There’s No Good Libertarian Argument for Abortion

Tomi Lahren on the set of Tomi, during a "Final Thoughts" segment.

By Clint Roberts Published on April 29, 2017

When the young, fiery conservative commentator Tomi Lahren told the ladies on ABC’s The View that she was pro-choice, she made her case on libertarian and constitutional grounds: “I’m for limited government. So stay out of my guns, and you can stay out of my body as well.”

Some time has passed since then, but her argument still needs attention and analysis.

The Problem With the Argument

Anyone who has trafficked in the abortion debate knows why pro-life people oppose killing the unborn. The issue is human life. The case against abortion is moral in nature, and can be summarized in the simplest of terms.

In short, the one who is living in the womb is a distinct human being, no matter how small in size. Human beings by nature bear fundamental rights. Central among those is the right not to have your life taken by another person. Exceptions to this right require serious moral justification: think self-defense, just war or capital punishment. Abortion takes the life of a human being and lacks sufficient moral justification. Therefore it’s wrong. That’s the argument. It’s not rocket science.

Limited government, even in its barest form, doesn’t allow just anyone to kill another human being.

Take the life issue out of the equation, and there would be no moral opposition to abortion. Comedian Louis C.K. crudely made this point by saying that abortion is either like having a bowel movement or else it’s killing a baby. If it’s the first, it’s not controversial. If it’s the second, then “controversial” is a massive understatement.

Avoiding the Question

The libertarian argument, in contrast, dodges the central moral question. It points instead toward individual liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. But the right to life is one of those rights, and it’s logically prior to every other right. You can’t enjoy liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness unless you’re first alive. So invoking the  Constitution to violate the right to life of another is a non-starter.

Furthermore, limited government in even its barest form doesn’t allow just anyone to kill another human being. No libertarian wants state non-interference when lives are being taken. Only an anarchist would suggest that.

If, then, abortion is wrongful killing, how could any just government grant a right to the practice? To maintain that such a right exists, you would need to show that abortion is not taking the life of a human being. Or at least show that there is moral justification for it.

It’s not surprising how many refuse to even acknowledge the main question. See the interview Fox News’ Tucker Carlson did with the VP of Planned Parenthood. Carlson repeatedly tried to get her to address the life issue.

In Tomi Lahren’s televised pro-choice profession, not a word was said about the life of the unborn. It’s hard to fathom how she would say nothing about such a central question. Was she avoiding it?

Begging the Question

Besides avoidance, there is also assumption. Some simply assume that there is no moral concern regarding the life of the unborn. But since this is the crux of the pro-life case, it can’t just be assumed.

In formal argument and debate, there are certain well-known mistakes or “fallacies.” One is called “begging the question.” It happens when you begin by assuming the very thing you are supposed to be arguing for.

Maybe pro-choice advocates believe a fetus is, in some way, not yet human — or is human but is mere tissue like a piece of skin, and so not a distinct being. Or maybe they think it’s a human being, but not yet bearing human rights. Whatever the case, to avoid the key issue by focusing on other things, like women’s health and choice, is simply begging the question. It assumes the question of life has already been satisfactorily answered. It hasn’t.

There’s a difference between avoiding the question and begging the question. To avoid the question is to deny holding any view on the moral status of the unborn. To beg the question is to admit to holding a view (that the unborn has no moral status), but without good reasons to support the position.

Failing to Address the Central Issue

Based on past comments, Lahren has certainly sounded like someone who upholds the moral status of the unborn. Consider, for example, the rant in which she lashed out at “pro-choicers” for hiding behind the language of “rare and safe abortions” in order to “avoid sounding like straight-up baby killers.” She also castigated Lena Dunham for “wishing she could have murdered a fetus.”

If Lahren’s view of the unborn hasn’t changed since these comments, then her libertarian pro-choice argument is founded on the strange belief that killing your child is a Constitutional right. If her view of the unborn has changed, would that change not be significant enough to mention?

Lahren’s silence on this is a failure to address the central issue. Abortion is a moral concern before it is a legal one. A conservative cannot accuse abortionists of baby-killing, as Lahren has done, and then defend the practice as a constitutional right. If it is wrongful killing, there can be no right to it. If it is not wrongful killing, why are we talking so much about it? Give it the moral green light and move on.

Whichever position you arrive at on abortion, you have to go through the life question to get there. You can’t go around it. This goes for liberals and libertarians alike.

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  • Autrey Windle

    She has proven that her opinions are nothing more than the shallow reasoning of immature critical thinking that is so prevalent in her generation. She obviously is more concerned with her popularity, her number of hits and trying to be controversial than she is about standing for something well thought through or reasoned. She is a flash in the pan of her ‘profession’ and if she doesn’t come to her senses she could wind up in hell. She needs prayer from us and self-imposed discipline of herself to re-examine where she gets her facts and advice from.

    • SophieA

      Autrey, you are spot on! Tomi is quite young and needs prayer, time, and the freedom to grow towards God. She has some unexamined beliefs for the reasons you clearly noted. Underneath it all, I believe, Tomi just wants to be loved and appreciated and I hope she has that support. God will accomplish the rest.

    • Paul

      I’m not seeing the point or value in generation bashing. Let’s not forget the younger generations grew up in a world built and led by the previous, and regarding this particular issue their all knowing elders legalized abortion. Seems older generations have quite a plank in their own eye to deal with

    • Hannah

      I’ll admit, those of us who are “millenials” (I am one) do have a penchant for being narcissistic and selfish. Then again, I think no one generation is guilty of an exclusive sin – just that each generation has a more advanced medium in which to execute that sin. In my case, I have connections to the entire world, thus making my opinion seem more important. However, like any ordinary person, I am just another voice among many trying to validate my existence through controversy and “karma” points.

      To contrast that of my father’s generation or even my mother in law’s generation (aged late 60s and early 40s respectively), neither one of them were any less narcissistic of selfish, though if we look closely, we’ll see the differences that both generations present. My father’s generation used wealth and success to validate their existence – if you had a secure job, house, car, and wife, you were considered successful; my mother in law’s generation had a similar outlook but with more emphasis on college degrees and a condescending opinion of “entry-level jobs” (aka anything that didn’t require a college degree). In my generation, we still have that belief that college fixes everything, but we also think that we are “deprived” of certain things and demand to be compensated. All sides are wrong to assume that they are morally superior to the younger folk because all three are just as guilty.

      Do I think that it was easier back then? In a lot of ways, yes. Do I think it was better? We only see the past as better when we can look back. So no, I don’t think my generation is worse off than other previous ones – just that we have our own issues that need to be repented of and curbed daily. I quit Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat to curb my need of communal validation; I still struggle with it but knowing where you fail means the battle is half won.

      • Autrey Windle

        Having read many things you write, I knew you are the lower percentage of an almost lost generation. You I pray for but do not feel we are in danger of losing you to the enemy. Having read Tomi, my read on her is that somewhere along the line she forgot to use the tools she knows God endowed her with to remain above the fray of popular opinion that defies logic or love of God. She can be a powerful voice with the platform she has been given or she can play to The View audience to increase her numbers. I would not be surprised if she is getting bad advice from someone attached to her career objectives. All the previous generations have suffered more and more fools gladly with each turn of the decades. That is why it is so easy to lose almost a whole generation by now. The book warns of this and many other horrible inevitabilities. But we fight on to bring as many with us to the shelter of God’s love as we can. Tomi is, in my opinion, playing with fire with the whole acceptance of killing babies in the womb thing. I would like to see her step back from the precipice. Her voice could help save many young women and men. It isn’t a case of which generation is worse, but how many more are being lost and I do believe by sheer numbers and secularism it is probably scientifically this generation we have failed in the biggest number.

  • Pro-Choice Libs

    Actually libertarians have many arguments defending abortion. From the non-aggression principle flow four basic libertarian
    principles: individual liberty, self-ownership, self-determination and
    limited government (or no government at all, as preferred by anarchist
    libertarians).

    Individual liberty is the most basic libertarian principle, including as
    applied to reproduction and abortion. Personhood, and thus individual
    rights to liberty, exist only after birth when a child becomes
    self-conscious, capable of cognition and able to engage in purposeful
    action to affect their environment. The sperm and egg and fetus may be
    alive, but that does not mean they are persons with rights. A living person’s first responsibility is to themselves. A woman should
    not be forced to sacrifice her liberty – and even her life – for the
    biological survival of a fetus which has no equivalent right to liberty.

    Libertarians believe individuals should be sovereign over their own
    lives and that no one should be forced to sacrifice for the benefit of
    others. They believe men and women own their bodies and have rights over
    that “private property” which other individuals, groups, and
    governments may not violate.

    The principle of self-determination makes individuals free moral agents
    to determine their reproductive status. Since the woman is a free moral
    agent with sole dominion over her life, her claim to life is stronger
    than that of a fetus which has minimal self-consciousness and cognition
    and cannot engage in purposeful action. The woman’s right to
    self-determination means the choice to carry the child to term is hers
    alone.

    Overwhelmingly, government laws and regulations have negative unintended
    consequences, especially when government is prohibiting something that
    people demand. Abortion restrictions greatly increase the number of “late
    term” abortions as women are forced to raise money to pay for more
    expensive abortions and go long distances, and even to other states, for
    the medical procedure. Abortion prohibition creates a black
    market in abortions, leading to unprofessional abortions and even
    infection, mutilation, infertility and death.

    The above just scratches the surface of libertarian arguments.

  • QuestionMark666

    Abortion is a moral right—which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body? That’s the Libertarian perspective on termination a pregnancy. The 14th Amendment grants citizenship and rights only after BIRTH.

    Never mind the vicious nonsense of claiming that an embryo has a “right to life.” A piece of protoplasm has no rights—and no life in the human sense of the term. One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months. To equate a potential with an actual, is vicious; to advocate the sacrifice of the latter to the former, is unspeakable.

    Observe that by ascribing rights to the unborn, i.e., the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living: the right of young people to set the course of their own lives. Procreation is not a duty: human beings are not stock-farm animals. For conscientious persons, an unwanted pregnancy is a disaster; to oppose its termination is to advocate sacrifice, not for the sake of anyone’s benefit, but for the sake of misery as a moral judgement, for the sake of forbidding happiness and fulfillment to living human beings.

    I cannot quite imagine the state of mind of a person who would wish to condemn a fellow human being to such a horror. I cannot project the degree of hatred required to make those women run around in crusades against abortion. Hatred is what they certainly project, not love for the embryos, which is a piece of nonsense no one could experience, but hatred, a virulent hatred for an unnamed object. Judging by the degree of those women’s intensity, I would say that it is an issue of self-esteem and that their fear is metaphysical. Their hatred is directed against human beings as such, against the mind, against reason, against ambition, against success, against love, against any value that brings happiness to human life. In compliance with the dishonesty that dominates today’s intellectual field, they call themselves “pro-life.”

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