Anarchy, Liberty, and Abortion: A Rejoinder

I like to read Butler Shaffer[i]. Whenever I see something he has written, I take a look at it. He is intelligent, well-educated, and thinks and writes in a style which most people can understand. His analyses are written calmly, rationally, and include a good measure of common sense. In 2012, he wrote an article which originally appeared on Lew Rockwell. Some of it did not set well with me. This is my response. The relevant parts are copied below with some minor editing.

 “…narrowing the inquiry to the issue of when a given life form becomes a “person,” I regard this as occurring upon conception. It is the point at which one acquires his/her unique DNA that the sense of “thingness” is transformed into a  “personhood” that is relatively free of arbitrary definition…”

I am in complete agreement with this. See my blog post.

“I also believe that it is wrong to kill or use any form of violence against a person, which…makes the killing of an unborn child an act of murder…”

Assuming he means aggressive, initiatory killing or violence against another, I also agree with this. However, he goes on to say that,

“…I am unwilling to sanction the use of violence to either (a) physically prevent, or (b) punish a woman for having an abortion…”

This is where the disconnect begins. It appears to me that there is a contradiction here.

  1. Humanity and person-hood come into being at conception.
  2. It is wrong to kill another person, including those unborn.
  3. We should not use violence or force to:
    a. Prevent a woman from killing her unborn child, or,
    b. Punish her if she does.

[Side note: Although I may not agree with them, I can understand the reasons why we cannot (should not) stop any woman from pursuing an abortion, in the same way that we cannot stop any person from killing another by any other means. If a person is determined to kill someone else, there is literally no way to stop them unless they are completely and forcefully isolated from that person, which action, in itself, then becomes an infringement of civil liberties. A crime is not a crime until it has happened, at which time it is too late to prevent it. It may be foolish or dangerous to aim a rifle at someone 500 yards away, but there is no crime until the trigger is pulled and the bullet is sent on its way. It may be despicable and abominable for a woman to think about killing her child or even to go to the ‘clinic’ with the intention of doing so, but until the abortion happens, she cannot be found guilty of a crime.[ii]

This is a legal matter as opposed to a moral one. Whether we have a moral imperative to pass laws to stop someone from pulling the trigger on any forceful, violent, or deadly act is something else entirely, which is a discussion for another time.]

Assuming we do nothing to stop a pregnant woman from aborting her unborn child (an act of aggression, murder), what then do we do about the act? What do we do about the “doctor” who performed the deed? The clinical staff which facilitated it? The company which owned the clinic? The husband, boyfriend, or parent who encouraged it? The woman, herself? It is 100% certain that an innocent human being has been violently destroyed. What should be the response of society to this act?

As I see it, according to Shaffer’s line of argument, abortion (which results in the death of an unborn human being) is murder, but there should be no sanctions against it. If I am understanding him correctly, society and the law should do nothing. Nothing at all.

This has implications. If we do nothing about an abortion, an act of murder, which kills a human being before she is born, then why should we be concerned about an act of murder which kills her after she is born?

You get my drift. Everything is relative.

 “From a libertarian perspective, the question becomes (as it does in our daily lives): how do we exercise our freedom so as to minimize harm to others?”

This is good, but he didn’t go far enough. The question becomes—how do we exercise our freedom, not only to minimize harm to others, but also to punish the harm done to others? There are at least four possibilities here. There may be more.

  1. Abortions should be illegal, regardless of any woman’s wishes. They are not free to kill their unborn children. Period. It is the Law!
  2. Abortions should be legal. Any woman can have one if she wishes and no one else has anything to say about it. Period. It is the Law!
  3. I don’t approve of abortions, but it’s not my problem. I’m not going to get involved. A poor companion of this is, “I don’t have an opinion, one way or the other.”
  4. No one should be able to forcibly prevent a woman from aborting her unborn child, but she needs to understand that she may be prosecuted for murder if she does and is found out. This is my position.

It may sound strange, but everyone has the innate ‘freedom’ to kill someone else. It is no different than having the ‘freedom’ to drive a car at 50 mph in a school zone which has a posted 15 mph speed limit or to burn down your neighbor’s house because you got into a fight with him earlier in the day. We have the freedom to do all these things, and more, but that doesn’t mean we should or that our actions will go unpunished if we do.[iii] If we are not free to do wrong, then we are not free at all. In this sense, we are simply walking in God’s footsteps after Him. After all, God did not prevent Cain from killing his brother Abel, but called him to account for the deed after it was done.[iv] God simply does not engage in pre-crime.[v]  

“In my view of the world, a pregnant woman will make her own decision as to whether to abort. I may disapprove of the decision she makes, but I will not resort to — nor sanction — force against her to make her conform to my value. I ask only that she be willing to defend my freedom to make choices in the world.”

If you ask him (I did), Butler Shaffer will tell you that he holds his position on this matter because of his strong anarchist philosophy. I can agree with this in most things, but we are dealing here with the violent death of unborn human beings. If there were any single issue which would drive me to prefer minarchy (minimal government) over anarchy (no government), it would be this one. If we cannot defend the lives of unborn babies from the murderous depredations of their own mothers, then we can defend no one.

I want other people to not interfere with my day-to-day life. In return, I try to do the same for them. I’ll leave you alone. You leave me alone. Which is all perfectly acceptable until something bad happens to someone who doesn’t deserve what they got at the hands of someone I left alone.

What are my responsibilities then?

[i] Butler Shaffer is Professor Emeritus at Southwestern University School of Law. I usually find his articles on Lew Rockwell and always find them interesting.

[ii] In a similar vein, according to the teaching of Jesus, “…if you look at a woman with lust, you have already committed adultery with her in your heart.” God doesn’t stop men from looking at women lustfully, but He does hold them accountable if they do.

[iii] The State of Florida, in which I lived for almost ten years, takes a very dim view of motorists driving faster than the posted speed limit in a school zone. You can do it, but you’d better not.

[iv]Genesis 4:1-18. See this version of the story here.

[v] I find it ironic that the State tries to eliminate death and injury in certain cases, i.e., mandatory vaccinations and required seat belt use while driving, but it abets and facilitates them in others, i.e., wars and abortions. Do as I say, not as I do. Talk about contradictions. God, at least, is consistent.

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