Category Archives: Abortion

Is it a natural right?

How Are Souls Created?

I have enumerated the parts of the human soul as follows:

Living, vegetative, sensitive, self-moving, and rational. It's a Tower of Hanoi sort of setup, whereby each more sophisticated part of soul rests upon all the more primitive ones.

Lower creatures have some but not all of these. There are several possibilities.

First, a full-featured soul may be created by God or descend from heaven immediately upon conception. The body's stage of development determines how severely the soul is handicapped in its powers. This opinion has problems. For one, if a miscarriage occurs sufficiently early during gestation, a frequent enough affair, then the soul would have to go back to heaven empty-handed, or without useful experiences, in vain. The idea of such objectionably masturbatory trips back and forth seems sufficiently comical not to be taken seriously. In addition, this makes especially embarrassing the problem of the "limbo" of the children in Christian theological speculation (which admitting reincarnation may of course render irrelevant) being populated mostly by embryos.

The second possibility is that God uploads each faculty into the body as it gestates step by step. This, too, is unsatisfactory. Now the fertilized egg is alive and so has a living soul at the outset. If all further faculties, vegetative, sensitive, etc., are forged and infused by God, then God would also have to control the prenatal growth of all plants and animals. A plant produces a seed, and suddenly God has to supervise the seed's "spiritual" development. Two porcupines have sex, and God immediately has to concern himself with their offspring, timing their soul developments perfectly. And this is absurd.

Third, perhaps the entire soul of any creature develops naturally, including through the stages described, along with the body. This has some attraction, but still is rather iffy, because the rational faculty is far too mighty a power simply to up and arise. One and one's soul either are rational or not; the gulf between the two is unbridgeable. And there is another major difference in kind: a rational soul is naturally immortal (once it exists) and is slated for heaven, while a non-rational soul is naturally corruptible and is indeed like a "puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears."

In addition, this solution is incompatible with reincarnation; hence, it depends on the fairly controversial premise that reincarnation is not a thing.

Therefore, we must assert that the vegetative, sensitive, and self-moving spiritual human faculties develop on their own accord along with the body of the embryo / fetus, while the rational faculty is either created by God or comes down from heaven, snapping securely into place in the fullness of time. The rational part completes the human soul's development as though a crown were placed on the king's head. (Again, this does not entail that the fetus can now think; rather, it would be able to think but for the primitiveness of the body which at this point shuts off most of the soul's powers.)

For example, only a few days after fertilization, cellular differentiation begins, thus endowing the embryo with the dignity of a plant and its vegetative "growing" soul. Unlike the conferring of the rational soul, this seems to require no divine action.

The benefits of this understanding are many.

First, it neither precludes nor requires reincarnation.

Second, it postpones the creation of the rational faculty considerably, into the 2nd trimester, thus preventing numerous apparently superfluous and frustrating journeys of a soul from heaven to earth and back; even without admitting reincarnation, it makes somewhat less offensive the ugly artifice of the limbo. Before its acquisition of the rational soul, the embryo's soul is not at all immortal and simply corrupts if the embryo dies, e.g., it is somehow absorbed into God or dissipated with no consequences.

Third, it suggests reasonably that early abortions are not immoral, with 21 weeks at quickening being the upper limit on permissible abortion. The correct cutoff age could of course be even earlier; thus, Wikipedia informs us that during weeks 13 to 16, "the fetus makes active movements; sucking motions are made with the mouth"; and even during weeks 10 to 12, "the fetus can make a fist with its fingers." It appears that the power of self-motion develops fairly early during pregnancy, at which point the rational soul can be finally infused. Once the soul is completed, aborting the unborn child is a major sin.

Abortion: Consequences of Outlawry

If I am right, and Rothbard has not proved beyond reasonable doubt that abortion is a natural right, perhaps we can look at the consequences of legally prohibiting it.

The result will surely be (1) aborting fewer and (2) conceiving fewer.

Now first, the pro-choicers argue that prohibiting abortions will lead to women self-inducing abortions in the back alley using dangerous methods ("coat hangers"). This is definitely a social cost. But it is also very likely that the number of illegal abortions committed in this way will be smaller than the number of legal abortions committed now. Isn't that a desirable social goal? How much smaller, no one can tell, so why not experiment to find out? Let's repeal Roe v. Wade, let states handle abortion decisions, and do a thorough study a few years after to see by how much abortions have declined.

Second, it will encourage more responsible sexual behavior. People will be more careful if they know that the cost of conceiving is having to bring the baby to term and be a parent or at least, if the baby is given for adoption, bear the burden of knowing that you have a child whom you were meant to rear and whom you will, however, never see. Again it is very hard to say by how much the number of abortions will drop, but drop it surely will.

For example, suppose that when abortion is legal, every year 10 million children are conceived, and of those 10 million, 5 million are deliberately aborted. After the prohibition is in place, we should expect something like the following: 2 million children are never conceived in the first place due to the new incentives, so only 8 million are conceived; furthermore, of those 8 million, not 3 million but only 1 million are aborted.

A cost associated with this consequence is less sexual fun for the people, but then again perhaps free love is neither in the first place.

A further benefit might be that some abortion doctors will find a less disreputable occupation.

These considerations should be weighed against two things: (i) the harm to undeterred women and doctors from the punishments inflicted by the authorities; and (ii) the extra costs to the taxpayers of additional law enforcement.

“After-Birth Abortion”

Philosophers Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva find no reason to outlaw infanticide. They appear to make no distinction, however, between killing and letting die.

Given this caveat, Rothbard would agree with the authors 100%:

The parent therefore may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die. The law, therefore, may not properly compel the parent to feed a child or to keep it alive. ...

This rule allows us to solve such vexing questions as: should a parent have the right to allow a deformed baby to die (e.g. by not feeding it)? The answer is of course yes, following a fortiori from the larger right to allow any baby, whether deformed or not, to die. (EoL, 100-1)

A parent enjoys natural guardianship rights but is burdened by no guardianship obligations. The rights expire when the child asserts his full rights to self-ownership. That occurs

when he demonstrates that he has them in nature -- in short, when he leaves or "runs away" from home. Regardless of his age, we must grant to every child the absolute right to run away and to find new foster parents who will voluntarily adopt him, or to try to exist on his own.

Parents may try to persuade the runaway child to return, but it is totally impermissible enslavement and an aggression upon his right of self-ownership for them to use force to compel him to return.

The absolute right to run away is the child's ultimate expression of his right of self-ownership, regardless of age. (103)

Walter Block has added the refinement that if the parents want to abandon their child, they can't just let him starve in their house. They must do so by following the customary formal procedure of abandonment of any property. The point is to let everyone know that the guardianship rights have indeed been relinquished and to grant other people some time and opportunity to "homestead" the now unguarded child.

I fully agree that it's a clear absurdity for Smith to abandon ownership of a parcel of land, say, without notifying the whole world of this through some established means. The property would be objectively up for grabs, but if people falsely thought that Smith still owned it, no one would be able to homestead it. A useful to society resource would then for all intents and purposes be destroyed. Similarly, parents can be obliged even by libertarian law to care for the child during the entire period of time that custom or convention has decreed will be given to neighbors to pick this child up and give him a new home.

Abortion: Block vs. Rothbard

Notice the difference between the Rothbard's and Block's approaches to abortion. As Sadowsky argues, "My first comment is that the majority of abortions do not fit the above description. What is wanted in most cases is precisely the death of the child. Most of those seeking abortions would be horrified at the thought that the child might survive his expulsion. Just ask your friends if all they are after is simply a premature birth."

To this Rothbard replies: "Jim Sadowsky stresses the point that most mothers who commit abortion in fact desire not only the ejection, but also the death of the fetus (or, as he persists in referring to it, of the 'child'). Here I don't think the intention of the parent makes any difference. If the objective act itself -- the ejection of the fetus -- is licit and not an act of aggression, then the subjective intentions of the parent make no difference."

But that cannot possibly do for Block. For he is an "evictionist" who argues that the mother never has the right to destroy the fetus but only to "abandon" it. These have different consequences when it comes to abortion. As far as Block is concerned, Rothbard's reply to Sadowsky simply begs the question. The ejection of the fetus is licit only when every effort is made to allow the fetus to be picked up by any willing step-parent (even if no such picking up actually occurs and the fetus will die from lack of care).

Thus, if the parents fail to advertise the impending abortion publicly (some weeks ahead of time, perhaps?), even take some "reasonable" steps to finding a new guardian, and follow through all the formalities laid down by their community regarding legal abandonment of property titles or guardianship rights over children or fetuses, then the parents, in aborting, are, as per Block's logic, committing murder.

The secret "subjective intentions" of the parent may make no difference, if by that we mean that the parent may in the privacy of her mind want the fetus to die, but her behavior will be very different for Block than for Rothbard. Rothbard would permit all abortions on grounds of self-defense; Block would permit only those abortions which are self-consciously styled as abandonments of the parent's guardianship over the fetus, and as long as the parent jumps through all the legal hoops to impart their neighbors with a genuine opportunity "easily" to "homestead" the fetus.

Abortion: Proper Blockian

Note that a Proper Blockian abortion can have 3 outcomes:

(a) the expelled or evicted fetus is non-viable, cannot be saved, and dies;
(b) the fetus is viable, someone chooses to adopt it, and it lives;
(c) the fetus is viable, but no one wants to care for it, and it dies.

Walter Block argues "progressively," i.e., by appealing to future improvement in technology and economic conditions to generate consensus, that (b) and (c) are inherently lawful, and as society advances, cases like (a) will become increasingly less frequent. Hence, "in 100 years, libertarians will be considered to be 100% pro-life."

Abortion: Sterility of Evictionism

The following two scenarios further clarify my proposal that abortion lies midway between Sadowsky's view and Rothbard's.

1. You are flying a medium-sized airplane while participating in a race which is important for your career. You're pretty confident you can win. For some reason, the plane feels sluggish. You turn around and see a stowaway, a fat guy just sitting there staring at you. You realize that with this bastard on board, you're going to lose. Yet we probably agree that despite the high costs that the stowaway imposes on you, you still can't get rid of him. Could a similar argument be made in the case of abortion?

2. Smith was shipwrecked on a desert island which over the years he has thoroughly homesteaded. Then Jones gets shipwrecked near the island, swims ashore, and is greeted by Smith who tells him: "This is my island. You are trespassing on private property. Go back where you came from. Go swim in the ocean." Does Smith have the right to do that, or is it murder?

By the way, I doubt these examples are original; I'm sure these issues have been discussed by libertarians before.

It seems to follow that when a "career woman" has an abortion so she may focus on climbing the ladder, that may be made illegal. Similarly, perhaps a girl wants to get married well, and if she has (especially illegitimate) children, then her prospects will be dim. Perhaps abortion for such a reason, too, should be legally proscribed.

It's interesting how after a detour into evictionism, we have landed straight in the middle of the general controversy. Abortion is not Ok for the sake of convenience but is permitted if the mother's life is in danger or in cases of rape and incest or ...

Evictionism is theoretically important but turns out practically to be of little value.

I've distinguished between abortions of type (a) or Proper Blockian abortions, in which the fetus is unambiguously and in full health expelled, and abortions of type (b), where the fetus is destroyed inside the womb and the remains are sucked out. Now suppose that human biology worked in such a way that the dead fetus could not be extracted (though perhaps a live one could be); rather, the mother digested the remains. Clearly, in (b) no eviction of any kind any longer happens. Smith does not escort Jones out onto a public road; he kills Jones and dissolves his body in a vat of acid right there on his property. Does the woman really have the right to kill the trespasser and eat its flesh?

Abortion: Evictionism vs. Self-Defense

Stated differently, since most abortions are not Proper Rothbardian / Blockian and of type (b) (or praxeologically very similar to type (b)), evictionism is a pleasant theory -- one which I like a lot -- but it's inapplicable to real-world situations.

The theory that is actually used to justify abortions -- by none other than Rothbard himself -- i.e., the self-defense theory, is one which reasonable libertarians can disagree about. Statements like "an assault on someone's body is a more heinous crime than the theft of his property" already entail that the difference is not in kind but in degree, and we can immediately ask whether the killing of the fetus is proportional to the woman's injury, etc.

Again, the Sadowsky debate shows how great a role raw intuitive emotions play in this issue.

On the one hand, we have Sadowsky's stowaway on the airplane. Of course, it would be crazy for the pilot to insist on his property right and throw the poor guy overboard.

On the other hand, we have Rothbard's pianist hooked up to your kidneys. Moreover, you've been kidnapped. I imagine you lie in some Matrix-like cradle with wires coming out of your body to sustain the pianist. In this situation, I'll be damned if I let this continue. To hell with the pianist; I'm ripping the wires off and getting out of there!

Pregnancy is clearly somewhere in between. Therefore, the correct answer is harder to discover.

This middle ground between the Sadowsky's example and Rothbard's is a slippery slope in both directions. Here's how we can slip toward the Sadowsky's extreme. Smith is seriously ill, and Jones is paying to prolong his life. With this help, Smith is estimated to live for 9 months; if Jones stops paying, then Smith will die within days. If Sadowsky is to be taken seriously, then we must conclude that Jones has no legal right to quit paying. And that seems deeply wrong. However, slippery slopes can and should be resisted.

Abortion: Vindicating Rothbard

Rothbard has seized upon an important but accidental feature of human procreation, namely, that the child is attached to the mother.

One consequence is that a Proper Rothbardian abortion would proceed as follows: (a) the child is carefully extracted from the womb, alive and well, placed near the mother, and then slowly dies from exposure and lack of nutrients, if no one is willing to pick it up.

But don't actual abortions occur in a different way, viz., (b) the child is killed inside the womb, and the remains are sucked out? Rothbard himself writes that "a parent does not have the right to aggress against his children," but do not most abortions do exactly that?

Furthermore, praxeologically, (a) and (b) constitute a distinction without a difference. The child dies either way, and the parents go home happy either way. A non-philosopher may well ask what the big deal is in this hair-splitting.

Thus, the question of whether unborn children have rights does not become irrelevant even if we use Rothbard's approach.

Here's the formal argument.

(1): Rothbard: "a parent does not have the right to aggress against his children."

(2) According to a non-philosopher, either both (a) and (b) are permissible or neither (a) nor (b) is permissible.

(3) A pro-life person would disallow both; a pro-choice libertarian would seem to be committed to disallowing (b) only.

(4) Only the pro-life position appears at first glance to be consistent.

Here's another illustration. Let Smith be trespassing on Jones' property. (i) = Jones' bouncers escort Smith out. (ii) = Jones kills Smith and dumps his corpse in a public waste disposal site.

Clearly, these are very different. (i) is obviously Ok, (ii) is obviously not.

But in the case of abortion, (a) and (b) are almost indistinguishable. What is Ok and what is not Ok is no longer "obvious."

A clue toward a Rothbardian reply can be found in his debate with Jim Sadowsky:

"Sadowsky is worried about ejecting a stowaway on an airplane. Yes, I suppose that would be 'overkill,' to coin a pun. But the point here is that, just as an assault on someone's body is a more heinous crime than the theft of his property, so the trespassing on or within a person's body is a far more heinous trespass that merely strolling on his land or stowing away on an aircraft. For the crime of trespassing within a person's body, any means necessary to evict the trespasser should be legitimate."

Any means, including (b). So, (b) is legitimate, if it is the only way to abort. Hence, the argument fails at (3). The parent is not aggressing against the fetus but is defending herself. If Smith, instead of walking on Jones' land, was a demon who tried to possess Jones' body, then surely, Jones would be justified in killing the demon.

On this reasoning, abortion of type (a) is permissible for the less controversial (in libertarian circles) reason of the rights of the mother to her body.

Abortion of type (b) is permissible for perhaps somewhat more dubious reason of self-defense: the mother is defending herself against a dangerous parasite who is preying on her, and if she has to kill it to get it out, then so be it.

Abortion: Sin or Crime?, 2

I agree that abortion is a great sin in Christian understanding.

But whether abortion ought to be criminalized by the state is an issue of secular political philosophy and economic calculation of costs and benefits of particular laws, areas in which Christians have no inherently greater authority than non-Christians.

The Christians' unique divine grace confers upon them no special expertise in any natural science.

Nor should their hatred of sin cloud their judgment in regard to what should be considered to be violent crimes to be punished by the authorities and how. Unjust or unfitting government violence is itself a grievous sin.

Re: City Without an Abortion Clinic

Oh, so it's not Ok with left-liberals to regulate abortion clinics out of existence!

Leftists become quite the economists when their favorite freedoms are under attack.

How inconsistent with their love of economic red tape everywhere else.

Abortion: Sin or Crime?

The fact that abortion may be a sin does not entail that it ought to be criminalized. I must side with Rothbard on that.

Quickening and Abortion

I think I understand why some ancients considered quickening or the mother's feeling the baby inside her moving to be the cutoff point for legitimate abortion. That is because the primal definition of the soul is the principle of self-motion, and when the child begins to move on its own, it is a sign that at least the animal soul has been implanted into or has developed in it. At this point the child in a sense becomes its own master, separate from its mother, choosing -- perhaps at first by instinct, but choosing nonetheless -- what it wants to do.

If it is objected that lower animals move, too, yet it is not wrong to kill them, then the reply is simply that it is wrong to abort only moving human fetuses.

Before quickening, the fetus is like a plant; after it, it becomes an animal. Now a human being is a rational animal, and a fetus is not yet rational, but we all agree it is unlawful to aggress against newborns who are also not yet rational but already animals.

Hence, the difference between a pre-quickening fetus and a child is in kind, and the difference between a post-quickening fetus and a child is in degree. The different treatment vis-à-vis abortion follows and might be attempted to be justified according to this criterion.

Alternatively, quickening is a sign that the rational soul is about to be infused into the fetus, at which point the soul becomes fully human and immortal.

“Culture of Death”

As follows from the previous note, not using man-made contraceptives entails a "pro-life" attitude, a state of mind that affirms humanity. It's a healthy philosophy of life or ideology, as wholesome as libertarianism is compared to evil conservatism and stupid left-liberalism.

When John Paul II mentioned the culture of death with respect to contraceptives, he is to be understood in a sense different from such a culture with respect to abortion. This is because for birth control, children are never conceived in the first place and therefore, cannot die. The Pope was referring to the death of the human race.

Perpetuation of the species is a different thing altogether from individual search for happiness. Sometimes the two are in conflict, and when such is the case, the conflict must be wisely resolved.

It is certainly true that any single person's decisions regarding his own procreation cannot be held responsible for the fate of the human race. If we are to go extinct, this particular Smith was not the cause of it. Therefore, again, using NFP in married life is a matter of piety, of something given to God according to justice, in God's capacity as an authority over His most valuable creation, the human race. Smith will not bring about the continuation of our species, but he will at least practice what he preaches.

Abortion for Blacks?

Fox-Genovese points out: "Planned Parenthood still reminds potential contributors about how much the pregnancies of poor unmarried women cost taxpayers, suggesting that the wide availability of birth control and abortion will reduce the bill." Well, let's spell it out, shall we, lest there be any confusion. This is obviously about blacks. Liberals view the spread of blacks as a natural disaster, like plague of locusts. Is that reasonable? I don't know, but that abortion has been justified as a measure to prune the black population is certainly true. The steps from permitting black women to abort their children to forcing them to abort to, finally, sterilizing them seem to follow naturally.

The most ridiculous thing is that this despotic and inhuman ideology could have been avoided, if we had economic laissez-faire. For under freedom, everyone is responsible for their own children. There are ruthless market incentives against irresponsible sex.

So, first, liberals chose to give (other people's) money to women for having illegitimate children out of "compassion." The psychology of races is such that blacks were encouraged to have many more such children than whites. Black fathers were often much stricter with their daughters than white fathers with theirs, and for a good reason. In the end, they couldn't save the situation. Mix in the drug war, the black guys' naturally greater violent tendencies (hey, as Kramer said in Seinfeld, "Mother nature is a mad scientist"), especially when fatherless, and we have our locusts.

The liberals were horrified by this. Of course, coercive "compassion" had to stay. Still, liberals became "concerned about overpopulation by 'poor' and 'minority' children." Since we live in a scientific age (especially in which the government is imagined to be able to successfully manage the economy), their second step was to attempt to find methods to stem the tide of black bastards, so that "they" would not supplant "us." And we wonder why some blacks think the CIA is selling crack in their communities!

Abortion Statism

Fox-Genovese betrays her allegiance when she claims that "most Americans willingly acknowledged that easily available, publicly funded abortion would deter society from punishing women whose new sexual opportunities led them into a mistake." Publicly funded, huh? Let me use the standard labels for a bit. Liberals claim that conservatives practice repression: they aren't satisfied with just leading righteous lives, as they see it, themselves and avoid abortions; they want to force women who do not subscribe to their moral view also not to have abortions. Yet here we have liberals not only wanting conservatives to endure the sight of dead babies in their midst but also pay for killing them! How are liberals not repressive, the very vice they accuse conservatives of?