Libertarians are as divided on the issue of abortion as are every other group.
The main reason we are divided is that we have accepted the government's terms for the debate, in other words the debate has been framed to be between those who are "pro-life" vs those who are "pro-choice".
A consistent Libertarian, however, doesn't have to choose between one or the other position, however. Doing so does not make one more or less of a libertarian. It is true the LP has been pro-choice since it was formed. As long as I am involved it will remain that way; however, some alterations to our platform are in order. For one thing, the rights of men have never been addressed within any of the LP's platform positions on abortion.
Everyone wants there to be fewer abortions. Everyone. Everyone recognizes that abortion is at best a tradeoff of negatives.
But only freedom will get us all what we want, which is fewer abortions.
The only way to address abortion is to make it look less like a
necessary option, and to reduce the incentives that push people towards it. Reducing barriers to adoption, making sure minors have
access to sex education materials or counseling, voluntarily supporting efforts to provide free or low-cost contraception, and more economic opportunity will all tend to reduce unwanted pregnancies.
Economic growth tends to suppress the occurrence of unwanted pregnancies. In a truly free-market economy, there would be so much
wealth available to earn, more young people would put off childbearing
in order to get in on the economic action.
Libertarians also understand that human behavior responds to
incentives. Get rid of the incentives for abortion or against it, and
human behavior will tend to migrate towards the widely-accepted moral end
we all want.
For instance, reducing the legal and financial penalties for getting
someone pregnant will change behavior towards reducing the number of
abortions. A man should have the right to invoke the paper equivalent of
an abortion: During the pregnancy or within a defined time frame of
being informed he has fathered a child, he should be able to -- essentially "give
up the child for adoption by the mother" (or someone else), and be
released from all parental responsibility and entitlements (getting to
participate in birthdays, custody, etc).
Men shouldn't be forced into situations any more than women are. They
bear the financial and psychological costs of unwanted pregnancies as much as women. And they deserve
the same right to opt out of parenthood as women.
If women understood their partner could opt-out without any financial
penalties, that would tend to discourage unwanted pregnancies to begin
If men knew that, they would be far less likely to pressure their partner to abort.
But more importantly: Knowing they could opt-out without financial penalty would lessen the likelihood of intimate partner violence (IPV) during pregnancy. Some researchers pretend they do not understand why some men end up killing their genetic offspring in the womb. They wonder how there could have been any genetic advantage to doing so. That just shows that a college degree doesn't impart any common sense.
There are no evolutionary incentives to kill an intimate partner (except it's easy to imagine that in ancient times, a time of famine would have driven parents or partners to kill in order to survive). But normally, there would be no evolutionary incentive.
In contrast, modern society has -- perhaps inadvertently -- constructed numerous financial and legal incentives. Watch this episode of Forensic Files and listen to what the police said was this young man's motive for murder. This true story is not an isolated incident, either. IPV murders account for almost a thousand murders every decade.
As is the rule with poorly thought-out laws everywhere, the current paradigm that shoves everyone into a one-size-fits-all straightjacket introduces unintended consequences.
The solution is freedom.
As with everything else, only freedom brings about the result everyone wants: fewer abortions (and fewer deaths in general).
Harry Browne rejected the terms "pro-life" and "pro-choice". We Libertarians should follow his example. He said: "Whatever we believe abortion is, we know one thing: government doesn't
work, and it is as incapable of eliminating abortions as it is of
eliminating poverty or drugs."
This should be obvious to anyone today: The cat's out of the bag. There is already a market for smuggled drugs that induce abortion. Everyone knows about RU-486, and the "morning-after" pill. No one in favor of banning abortion can possibly be ignorant of these things. If government bans abortion, as Browne says above, it will be every bit as incompetent at the job as it is with any of its other prohibitions.
Dr. Walter Block, professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans, provides an alternative to the standard choice between "pro-life" and "pro-choice" which he terms "evictionism".
According to this moral theory, the act of abortion must be
conceptually separated into the acts of (a) eviction of the fetus from
the womb; and (b) killing the fetus. Building on the libertarian stand
against trespass and murder, Block supports a right to the first act,
but, except in certain circumstances, not the second act. He believes
the woman may legally abort if (a) the fetus is not viable outside the
womb; or (b) the woman has announced to the world her abandonment of the
right to custody of the fetus, and (c) no one else has "homesteaded"
that right by offering to care for the fetus.
But perhaps more to the point: Why shouldn't government ban abortion? Well, be careful what you wish for.
Michael Badnarik, the Libertarian Party's 2004 presidential candidate, said: "I oppose government control over the abortion issue. I believe that giving
the government control of this issue could lead to more abortions
rather than less, because the left-right pendulum of power swings back
and forth. This shift could place the power to set policy in the hands
of those who demand strict population control. The government that can
ban abortion can just as easily mandate abortion, as is currently the
case in China."
Paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson: "The government powerful enough to give you what you want is powerful enough to take everything you have."
Let's all keep that in mind before we advocate banning abortion.
Only freedom will get us what we all want.