Absolute Truth, Property Rights, and Abortion: A Collision

I need to give you some background for this article. Don’t worry if it looks like I’m wandering, I’m only setting the stage. I’ll be getting to the point in a minute or two.

I follow a blog—Bionic Mosquito. You can see it here. It’s a mix of hard-core philosophy, libertarianism, Christianity, and the never-ending quest for truth. Sometimes the author, Bionic Mosquito (or BM, as he is known), gets into subject matter which I am not interested in and I skim through it and move on. Other times, he presents a topic to which I go back, over and over, until I have it thoroughly understood. Occasionally I comment.

Recently, a post on ethical absolutism appeared which drew my attention. In this, Bionic Mosquito posted some comments by Murray Rothbard, the demi-god[i] of libertarianism. Rothbard was apparently in disagreement with Ludwig von Mises, who was instrumental in the creation of Austrian economics, about the question of ethics. Is ethics absolute or relative? Is there an objective truth or is all truth subjective?

Rothbard had this to say.

“The absolutist believes that man’s mind, employing reason (which according to some absolutists is divinely inspired, according to others is given by nature), is capable of discovering and knowing truth: including the truth about reality, and the truth about what is best for man and best for himself as an individual.”

I have included here a quote from Bionic Mosquito’s post. He makes an argument that I cannot improve on.

“I could probably stop here; from this statement, two points are clear: first, that there is an objective truth regarding humans and for humans, and second, that it is to be discovered by humans, not created by humans.  But I won’t stop here; his statements grow ever stronger and more relevant.”

Back to Rothbard.

“Philosophically, I believe that libertarianism — and the wider creed of sound individualism of which libertarianism is a part — must rest on absolutism and deny relativism.”

All right, then, so far, so good. Rothbard (and Bionic Mosquito) states that there is an objective truth that man can find if he searches for it. That truth is best for man as an individual and as a society. Furthermore, it does not come from man, but it is available to man. He (Rothbard) then states without any doubt or equivocation that libertarianism “must rest on absolutism and deny relativism.”

OK, let’s get to my argument.

If Rothbard could be so certain that there was absolute truth, an absolute ethic, an absolute moral code that he would bank his life’s work on it, then why in the world would he spend so much time and effort trying to justify abortion as a woman’s right? Why would he pursue the idea of ‘property rights’ so vigorously that he arrived at the conclusion that a woman’s subjective decision could override the objective truth about the unborn child in her womb?

“The proper groundwork for analysis of abortion is in every man’s absolute right of self-ownership. This implies immediately that every woman has the absolute right to her own body, that she has absolute dominion over her body and everything within it. This includes the fetus. Most fetuses are in the mother’s womb because the mother consents to this situation, but the fetus is there by the mother’s freely-granted consent. But should the mother decide that she does not want the fetus there any longer, then the fetus becomes a parasitic “invader” of her person, and the mother has the perfect right to expel this invader from her domain. Abortion should be looked upon, not as “murder” of a living person, but as the expulsion of an unwanted invader from the mother’s body.2 Any laws restricting or pro- hibiting abortion are therefore invasions of the rights of mothers.”[i]

Rothbard says that there is an absolute ethic, an objective moral code which all men and women would be better off following, but spends a large part of his life on the issue of property rights—compelling him to declare that women have absolute ownership of their bodies and the concomitant right to destroy their unborn children.

If there is an absolute, objective moral code which declares that all human beings have value and that to kill one is to commit murder, then it is certain that killing an unborn child is murder, because it is without doubt a human being. If this is true, then Rothbard is wrong. It is my opinion that he became so caught up in the theory of property rights that it simply transcended his viewpoint about absolute ethics. In other words, he lost sight of the forest looking at the trees.

The question to ask then is this. Is there an absolute code which declares that unborn children are human beings, that they have value in the sight of that code, and that it is wrong to treat them as so many are today—torn apart and thrown away? I have no better answer than this quote from the Ultimate Definer of absolute morality, ethics, and truth.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; …”—Jeremiah 1:5


[i] Within the circles of libertarian thought, Rothbard is viewed with the same type of reverence and awe that Hercules was in ancient Greek Mythology.

[i] Murray Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, New York University Press, 1998 [1982], pg. 98. See this review.

Correcting the Terminology of Abortion: Parasites and Trespassers Defined, Part 2

[Editor’s Note: This is the second part of an article which was originally published in one piece. None of the content has been changed, except to facilitate the split. See here to view Part 1.

Section II: Trespassing

A Legal View of Trespass[i]

Murray Rothbard[ii], a major contributor to modern libertarian thought, stresses the “legality” of abortion in the quote shown below. He appeals to law to validate his claim that a woman has an absolute right to have an abortion.

“What we are trying to establish here is not the morality of abortion (which may or may not be moral on other grounds), but its legality, i.e., the absolute right of the mother to have an abortion”[iii]

Well, all right, then. Let’s look at this from a legal perspective. As you will see below, I argue that a fetus is not a trespasser based on the legal aspect of what it means to be a trespasser. I state firmly and unequivocally that a fetus CANNOT be a trespasser because there is no legal justification for the attribute. Trespassing is a criminal act, punishable by law! A fetus cannot be tried and convicted, by law, for the crime of trespass, therefore, a fetus is not a trespasser.

I will go further. Saddling a fetus with the pejorative label of “trespasser” or “parasite” is nothing more than an attempt to justify the pro-abortion position. It is in the same class as calling the fetus “a clump of cells”, “fetal tissue”, “product of conception”, “blob of protoplasm”, or “uterine content” and seeks to obfuscate the real meaning of what an abortion is–the deliberate killing of an innocent, unborn human being.

Dictionary definitions of ‘trespasser’ can be seen here.[iv]

“One who has committed trespass; one who unlawfully enters or intrudes upon another’s land, or unlawfully and forcibly takes another’s personal property.”

and here[v].

“In the law of tort, property, and criminal law a trespasser is a person who commits the act of trespassing on a property, that is, without the permission of the owner. Being present on land as a trespasser thereto creates liability in the trespasser, so long as the trespass is intentional.”

In these descriptions, the emphasis is on unlawful entry, forceful taking, and intentional action. This is about as far from a newly conceived zygote or a four-month old fetus as anything could get.

Let’s break this down. Trespassing is a criminal act, prohibited by law and punishable under law. It is embedded into the legal code. Trespassing may be done willfully, ignorantly, or mistakenly, but it always involves the crossing of a previously established boundary. The trespasser always intrudes on someone else’s space (property) from some other location or position. If there is no transgression of boundaries, there is no trespass.

To intrude on someone’s property by mistake or out of ignorance should not be (and usually is not) considered criminal unless damage is done to the property. More likely than not, trespassers who are confronted will remove themselves promptly, with the knowledge that behavior of that sort will not be tolerated. Trespassers who offer a sincere apology will probably be allowed to vacate the property without any further trouble and that will be the end of it. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1) An honest, contrite confession of a mistake or lack of knowledge will go a long way in defusing a potentially violent situation.

An example of this might be that a young woman from the city visits her uncle, who lives in a heavily forested part of the country. While there, she decides to venture out and explore the wilderness. Since there are no fences or signs, she has no idea that she has left her uncle’s property and is now walking through his neighbor’s forest. The neighbor sees her, confronts her, and warns her that she is trespassing and must remove herself from the property. In response to this, she confesses her mistake, asks for direction back to her uncle’s place, and leaves without further ado.

Under this scenario, the neighbor whose property boundary was violated would likely do nothing more, unless he called the uncle and asked him to inform the niece of the property lines. Legally, he probably would not be able to make a case for the arrest and trial of a young woman who had simply made a mistake.

Intentional trespass, on the other hand, requires deliberate action and knowledge. It is done with the understanding that a boundary has been placed around the property by the rightful owner. The trespasser would have to consciously violate that boundary without regard for the will of the owner. Such a violation could and might result in a penalty being assessed against the trespasser, if the property owner was inclined to push the issue.

Suppose that this same young woman, while walking through the forest, came to a place where there was a four strand, barbed wire fence, arrow-straight and fiddle-string tight. In addition, there was a “No Trespassing” sign fastened to a fence post at fifty-foot intervals. There could be no mistaking of the intent. This would be a clear indication that she was not allowed to go any further, under penalty of law. The choice then would be hers–to obey the injunction and turn back or to willfully climb over the fence in a deliberate act of trespass, which would be considered criminal if discovered and prosecuted.

Criminal trespass cannot happen in the case of pregnancy, because the (supposed, alleged) violator, the fetus, was conceived and has always existed in the womb[vi]. It originated from within the womb. It has never been anywhere else. It has never crossed any boundary. How can something, anything, be charged with trespassing if it began inside the boundaries and never crossed them? The fetus may be unwanted, but it is not a trespasser. Call it a noxious weed if you wish, but don’t call it a trespasser. Assert your right to remove weeds from your “lawn”, but don’t base your claim on trespass law.

Criminal prosecution usually takes the form of arrest, charge, hearing/trial, verdict, and penalty/release, or some variation of this process. Every person who is arrested for a crime should be advised of the charge(s) against him. Not only that, but he should be expected to understand why he has been charged and what the penalty might be if he is found guilty. Moreover, he should have a right to counsel and the opportunity to defend himself. In addition, he should be able to appeal his case to a higher authority. Or at least this is the way it’s supposed to work.

Trespass is a legal concept. It must be handled in a legal manner. In order to prove a case of trespass, these steps (at a minimum) must be followed:

1. Charge or accusation

2. Hearing or trial

3. Evidence presented

4. Verdict pronounced

5. Penalty imposed or case dismissed.

In a case of (supposed) fetal trespass against a woman, this will not be the course of action. Consider:

1. No charges or accusations have ever been (nor will ever be) brought against the “offender”.[vii] If they were, it would not be able to hear nor understand them.

2. There is no trial or hearing in which the fetus is given the opportunity to defend itself nor is anyone else appointed to act on its behalf. In fact, if someone else did make an attempt to speak for it, he could be charged[viii] with a crime himself.

3. The only evidence presented at all is that the woman is known to be pregnant. There is no evidence presented to prove that the fetus committed any “crime” of trespass.

4. The verdict is not based on objective proof beyond a shadow of doubt, but solely on the subjective decision of the woman and anyone around her who might benefit from the abortion, either financially or emotionally.

5. The penalty is carried out–execution–without any possibility of appeal.

This sort of proceeding reminds me of the poem, A Mouse’s Tale[ix] in Lewis Carroll’s tale, Alice in Wonderland[x].

“…I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury, said cunning old Fury. I’ll try the whole cause and condemn you to death.”

Fetal trespass is a misnomer. There is no law directly forbidding a fetus to reside in a womb or compelling it to vacate the premises. There is no law which orders a fetus to act in a certain manner regarding the violation of property boundaries. None. Nada. Nyet. Nein. There never will be. It would be the absolute height of foolishness to forbid a fetus from trespassing, at least as much as it would be to forbid a dog from pooping on a neighbor’s front lawn.

Identifying a fetus as a trespasser is dissembling. It is incorrect terminology. In today’s social and political environment, it would be equivalent to “fake news.” Calling something what it is not in order to justify a viewpoint is not only false and misleading, it is morally reprehensible. It is irresponsible at best, deadly at worst.

The counter-argument might be presented that, since the fetus is not a person[xi], legally correct criminal proceedings really don’t apply. Even in cases of non-persons becoming trespassers, however, the law still operates in the same way. Trespassing is a criminal act and must be treated that way.

Domestic animals, dogs, for instance, can and do leave their owner’s property and trespass on someone else’s. Sometimes they poop on front lawns, which is a nuisance. Sometimes they are more aggressive, e.g., killing a neighbor’s sheep. A tree can (and sometimes does) fall across a property boundary and cause damage, for example, if it crashes through a neighbor’s garage roof.

In the case of the tree falling, someone would cut it up, clean it up, and remove it from the site. If you wanted to imagine it this way, the tree would be “punished” for its trespass.

In the case of the sheep-killing dog, the dog might be shot by the shepherd, thus “paying” for its crime. It might be imprisoned (kenneled, chained) by its owner to keep it from running wild and causing more damage. Pre-crime[xii], so to speak.

However, no matter how much cases like these can be twisted and contorted, the owner of the dog or the tree is, legally speaking, ultimately the one who is “charged” with trespass and is forced (restitution, insurance, etc.) to make things right. Dogs and trees, while able to “trespass” and cause damage, are not held legally liable. Their owners are.

Dogs and trees can trespass on a person’s property, but they do not understand that they do so. To them, it is a completely natural act. They know nothing else. It is futile to legally charge them with trespass, so we take the more rational step of charging their owner, requiring that he make the situation right and compensating the victim for damages caused.

Some might claim that I have blown my case. If dogs and trees can trespass unknowingly, then so too can a fetus. This assertion collapses, however, under the same point that I made earlier–trespass cannot occur without the violation of a boundary. While dogs and trees can and do violate property boundaries, the fetus never has. Dogs and trees came across the line from some other place. The fetus arrived from nowhere and, from the very beginning, has always existed on the property.

The whole process from sexual intercourse to the realization that a woman is pregnant can be roughly compared to the appearance of alien spaceships from (seemingly) nowhere into Earth’s space without warning.

  1. We broadcast and blast radio waves into the universe non-stop, sometimes with the express purpose of catching the attention of other-worldly entities—sexual intercourse.
  2. We know that “intercourse” of this nature might result in the appearance of a spaceship into Earth’s space and time–possibility of conception and pregnancy.
  3. We understand that this appearance might have repercussions and possibly even prove fatal—pregnancy which adversely affects the health and well-being of the woman.
  4. We also understand that the appearance might produce future benefits which we can only imagine at the time—interaction with the new-born baby.
  5. In the event that an alien spaceship does appear, we have to make a decision either to live with it, cooperate with it, and benefit from its presence, or to use violence to blast it out of the sky and justify that violence in an attempt to maintain the life we prefer and have become accustomed to, regardless of the death and damage that might ensue–to abort or not to abort.

The one discrepancy in this comparison is that alien spaceships, regardless of where they originate, come from another place within the universe, or for those who are really into it, from some other parallel universe. Consequently, they can, according to our code of justice, legally be charged with criminal trespass, found guilty, and “punished”. After all, it is our space! How well that might work out remains to be seen.

Unborn fetuses (and this is the pivot of my argument) do not and never have come from another location. They appear out of nowhere. They do not exist before they arrive. They spring from nothing. They are “created” within the womb by the simple joining of an egg cell and a sperm cell. Before this union, there is nothing but two individual cells. After that, there is a new human being, who has committed no crime and is completely innocent of any charge or accusation against it.

Conclusion

If the unborn fetus is not a parasite nor a trespasser, then what is it? There is only one answer left–a unique, personal, human being which has been placed, through no action, will, or desire of its own, in a vulnerable, dangerous position. It deserves all the protection that we can give it, if we are so inclined. Unfortunately, quite often, we are so NOT inclined, consequently, it ends up dead.

Greg Koukl has written what I consider to be the perfect sentiment to end this article. I couldn’t have said it any better.

“A child is not an invader, though, a parasite living off his mother. A mother’s womb is the baby’s natural environment…One trespasses when he’s not in his rightful place, but a baby developing in the womb belongs there.” [xiii]


[i] I am not a legal scholar, judge, nor lawyer. I could be entirely wrong about this whole train of thought, however, I am willing to stick my neck out and stand according to what I do know and believe to be true. In this sense, I am relying on common sense and moral justice as my guides.

[ii] https://mises.org/profile/murray-n-rothbard

[iii] Murray N. Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty (New York: New York University Press, ©1998), 98.

[iv] https://thelawdictionary.org/trespasser/

[v] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trespasser

[vi] I use the term “womb” to include the entire reproductive system of the female body.

[vii] Martin Armstrong writes this which closely parallels what I have outlined above. “In law school, they teach you that the Due Process of Law comes from the Bible. God already knew what happened between Cain and Able. He still granted him the Due Process of Law to (1) summon him providing notice and (2) the right to be heard. We no longer allow Due Process of Law. We presume guilt and condemn people without trial.”

[viii] https://www.lifenews.com/2017/05/15/pro-lifers-arrested-for-blocking-entrance-to-the-last-abortion-clinic-in-kentucky/

[ix] I hadn’t read this poem in close to fifty years until I started researching this article, but I still remembered most of it. “Fury said to a mouse that he met in the house…” I wish I could have met Lewis Carroll.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mouse_(Alice%27s_Adventures_in_Wonderland)

[x] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice’s_Adventures_in_Wonderland#Publication_history

[xi] For my view on this, see here and here.

[xii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-crime

[xiii] https://www.str.org/articles/unstringing-the-violinist#.XEp7os1lBPZ

Correcting the Terminology of Abortion: Parasites and Trespassers Defined, Part 1

[Editor’s Note: This was originally published as one article, but has been split in two. Nothing in the content has been changed, except to facilitate the division. See here to view Part 2.]

Introduction

“To hold individuals guilty of crimes they couldn’t have committed is a moral obscenity.”–Robert Gore

Within the abortion debate, it is not uncommon that unborn children are called either parasites or trespassers, sometimes both. This article seeks to prove in a straight-forward manner that this idea is wrong. It is nothing more than an attempt to marginalize and dehumanize the unborn child in order to justify a position.

“… given that the fetus is unwanted, it is in effect a trespasser or a parasite.”Walter Block/Roy Whitehead[i]

“What human has the right to remain, unbidden, as an unwanted parasite within some other human being’s body? This is the nub of the issue: the absolute right of every person and hence every woman, to the ownership of her own body. What the mother is doing in an abortion is causing an unwanted entity within her body to be ejected from it: If the fetus dies, this does not rebut the point that no being has a right to live, unbidden, as a parasite within or upon some person’s body.– Murray Rothbard[ii]

Whether she is wanted or not is irrelevant. The unborn child is neither a parasite nor a trespasser.

Unfortunately, these men have based their claims on “property rights”, i.e., the woman owns her own body (property) and can do with it whatever she wishes. The “right” of the fetus to own her body is discarded out of hand. They assert that property rights are all that matter. Morality (the sense of right and wrong) does not enter the picture. In the case of abortion on demand, rights have become more important than what is right.

Section I: Parasites

Parasites, biological and social

The number of types of parasites can be numbered–there are two. Only two. Biological and social. See here[iii] for a typical definition of the term. Unborn children are neither.

Parasites (biological) are not a part of the host. They do not derive from it and are not related to it. In fact, they are a species which is completely different from the host. They draw nourishment and sustenance out of the host, debilitating and weakening it. They give nothing back. If they grow and/or reproduce unchecked, they can, and sometimes do, literally kill the host. A tapeworm is a parasite. Mistletoe is a parasite. Lice and bedbugs are parasites. A fetus is not.

Unborn fetuses DO draw nourishment and sustenance from the woman, via the umbilical cord, but they are not a threat to the woman under normal circumstances. They are not a different species. They are related to the host (mother). They derive half their DNA from her, but they are not[iv] a part of her. The only time that a woman is threatened by the fetus is due to an ectopic pregnancy or (perhaps) other complications brought on during the pregnancy.

Biologically speaking, a fetus cannot be a parasite.

Parasites (social) are another sort entirely. They are human beings who prey on other human beings. They may or may not be related. They may attach exclusively to one person or draw from more than one. They have a desire to be supported by others and have their wants and needs filled by them. They know their current (preferred) lifestyle would suffer if the parasite/host attachment were severed for any reason. One common characteristic of social parasites is the selfish belief that other human beings exist for their benefit and should be used to that effect. They are users of people and seek to control them for personal gain. Taken to an extreme, this becomes an “all for me, none for you” attitude and way of life. In an unrelated but not entirely irrelevant article, Brandon Smith describes it like this[v].

This attitude can also be seen in the common actions of narcissistic sociopaths, who have no qualms about conning or exploiting people around them as resources, feeding off others like parasites” 

To some degree, all of us are social parasites. Everyone, at one time or another in his life, uses someone else for personal gain or benefit. This type of action, for most of us, tends to be minimized as we grow older and wiser and it can be personally overcome to a large degree.

It is commonly accepted that fetuses do not have any consciousness of their own until they have developed sufficiently[vi], probably not until very late in the pregnancy. How can a fetus (which is not aware of its situation and surroundings) use someone else selfishly? How can a fetus which has not attained the characteristic of self-consciousness be a parasite? Quite simply, it can’t. It does not knowingly use anyone else for its benefit. It knows nothing except what has always been, i.e., the womb and a state of total dependence. It will never know anything differently until and unless it is born and (gradually, progressively) taught to become independent.

In the timeline of the unborn baby/newborn baby/small child/teenager/adult, the individual progresses from complete dependence on her mother to a state of some degree of independence. If she is considered a parasite before birth, at what point does she cease to be one? What is the point in a person’s life where she does not need or depend on anyone else? When does a person stop “taking” and start “giving”? Everyone takes more at the beginning, but eventually we learn (hopefully) to give more than we take. It can be argued that we live on a sliding scale, one end being total dependence, the other total independence. The only choice we have is where we live on that scale and that is determined through a lifetime of personal change, either positive or negative, with varying degrees of success.


[i] [i] Block, Walter E. and Roy Whitehead. 2005. “Compromising the Uncompromisable: A Private Property Rights Approach to Resolving the Abortion Controversy,” Appalachian Law Review, 4 (2) 1-45

[ii] https://mises.org/sites/default/files/For%20a%20New%20Liberty%20The%20Libertarian%20Manifesto_3.pdf

[iii] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/parasite

[iv] https://catholicvote.org/10-reasons-the-unborn-is-not-a-part-of-a-womans-body/

[v] https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2019-02-07/brandon-smith-secular-look-destructive-globalist-belief-system

[vi] https://thebrainbank.scienceblog.com/2012/12/04/what-can-science-add-to-the-abortion-debate/