Vital Signs

Abortion: No Libertarian Triumph

A debate has broken out over the continuing viability of the “fusion” of libertarians and conservatives.  If the latter are represented by President George W. Bush and the 109th Congress, the alliance seems dead.  Concocting a coalition of libertarians and liberals isn’t going to be any easier, however.  Brink Lindsey of the Cato Institute has attempted to do so in the New Republic, with only modest success—as indicated by some of the sharp leftist responses to his proposal.  One of his most disturbing arguments, however, was in an area of agreement with liberals.  Lindsey characterized “the legalization of abortion” as one “of the great libertarian breakthroughs of the era.”

Libertarians often are characterized as abortion advocates, and many are.  However, many are not.  Abortion is one issue on which libertarians sharply divide.

According to libertarian principles, a person has a “right” to an abortion only if the procedure violates no one else’s right.  You can cut off your own arm, but not your neighbor’s arm.  You can “control” your own body, but not your neighbor’s body.  Thus, for libertarians, the key question in deciding abortion is What is the status of the unborn?  Part of, or separate from, the mother?  Possessor or violator of rights?

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