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Letter to the editor: Abortion
November 11, 2003
by Lee Killough, http://www.leekillough.com/liberty.html

I am a libertarian atheist who is pro-choice on the abortion issue, but who is against forced euthanasia and most "right to die" legislation.

I find it troubling that the recent news about Terri Schiavo has resurrected the abortion debate and fanned the flames of religion, because although there is a high correlation between opponents of abortion and opponents of forced euthanasia, for some of us, the issues are distinct. And there is no necessity that pro-lifers be religious, and yet the issues are being cast in religious terms.

So while I support Terri's fight, just like Nat Hentoff (one of my favorite libertarians), I don't think abortion should be outlawed, and I don't consider abortion to be morally equivalent to forced euthanasia.

I think there are several issues going on at once, which tend to get lumped together into a simplistic "pro-choice/pro-life" dichotomy:

1. Whether one supports the idea of self-ownership -- of persons as property, but owned by themselves. Some people who are both pro-abortion and pro-euthanasia tend to deny self-ownership, making people property of the state.

2. Whether one supports reproductive choice outside of abortion. Many "pro-lifers" are against contraception and birth control, even condoms, and some are homophobic and misinformed about AIDS. This would seem to me, to put them more in the "anti-choice" category, rather than the "pro-life" category. Nat Hentoff is an example of a pro-life atheist who would NOT fit into this "anti-choice" category. Pro-lifers who respect privacy, who do not engage in violence or hatred against others, and who do not support censorship of sexual materials, would seem to me to be more sincere and more "pure" in their pro-life position. And yet they are not the loudest spokespersons in the debate -- people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are.

3. Whether one considers the specific act of abortion morally wrong outside of any context, regardless about how they feel about other "side issues".

4. Whether religion or theism is the rationale for one's positions on these issues, or whether one's positions are derived from secular principles.

5. Whether one thinks that abortion should be prohibited by law. Some pro-lifers are nonetheless against laws against abortion, either because they are opposed to laws in general (e.g. anarchists), or because they think that preserving life is a moral choice which cannot be moral anymore if it is forced by laws.

So you've got lots of combinations of issues. My position on the issues:

1. I support self-ownership, and hence oppose coerced euthanasia or delegated self-murder. This also leads me to support a woman's self-ownership, which is why I consider a fetus a part of a woman's body and therefore her property.

2. I support choice in sexual matters besides abortion -- I fully support consenting sex between adults, and support the use of contraceptive and birth control devices, and support full access to information about sex, even for minors (although I have some problems with the mandatory nature of some "sex education" programs -- more to do with the "mandatory" part of it, than with the "sex" part of it).

3. I do not consider the specific act of abortion morally wrong outside of any context, although I find it distasteful.

4. Religion is not a rationale for my position. I'm an atheist, and I do not buy into religious arguments for or against abortion, euthanasia, or other issues.

5. I do not think abortion should be prohibited by law. Why? From a moral standpoint, because of the reasons outlined above. From a utilitarian standpoint, because they are likely to create more problems than they solve ("back-alley abortions", etc.).

It would be interesting to take a scientific poll of peoples' positions on these 5 issues, perhaps with the euthanasia question as a separate specific 6th question (right now I'm making the assumption that pro-choicers who are pro-self-ownership are against euthanasia, while pro-choicers who are against self-ownership are for euthanasia).

My position is best summarized in Jeff Schaler's recent piece (Liberty magazine, August 2003):


The same people who want the state, through the agency of authorized physicians, to be able to kill people also want the state, through the agency of authorized physicians, to be able to stop people from killing themselves. Their position is thus consistent: individuals do not have any right to kill themselves, whereas the government has every right to kill individuals, if, for example, the government considers that the individual's life is now too painful or too harrowing. Your body does not belong to you: it belongs to the government.

This contrasts sharply with the traditional liberal or libertarian view that a person rightfully owns his or her own body, the principle that helps explain why slavery is and should be illegal, while abortion is and should be legal. No grown human is the property of another, whereas a fetus has not yet ceased to be the property of its mother.

So while I support Terri's fight, I am not opposed to abortion, and like Nat Hentoff, I am not religious.

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