The Register, Sunday, June 14, 1981, Covenant Media Foundation, 800/553-3938
by Greg L. Bahnsen
A libertarian commitment to personal freedom, claims Robert LeFevre (May 31), works against laws prohibiting abortion. Since “an abortion falls into the category of amputation,” it should be nobody’s business outside of those who must deal with the problem. Who would dream of legislating against amputations? Surely, “each individual should be free to decide without legal interference.” Case closed.
LeFevre wants to make things so easy – simply a matter of categorizing (or re-categorizing) things properly. One can imagine a rapist mastering the logic of this argumentation in one lesson. Surely libertarians would resist any prohibition of rape, for rape “falls into the category of sexual preference.” It should be nobody else’s business, never a matter for legal interference!
Of course the difficulty with the “pro-choice” arguments for abortion (or rape) is that their categorizations are preposterous. Rape is much more than someone’s preferred path to sexual thrills. Killing and removing an unborn child is much more than amputating an arm. In both cases violence is perpetrated against another person.
Professor Hospers explains that “the sole province of law is to prevent people from harming one another” (Libertarianism, p. 21). At just this point LeFevre becomes unorthodox or short-sighted. Libertarians ought to support the prohibition of abortion unless either (1) they have good grounds for holding that a developing child is not genuinely a member of the class of “people” as long as “it” is hidden from view behind an undilated cervix, or (2) they have ways of securing the child’s free and informed consent to induced death.
Abortion is not merely amputation. It is reasonable to say that it is perpetrating harm against another person (albeit young and helpless). Thus even libertarians must grant that it is an appropriate matter for legislative concern.
LeFevre’s suggestion that others should decide for (against) the unborn child whether its life is either “wanted” or “useful” is the acme of anti-libertarian presumption. Some (very few) Southern slave-holders categorized blacks as subhuman animals in published defenses of slavery. Some Nazis decided for many Jews that their lives were genuinely “worthless.’ Such imposed categorizations and evaluations should make those who are committed to liberty and human dignity shudder in disgust.
“If each human being is to have liberty, he cannot also have the liberty to deprive others of their liberty” (Hospers, p. 13). It is untrue to libertarianism to deprive the unborn child of his/her liberty on the basis of somebody else’s choice, somebody else’s wanting of him/her, somebody else’s view of his/her utility. LeFevre’s only retreat would be to claim that libertarianism cannot (ought not?) rule on such “metaphysical” questions as whether X is or is not a “person.” Maybe so, but then that only points to the fact that libertarian principles are only useful and applicable within a broader world-and-life-view.
As a Christian, I would not disagree with that judgment.