fact stripping us of a far more important right:  the right to make our own laws in our own localities. I seriously believe Roe is the origin of the deep political divisions that currently bedevil us. Take away our right to debate and decide and we are left with no emotional recourse but hatred for the opposition.

For all that, I was for many years in sympathy with Roe’s argument: people have a right to privacy and abortion is a private decision. I now find it impossible to continue in that belief. This is painful for me not only because it seems to violate my natural libertarianism but also because a lot of the women I know and love have had abortions and it simply isn’t in my heart to condemn them -- or indeed anyone -- for what I know was a painful, sometimes devastating, decision.

Nonetheless, I’ve come to see that every single argument in favor of unlimited abortion simply skips over the decisive question: is an unborn child a human being or not? You can’t say killing a human being is a private matter. You can’t say a woman has “a right to choose” whether to kill a human being. You can't say it's okay to kill a human being because he was the product of rape or incest. You can’t argue that protecting the life of a human being unfairly extends government power -- the government already has, and must have, that power. And you surely can’t say we must kill masses of innocent humans for the greater good of society. That’s more than hitlerian. It’s satanic.

You can see pro-choicers stumble over this problem of logic when feminists, say, complain that people are aborting far more girls than boys or when gays worry that the discovery of a “gay gene” may lead to a “gay holocaust” by abortion. It ain’t a holocaust if you’re not killing people. And if unborn children aren’t human, why shouldn’t parents kill them off until they get the one they want?

I still believe it's possible for a person of good will to make the argument that a fetus is not fully human for some small period of its development. Thomas Aquinas did -- and the man was a saint. But more and more, that point of view is coming to seem to me pre-scientific. In any case, if that's the argument pro-choicers want to have, let’s have that argument, and no other -- because no other matters. And if we as a free people decide that unborn children are children indeed, there is no moral alternative: we must not only end abortion but put our full efforts into supporting humane and broadly available methods of welcoming the unwanted.