Saturday, March 17, 2012

Are leftists abortion libertarians?

I've been properly warned that bringing up any aspect of the abortion issue will only bring chaos and polarization with it. I'm going to go ahead and write about it anyways, as I can't let this issue pass without saying something

The various state legislative bills that attempt to create red tape for abortion are a problem. They include making women get sonograms to see the unborn child, asking the mother to listen to a heartbeat, forcing doctors to recite pseudoscientific warnings about a phony link between abortion and breast cancer and increasing safety regulations for abortion clinics.

I have a universal issue with these tactics in that they are indirect and dishonest. The goal is to decrease abortions with emotional tactics and bureaucracy.

It would be different if they were filing direct legislation on the legality of abortion and confronting the issue head on. It's a moral issue that will always be with our society, and the debate is unfortunately ruled by the extremists. This is a tough issue.

But these social conservatives are going about it in sneaky ways. Just like those awful pictorial warnings on cigarettes, some abortion opponents have made progress by gumming up the works.

In Decemeber the state of Pennsylvania passed Senate Bill 732, which made abortion clinics follow the existing licensing regulations as other surgical clinics. The bill was written by state Rep. Matt Baker (R-Bradford/Tioga) who framed it as a way to protect the health of women.

I'm not the first to notice that the left predominantly defends abortion with libertarian language. The issue is always framed as protecting women's choices. The actual issue of what is being chosen is glossed over and avoided.

It was Baker's abortion clinic regulation bill that finally revealed to me how deep libertarianism penetrates the left on this issue. The Republicans filing these bills are trying to increase regulation, and the left wants a free market on abortion services. Baker's bill doesn't sound unreasonable, holding the clinics to high standards sounds like a way to protect women, but it's clear the real goal to to shut down as many abortion clinics as possible.

Last year Matthew Yglesias had a great post about "defense Keynesians," conservatives who argued military spending needs to be kept high to keep the Keynesian multiplier effect going. With all these pushes for abortion deregulation, the left has become abortion libertarians.

The caricature of libertarianism is an opposition to all regulation. This is false; the view can best be understood as an embrace of minimal legislation. Likewise, the left doesn't want zero regulations on abortion, they just want all needless regulation removed. It's really that simple.


  1. Abortion is only libertarian if you assume the fetus/baby is not a person with the right to live. If fetus does not have the right to live, then Democrats have the libertarian side of the argument as they favor giving women more freedom to do what they want with the fetus. But if the fetus/baby has the right to live, then killing it is obviously one of the most coercive acts possible. Republicans then have the more libertarian position, as government would have a legitimate role in prohibiting this coercion. Even the most strident of libertarians accept the government's power to outlaw homicide. So, I don't think the libertarian principles that we should maximize freedom and minimize coercion does much to inform this issue until you answer the question: is the fetus entitled to the right to live?

  2. Ryan, this is exactly what the first paragraph referred to. I will be happy to discuss this separate, related issue elsewhere, but not here.