This article appeared in Our Sunday Visitor, June 6, 1999. Copyright 1999 by Mary Meehan.
These Libertarians Are Pro-Life
Because right-to-lifers are fighting the power and money of the American Establishment, their effort is always uphill. It is amazing, in some ways, that they have climbed as high as they have. Yet everyone knows that they still have quite a way to go. Better rhetoric and arguments can give them new footholds for their climb.
A group called Libertarians for Life, small but loaded with high-wattage intelligence, knows how to make the footholds. Writers from this group deserve far more attention than they have received so far in the United States.
Some mistakenly assume that all libertarians want liberty without responsibility. But the Libertarians for Life, based in Wheaton, Md., insist on responsibility--and especially on parents' obligations to their children. Because they use secular arguments only, they can reach people who have no church affiliation but want to do the right thing.
Most pro-lifers take parental obligation for granted, not realizing that--in this age of the "imperial self"--many others do not. Philosophers who support abortion even use terms such as "parasite" and aggressor" to describe the unborn child who is also unwanted.
Doris Gordon, national coordinator of Libertarians for Life, knows how to answer such philosophers. As she says in a powerful and lucid essay, "Abortion and Rights: Applying Libertarian Principles Correctly" (Studies in Pro-life Feminism, Spring, 1995): "If we endanger innocent people without their consent, we must protect them from the harm" to which we have exposed them. This, she notes, is part of our obligation not to commit aggression against others.
Pregnancy is normal and natural, she says. "Yet by conceiving a child, parents give themselves a life-or-death power over her, and they get this control without her consent." The child's life "is thrust upon her, as is her need for life support.... She is created vulnerable to harm." The parents thus have an obligation to protect her from harm. "For the prenatal child, the mother's womb is home; this is where she needs to be--and this is where she has the right to be."
How about those who argue that the unborn child is not yet a "person" because she cannot "demonstrate reason and choice"? Gordon notes that other people--such as the severely retarded, stroke survivors, the senile and those in comas--"might not be able to reason or choose at a given moment. In fact, under such a definition, we all have grounds to worry if we sleep too soundly."
But she says that when "a talent is undeveloped, it is still an actual talent. More strongly, even when one's capacity for reason and choice is undeveloped, one still has an actual capacity, an actual power." This capacity in the person distinguishes her from nonpersons such as sperm and ovum, neither of which "can grow up and debate abortion."
Gordon writes with great precision and clarity, and she is careful not to use the euphemisms of her opponents. (Rather than "pro-choice," for example, she says "abortion choice.") But she has learned much from her opponents simply by asking them questions. "I pick their brains," she once remarked.
Gordon's colleagues in the organization include John Walker, who has written fine essays such as "Abortion and the Question of the Person," and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), a libertarian Republican, the author of a piece called "Being Pro-Life Necessary to Defend Liberty." Paul declares: "In abortion, the statists have found a most effective method of obliterating freedom: obliterating the individual. Abortion-on-demand is the ultimate state tyranny; the state simply declares that certain classes of human beings are not persons, and therefore not entitled to the protection of the law."
High school and college students will find the organization's literature helpful for papers and debates, and right-to-life activists should find it extremely useful in their public speaking and writing.
For more information, please see the Libertarians for Life website at L4L.org.