By Nathan Barton
A comment was made in response to a sentence in my recent commentary on “Predictions”:
If you give “this administration” – or any other – the power to “stop partial birth abortions!”, you give them the power to do all the rest of these things. Individuals, families, and voluntary associations must take back the responsibility, authority, and exercise this power to govern themselves. Nobody can have it both ways.
I responded by changing it to read “stop funding partial birth abortions.” In part, this is a matter of semantics. How do we “stop” something? I think that Mama Liberty and I agree that government should not be funding abortions, regardless of the source of the money. I used to think that we agreed on abortion itself, but this comment now causes me to reassess that understanding. And I wasn’t necessarily saying that government SHOULD have such a power, just that they do not, even though a majority of Americans oppose the evil practice. But let us explore this more.
First, let me make my position perfectly clear. INDUCED ABORTION IS MURDER, with the POSSIBLE exception that if the choice is between the life (NOT the health) of the mother versus the life of the child, it is at BEST justifiable homicide. My position is based on religious AND scientific AND political/philosophical grounds. (1) The Bible clearly states that children in the womb are human from the moment of conception. (2) Biology demonstrates that the fetus is a separate, living being from the point of joining of the sperm and egg, and the only kind of being that can be is human: not cow or monkey or fish. (3) As a libertarian (an anarchist-free market type, not a minarchist), I believe in the zero-aggression principle (the Golden Rule), and killing an unborn child can be nothing but aggression. If nothing else, the child is not there of its own choice, but because of choices made by the father and the mother.
Mama’s Note: No, I have never wavered in thinking that any deliberate, induced abortion is murder and wrong, I simply don’t believe that any form of non-voluntary government should have anything to do with it (any more than anything else), not having anything to do with trying to prevent it or punish it afterwards. The responsibility to prevent and deal with aggression belongs to the individuals actually involved, the family and immediate community. Who else has any legitimate authority to intervene?
I do not subscribe to any religion or the bible for my principles, though I honor those who are religious and non-aggressive anyway.
I realize that many “libertarians” disagree with me, and with the evidence. Some, of course, do not believe in God. Others doubt science. Or believe in something that they call science but isn’t. But even for those first two, the third argument is the telling one. Only if the “fetus” is not human, but “just a lump of tissue” can they support the act of killing it and claim that it is not aggression. Particularly in the case of partial-birth abortion, that is a VERY difficult claim to make for an honest person.
All the many arguments regarding abortion beyond these three are distractions from the heart of the matter.
I use “murder” carefully and intentionally. Murder is defined as “the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.” Ah, Nathan, you protest: abortion is “lawful.” My answer is simple: by what law? Man’s law (in these Fifty States and most other countries) says that abortion is a lawful action, but moral and ethical law (not just the Bible but libertarian philosophy) is superior to man made law instituted by governments of dubious authority. Abortion is an act that has been recognized through most of history as a “malum in se,” that is “wrong or evil in itself.”* This is the case in common law. If the being is human, and the killing is not a matter of self-defense, moral law says that it is “unlawful.” Clearly, abortion is a premeditated action. (By the way, for those who still want to go off on the idea “not human,” remember that was one of the “justifications” for black slavery: they really were not human.)
Even if someone might argue religiously and/or scientifically that a human life does not begin at conception, it is obvious that partial birth abortions are killing a living human being who is in general capable of surviving outside the womb. When you press those who claim otherwise, they usually begin arguing that infants (naturally born or born by c-section) are “not really” human (together with people in comas, those with Alzheimers, mentally-deficient people, or those with “severe” genetic and/or physical defects). The lump of tissue argument is popular, though I suspect less so in the past few weeks with the revelations about the ghouls (and murderers) of Planned Parenthood. (Is there a SINGLE “libertarian” who goes along with that scumbag in DC that the videos are bogus? Any?)
The semantics comes in when we talk about stopping aggression. My contempt for “preventative justice” is well-documented by writings since I was a teen. It is wrong to punish someone for something that they MIGHT do, or even that they are PLANNING to do. The classic example I use is from Golden City, Jefferson Territory (now Colorado) in 1860 or 1861, where a drunk man went around town saying over and over again, “Joe Blow is a no-good so-and-so and I’m gonna kill him.” (Paraphrased) A group of citizens arrested him, organized a trial by jury, and he was found guilty, sentenced, then hung by the neck until dead. It wasn’t vigilante justice: it was a formally organized court and sentence carried out by “employees of the state” in accordance with existing procedural law. And it was dead wrong. It might have been “lawful” by man-made law, but even most hardened statists would not try to claim it was moral.
No one has any right to take action against someone just because they threaten to do something wrong. Not even the government. When I said “stop” I did not mean taking immoral actions, acts of aggression. But I DID mean not just stopping using stolen money (stolen from taxpayers) to pay for partial birth (or ANY) abortions. Just as I do not believe that tax money (or money from ANY source) should be used to pay cops to kill people for a missing license plate or failure to signal a lane change, or to blow up wedding parties in the mountains of Afghanistan. Or any of the other hundred and one things that cops and bureaucrats and politicians do on someone’s stolen dime.
But IF (big IF) there is ANY justification for government (a separate argument, and the minarchist view), then taking actions to discourage mala in se – in particular acts of aggression against others – IS something that government is supposed to do. That can include making such actions unlawful as well as immoral, and prosecuting (or allowing the prosecution) of those who do such things, or actually ATTEMPT to do them, not just talk about doing it or even planning it.
Government (again, remember I am expressing a minarchist view and not my own) cannot prevent ANY crime, when you get right down to it, at least not without becoming so immoral and tyrannical (tyranny is of course just one form of immorality) that even the vast majority of its worshipers should revolt. But that does not mean that there should not be laws against murder, or robbery (in all its many forms), or going around beating people up, or enslaving them. That is what this government (and “most civilized governments,” as one Tranzi claimed) has NOT done: make killing an unborn or “partially-born” child a crime. And since induced abortions are by their very nature premeditated acts, thereby making them legally what they are morally: murder. It doesn’t require putting a monitor in every bedroom, or having a jury trial for every miscarriage, or all the other pathetic justifications for NOT making it a crime that I’ve heard over the years. It doesn’t mean that we become a police state (more than we are). Of course, it would also require having a REAL justice system and not this mockery of law that we have in the Fifty States today, but now we are back to my inherent position that human government is, in and of itself, evil.
In a real, moral human society, as a number of people have pointed out over the millennia, the major factor governing human behavior and discouraging things like murdering baby in or partially in the womb, killing anyone, stealing anything, would be a combination of tradition, teaching and acceptance of personal responsibility and accountability, and withdrawal of contact from those who violate the accepted standards of behavior, based at least mostly on the idea of “no aggression” or as I prefer, the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Yeah, it wouldn’t be a perfect world anymore than this one is, but a darn sight better one. We’d still have people killing and beating others and stealing from them and enslaving them, but we wouldn’t be making the rest of us support it and tolerate or even endorse it.
(Malum in se (plural mala in se) is a Latin phrase meaning wrong or evil in itself. The phrase is used to refer to conduct assessed as sinful or inherently wrong by nature, independent of regulations governing the conduct. It is distinguished from malum prohibitum, which is wrong only because it is prohibited.)
Mama’s Note: Clearly, there is zero justification for non-voluntary government at any level. No matter how carefully crafted, their “laws” and actions are they – eventually- will be used to grow and preserve their power over others, to enslave not protect them. The history of the world does not leave any doubt of this.
Defense, of one’s person and property, is the sole responsibility of the individual and his/her family and community – voluntarily. Sadly, as you said, some people will continue to aggress, to harm others, and to damage themselves no matter what anyone does or says. I sincerely think that would happen a great deal less without the perverse incentives and outright encouragement of the non-voluntary government. I hope we someday get an opportunity to find out for sure.
A Brief on Abortion Rights
Tibor R. Machan
It is risky to reenter this discussion. I have entered it often and been not just criticized
but also denounced for my position. This is that up to the point the cerebral cortex develops, a fetus isn’t actually but only potentially a human being. It may be useful to restate at least the outline of the case for this, one that seems most reasonable. That is, after all, the question in need of an answer what is the most reasonable belief about this? If a human being is killed by abortion, then it may be prohibited other than in very special circumstances (e.g., self defense, as when the pregnancy seriously threatens the life of the woman). But if what is killed isn’t yet a human being but only a potential one just as a caterpillar isn’t yet a butterfly, only a potential
one the killing it isn’t homicide and may not be prohibited.
Basically if a woman has the right to seek an abortion, it would mean the fetus to be
aborted isn’t yet a human being. If not, then at any point of its development the fetus is a human being. So the basic dispute is about when a human being comes into existence at conception, sometime later, at some midpoint, or perhaps even at birth. It is all about when a human being emerges during pregnancy.
What is a human being? An animal with the capacity to reason, to form ideas and guide its conduct in large measure with the use of those ideas. The capacity may not even be exercised just yet but so long as it exists so long as the entity could use its reason, could form ideas by which to guide its actions a human being starts to exist. That is what is meant by humans being rational animals. That is why brain death is taken to spell the demise of a human being. That, at least, is the most reasonable stance to take on the issue.
Does a zygote or embryo possess the capacity to reason, to form ideas and guide its
conduct accordingly? No. But why? Because a zygote or embryo lacks a cerebral cortex, the seat (in the brain or in the organism) of the faculty of reasoning. Prior to the emergence of the cerebral cortex only the potential of becoming a rational animal exists; no actual reasoning can take place, not even a little bit of it that would be possible to a nearly born infant. (So partial birth abortions would amount to homicide and could be murder!)
All this isn’t, of course, geometry. So there are hazy borders and divisions. Some
zygotes become fetuses earlier than others; some fetuses become human beings earlier than others. Not very differently from how some children become adults earlier than others and how some adolescents become adults earlier than others. And these cases can be just as consequential an adult may be convicted of a crime very differently from how a child or adolescent is.
There is a period before the human being emerges when the killing of the fetus couldn’t amount to homicide, let alone murder. Yes, there is a human zygote or embryo present but killing it isn’t killing a human being, a human infant. So it is reasonable that early abortions do not amount to infanticide, which is homicide and could be murder. It would, then, be an injustice to convict someone of homicide or murder for killing a human zygote or embryo. (There might be something morally amiss about such killing but it wouldn’t be homicide or murder.) No one deserves such a conviction.
The contrary position is often based on the idea of ensoulment, which arises from a
theological or religious framework and which doesn’t belong in a secular legal system, any more than would most other theological or religious ideas, e.g., mortal sin or eventual resurrection, belong. So while in terms of certain theological or religious views it may be a sin, even a mortal sin, to have an abortion, it wouldn’t be unlawful within a legal order that includes the separation of church and state. And when some person is killed by another, it can be murder even if in terms of a certain theological point of view a person doesn’t really die at all since the soul survives and the body will be resurrected. But for a secular legal system all this is irrelevant.
The only important secular case for taking the view that abortion is homicide and could be murder is one that holds that the potential to become a human being already makes it a human being the caterpillar is already a butterfly, as it were, or the infant is already an adult.
But this is not reasonable and most advanced legal systems reject the idea. Still, that isn’t decisive. However, what is decisive is that although an egg is a potential chicken, it isn’t a chicken yet.
This position isn’t one that amounts to something as well founded as the principle of
metaphysics that A is A. Or even as certain as some well established truth in physics or
chemistry. Hardly anything is, yet once something is true beyond a reasonable doubt, it is enough to base our actions on it.
So it seems to me that the view sketched above is the best basis for resolving the
debate about the right to abortion. Might someone who holds it have a reasonable change of mind upon further inquiry and understanding? Yes. But that is true of nearly every conviction a reasonable person holds.
This sort of circular reasoning is exactly why nothing should be subject to any government, or its system of “law.” Individuals own their lives and bodies, hold different beliefs, convictions and reasons for their behavior. They can and must arrive at their own conclusions and defend themselves against those they perceive to be aggressing against them. There will never be any kind of “system” that can answer all the questions or resolve all the differences. The attempt at such universally imposed systems, just in the last century, has been the source of most of the suffering, death and destruction in the world. Individuals must learn to mind their own business, negotiate differences, and accept the fact that they alone are responsible for the consequences of their words and actions.
That is the essence of liberty. It’s bound to be messy… but the alternative is an ever worse mess of totalitarianism and death.
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