Conjoined Twins, Property Rights, and the Abortion Issue

In an article [i] on property rights concerning conjoined twins, Walter Block and Jeremiah Dyke [ii] have raised some interesting questions and thoughts. See here to read the full essay. Many of them could easily be applied to the abortion issue without doing much more than simply changing a few words here or there. I do not necessarily have any argument with the authors concerning the issue of conjoined twins, but wanted to draw attention to the ease with which the arguments could apply to the abortion debate.

“Though an individual has the right to not be physically aggressed against, he does not have the right to demand someone help or save him if he is being physically aggressed against.”–Dyke and Block

Though a woman has the right to not be pregnant against her will, she does not have the right to demand someone help or save her if she is pregnant against her will. If she does not have the right to demand that someone help or save her from the predicament she finds herself in, then she does not have the authority to demand that abortion be legal or that she be allowed to kill her unborn child for any reason she finds suitable.

This is especially relevant since women everywhere are literally demanding that society, culture, and State grant them help and salvation in their quest to be non-pregnant. No one, least of all a more powerful government, should be able to force a woman to be pregnant, but it does not follow that she can manipulate government to allow the use of force to kill her unborn child. Dyke and Block should examine their positions to ensure that all of their statements are consistent with each other.

“…who owns the body if it is under the control of two wills? Is it even intelligible to consider property under duel ownership of two wills?—Dyke and Block

Who owns the body of the fetus if it is under the control of the fetus—the mother or the child? For that matter, who owns the body of the mother if it is under the control of the developing fetus? Is the body of the mother under the control of the fetus or the mother? There is no disputing that the physical condition of the woman changes as the pregnancy progresses, but is this an act of aggression on the part of the unborn child or just a natural response to the pregnancy?

“Are there limits of a dominant twin based on the demands of the other twin?”—Dyke and Block


Are there limits of a dominant will based on the demands of the other submissive will? Dyke and Block were concerned about the limitations of property rights of conjoined twins, but what happens if we compare this question to that of a pregnancy in which there are also two individuals sharing a physical connection? Are there any limits to a woman’s will based on the demands of an unborn child’s? What are the unspoken, yet proven demands of the unborn child? There are only three: time, proper nutrition, and protection. Take away any of one of these three and the life of the child is placed in jeopardy. Take away all of them, according to legally defined abortion laws, and there are virtually no limits placed on the woman as regards these demands.

“Could one twin commit a crime while the other was innocent?”—Block/Dyke

In the case of conjoined twins, this might be a dilemma. It is entirely possible that one twin could completely overrule or overpower the other in committing a crime. In the event of this happening, the only defense possible by the non-dominant twin would be that of unwillingness. “I didn’t want to, but he made me do it!”

In the event of pregnancy and abortion, there is no question. This is not even a valid question. One party (the woman) can absolutely commit a vicious, murderous act while the other (the unborn child) would be completely innocent, but without recourse or appeal to law.

“What, if any, are the limits of restitution and punishment regarding conjoined twins?”—Dyke and Block

If this question were applied to the abortion issue, it would be laughed out of court. The fact of the matter is that the fetus pays the ultimate price and the amount of restitution (subjectively determined) depends on the way the woman lives her life thereafter. Does she gain enough from the abortion to more than make up for the “crime” against her bodily integrity? How are the costs assessed? How is the reparation made? Does the punishment fit the crime or is it excessive?

“Could one twin legally end his life if it meant the end of both of their lives?”—Dyke and Block

In America, under today’s laws, women cannot legally commit suicide in most cases. If they could and were pregnant, it would inevitably mean the death of the unborn child. However, in whatever form it appears, Truth does not tolerate any inconsistencies, hypocrisies, or contradictions. The fact that women cannot legally commit suicide, but can legally kill their unborn children is inconsistent and therefore intolerable. As such, it will eventually be resolved in one of two ways:

  1. Abortion which kills children will eventually be outlawed and prosecuted as criminal, or,
  2. Suicide will be made legal for anyone (adults, at least) regardless of circumstances.

“Could one twin enter into a contract without the consent of the other?”—Dyke and Block

Could one conjoined twin get married without the consent of the other? How would that happen? Assuming that the conjoined twins were female with a shared body and two heads, would the consummation of the marriage be considered rape on the part of the unwilling twin? What if a pregnancy occurred as a result of that consummation? Could the unwilling twin be able to claim the “right” of abortion and terminate the pregnancy against the wishes of the “mother”? If the child were carried to term and delivered, would she have “two mommies”? Would the unwilling twin be called “Auntie”?

What a can of worms! Perhaps we should turn our attention elsewhere.

______________________________________________________________________________

“Conflicts arise, whenever two actors want and try to use one and the same physical means – the same body, standing room or external object for the attainment of different goals, i.e., when their interests regarding such means are not harmonious but incompatible or antagonistic. Two actors cannot at the same time use the same physical means for alternative purposes. If they try to do so, they must clash. Only one person’s will or that of another can prevail, but not both.” –Herman-Hoppe, Ethics of Argumentation [iii]

Herman-Hoppe is correct in his assessment of conflict. In the abortion war, it simply means the idea that women can kill their unborn children is dominant and accepted, or it is unacceptable and going to be contested. Only one view, not both, is going to prevail, and because tides and opinions change, it is probable that what is seen to prevail today will, in all likelihood, be subjugated tomorrow.

The conflict arises when we try to reduce human beings to a concept of property without any sense of moral grounding. Under some libertarian theory, human beings own their own bodies and can do whatever they wish, so long as they don’t act aggressively toward someone else. (See here for a differing opinion.) By extension, because every human being owns his (her) own body, no other human being can own it, thereby eliminating any invalid form of slavery. Involuntary servitude may sometimes be allowed, even mandated for one reason or another, but only in the pursuit of criminal justice.  

The conflict rages when two actors (born woman, unborn woman) want and try to use the same body for different goals, i.e., when one does not wish to be pregnant and the other needs the space in order to develop. Whose will is dominant? Whose “rights” are protected? Whose “freedoms” are violated? When abortion is legal, the pregnancy is ended by the killing of the dependent child who is unable to defend herself against the aggression.

The pregnancy may be ended, but the conflict is not resolved. [iv] The abortion war is fought, not by the ones who die, but by those who don’t. The fact that many innocent civilians are killed without regard for their lives is not greatly different than two large, political powers supporting, encouraging, and abetting various factions in small, weak countries, e.g., Syria, Yemen, or Venezuela, among others. The locals pay the price, the string-pullers reap the benefits.

Abortion is not an issue of property rights. Instead, it rises out of a moral and spiritual question—good or evil, and the dispute will continue until one side or the other is completely beaten and disappears forever. In other words, not until the end of time itself. In the meantime, we must do what we believe to be right and try to minimize the number of casualties inflicted.

So long as abortion on demand is with us, there is no compromise. No matter how pretty a face we try to put on it, in the end all we are doing is painting lipstick on a pig.


[i] Jeremiah Dyke & Walter E. Block, “Explorations in Property Rights: Conjoined Twins,”Libertarian Papers3, 38 (2011)

[ii] Jeremiah Dyke (jeremiahdyke@gmail.com) is Instructor of Mathematics, Lord Fairfax Community College.Walter E. Block (www.WalterBlock.com; wblock@loyno.edu) is Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Prof. of Economics, College of Business, Loyola University New Orleans and a Senior Fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

[iii] . https://misesuk.org/2016/10/09/hans-hermann-hoppe-the-ethics-of-argumentation-2016/

[iv] Similar to the Korean War. See here.

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