August 28th, 2012

Abortion: A Property Rights Issue?

The lives of millions of developing humans are terminated worldwide each year. In the United States alone, well over a million are killed on an annual basis. This extinguishing of life is a lucrative business, with nearly $1 billion generated each year as a result of the services related to ending human life.

The political hot potato that is abortion has long split Americans on opposite sides of the spectrum, with the “pro life” crowd demanding a halt to such institutionalized infanticide, and the “pro choice” crowd arguing that a woman can do whatever she wants with her body, including ending an “unwanted pregnancy.”

Where do libertarians find themselves in the national dialogue (or relative lack thereof) regarding this fundamental issue? Like the populace at large, libertarians are split on either side; depending on one’s determination of when life begins, and what rights the mother retains or surrenders as a result of conception, a libertarian can reach different conclusions.

On one end of the spectrum, Murray Rothbard pioneered the idea of “evictionism,” wherein a mother has the right at any time to “evict” the growing baby inside of her. Rothbard wrote:

Most discussion of the issue bogs down in minutiae about when human life begins, when or if the fetus can be considered to be alive, etc. All this is really irrelevant to the issue of the legality (again, not necessarily the morality) of abortion. The Catholic antiabortionist, for example, declares that all that he wants for the fetus is the rights of any human being — i.e., the right not to be murdered. But there is more involved here, and this is the crucial consideration. If we are to treat the fetus [p. 108] as having the same rights as humans, then let us ask: What human has the right to remain, unbidden, as an unwanted parasite within some other human being's body? This is the nub of the issue: the absolute right of every person, and hence every woman, to the ownership of her own body. What the mother is doing in an abortion is causing an unwanted entity within her body to be ejected from it: If the fetus dies, this does not rebut the point that no being has a right to live, unbidden, as a parasite within or upon some person's body.

For Rothbard and many libertarians, the abortion question is resolved by a simple and consistent application of property rights. By arguing that the woman has “self ownership,” these libertarians claim that the “parasite” (a human being) may at any time and for any reason be “evicted” by its host, the mother—non-aggression principle be damned (or in this case, trumped through an appeal to the woman’s right to treat her body as her own property).

Rothbard’s attempt to address the abortion dilemma was made four decades ago, and the library of libertarian scholarship has significantly expanded since. One might ask, then, whether this position has been left behind by its previous proponents in favor of something else.

Not so, if Walter Block is any indication. Block is a key figure in the modern libertarian movement, and a prolific professor and senior fellow at the Mises Institute. Commenting on Block’s significant contributions in the shadow of the late Rothbard, Lew Rockwell has written:

Murray Rothbard, in his life, was known as Mr. Libertarian. We can make a solid case that the title now belongs to Walter Block, a student of Rothbard’s whose own vita is as thick as a big-city phonebook, and as diverse as Wikipedia. Whether he is writing on economic theory, ethics, political secession, drugs, roads, education, monetary policy, social theory, unions, political language, or anything else, his prose burns with a passion for this single idea: if human problems are to be solved, the solution is to be found by permitting greater liberty.

It may therefore be no surprise that Block hammers the same note that Rothbard once did. At a pre-GOP convention Ron Paul rally held this past weekend, he spoke on this subject and advanced the Rothbardian “evictionism” argument, albeit softening it to suggest that rather than terminating the life outright, the proper position would be to preserve the life so as to be able to be cared for by doctors or other individuals wishing to adopt.

Interviewed after his speech, Block explained: “The woman has a right to evict the fetus from her womb at any time since she’s the owner of it, and an unwanted fetus is a trespasser, but she has no right to kill it.”

Block goes on to note—quite correctly—that the current pro-life stance on abortion is misguided in that it inconsistently applies its views on a situational basis:

A woman who is raped, clearly that baby is a trespasser, and yet that baby has as many rights as any other baby… If all babies have the same rights, and the product of rape can be evicted, well then so can any other baby, because they’re all equally innocent. We’re not guilty for the sins of our parents.

In other words, if conservatives carve out an exception for human life resulting from rape, then they are claiming that the mother’s rights may trump the baby’s—and if this the case, then why can’t the mother’s rights allow her to terminate a baby voluntarily conceived?

Many libertarians have formed their position on abortion based on property rights, using Rothbard’s arguments (supported by many other scholars) and feel that the termination of life is not a violation of the non-aggression principle, but rather a logical conclusion of the woman’s self-ownership. Who is anybody else, they say, to force this women to enslave herself to the child growing within her?

While the appeal to property rights is powerful, it is incomplete. While we each have property rights, whether in our own persons or the assets over which we claim ownership, these rights can be restrained through contracts into which I have voluntarily entered. It is wrong to forcibly inseminate a woman and take appropriate measures to ensure that the growing fetus may thrive contrary to the woman’s wishes. Property rights clearly resolve this issue. But when the woman engages in voluntary and consensual actions, she is willingly subjecting herself to the consequences of those actions. In the case of sex, she is implicitly consenting to a possible pregnancy.

Rotbhard anticipated the argument of contract and consequence, and dismissed it thusly:

The common retort that the mother either originally wanted or at least was responsible for placing the fetus within her body is, again, beside the point. Even in the stronger case where the mother originally wanted the child, the mother, as the property owner in her own body, has the right to change her mind and to eject it.

This attempted rebuttal leaves much to be desired. Rothbard claims that a mother may at any time change her desire to be pregnant and may thus terminate the life over which she has stewardship. The logical extension of this argument applies to parenthood in general; the property ownership argument means that any parent may “evict” a child who is a drain on resources, for any reason, and that this action is reconcilable with the non-aggression principle.


Abortion is an attempt to evade the natural consequences of sex. It has become an institutionalized and legally justified industry by which sexual promiscuity can be enjoyed and the potential result of that activity, pregnancy, may be strenuously and successfully avoided.

To engage in such activities is to willingly subject one’s self to the natural consequences that follow. Personal responsibility demands this. Thus, the natural, obvious, and easily identifiable consequences of sex effectively creates an implicit contract which supersedes the woman’s claim to self-ownership.

If this woman did not want to be “enslaved” by another human being, then she should not have engaged in the activity that naturally brought about the result she did not want. To claim that the woman should be able to divorce herself from the consequences of her actions it to completely nullify any sense of accountability for one’s actions; the Rothbardian argument that a woman’s changing whims may justify her extinguishing another’s life is utterly repugnant to any sense of natural law, morality, or even the non-aggression principle.

Contracts trump rights. If I adopt a child, I have become its steward and am legally and morally obligated to provide for that child. The contractual commitment made through adoption overturns any future change in feelings I may have. To argue that I may change my mind one week later and kick the child out on the curb, and be completely justified in doing so, is both cold-hearted and completely absurd. To the extent that libertarians embrace this idea, they will be promoting (supposed) liberty and property at the expense of life. This cannot be done; the sacred triumvirate of life, liberty, and property demands that all three be protected and promoted together—not just one or two.

The self-ownership argument is placed in context when we consider simple property ownership, say, of a house. If I, as owner of my house, rent out my basement to another family, I do so with a contractual agreement. Though I own my house, my actions are necessarily restricted by the obligations put in place because of the agreement. I cannot kick the tenants out at any time (unless that’s part of the contract); my ownership is subjected first to any contractual obligations made.

Because of this consideration of contractual commitments, abortion is not settled by an appeal to property rights. Appealing to the mother’s self-ownership is inadequate when that mother is subject to the natural consequences of her previous, voluntary actions. These consequences are observable, natural, and thus may be construed as implicit terms and conditions of a contract potentially and inherently created by the voluntary, sexual union.

This is obviously a messy issue, and not even libertarians (known for their ideological rigidity and consistency) have unified around a single stance. While the discussion will continue (while the lives of millions continue to be unjustly ended), we must flatly reject the claim that the mother may aggress against another human being whose life was created as a natural consequence of her voluntary actions. Eviction is wrong when the tenant was invited in by the landlord with a binding contract in hand.

45 Responses to “Abortion: A Property Rights Issue?”

  1. Dave P.
    August 28, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    As a member of the church, my opinion is that life does not begin until the spirit enters the body and the body is able to function independently outside of the womb, ie: after severing the umbilical cord. Thus I do not believe that abortion is akin to murder, but the woman must still face the consequences of her decision. In the end, people need to understand that the issue is none of the government’s business.

  2. Jeremy Lyman
    August 28, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    Dave, suppose my opinion is that the spirit enters the body at the age of eight, at which point the person becomes responsible for their own actions. Is it then none of the government’s business if I evict a pre-eight year old from this world?

  3. Adam G.
    August 28, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

    The ejectivist position seems to be that if I make a decision at Time X, I shouldn’t be constrained by that decision at Time X+. They say this makes me more free at Time X+. Perhaps, but it also makes me less free at Time X. Because, under the ejectivist position, there is a whole terrain of decisions that bind my future self that I am not able to make.

    In this post you take the position that it is immoral to deny the consequences of ones decision. Granted. But it also makes you less free. Without meaningful consequences that result from my choices, choice and freedom are nullities.

  4. Nick M.
    August 28, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

    Connor, the whole argument falls apart on the word “contract.” The renter and child stewardship examples hold up legally and per the denotation of “contract,” an agreement voluntarily made between two parties. With a mother, on the other hand, there is no second party capable of making an agreement (i.e., the fetus). “Implicit contract” seems like an oxymoron.
    Now you may counter that infants, like fetuses, also cannot voluntarily enter an agreement to stay alive, because they do not understand, so why not do away with them if desired? That’s valid. And that’s why the “contract” argument is not the way to justify the pro-life position and must be abandoned. I see no contract here.

  5. Jeremy Lyman
    August 28, 2012 at 4:12 pm #


    The Declaration of Independence starts with the following: “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”

    In other words, the rights which our founders believed to be “unalienable” were not derived by any agreement between men.

    This concept is the basis for “natural law.” This concept is one of the basic principles that we turn to when determining natural (inate, inherent, God-given) rights.

    For the same reasons that no agreement was necessary for our founders to declare their rights, the contract that the woman enters into by voluntarily conceiving a child does not need to be entered into by any other individual. The baby within her womb is not a trespasser. The baby did not show up uninvited. The baby is not a stow-away. The baby was invited in. In fact, it might better be stated that the baby had no choice in the matter, that not only was the baby invited in, but the baby was brought in due to the actions of the mother and father, with no right to decline the invitation.

    As such, the woman has entered into a binding contract with with nature (or with God). She has committed her body as the dwelling place to nurture the baby until birth.

    The “parasite” comparison is fallacious from the very outset because a parasite could never be considered to have any rights to begin with.

    As to the question as to when life begins, let me simplify. If the question is in dispute, or if the answer is not known, then clearly one must err on the side of protecting life. An appropriate comparison might be a person who you have found unconscious. If you aren’t sure if they are alive or not, would you feel perfectly justified in putting a bullet in their head?

  6. Jeremy Lyman
    August 28, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    As to Connor’s statement that, “It is wrong to forcibly inseminate a woman and take appropriate measures to ensure that the growing fetus may thrive contrary to the woman’s wishes. Property rights clearly resolve this issue…” I’m not sure what was meant.

    If he meant that abortion is clearly justified in this case, then I have to disagree.

    Property rights allow us to protect our lives, liberty, and property. They allow us to seek recompense and to seek justice for those that have violated our lives, liberty, and property.

    In the case of the unborn child, the child is obviously innocent of all charges. The baby has not violated anyone’s rights.

    The rapist, on the other hand, is the one who might rightly and justly be brought to justice.

  7. Jeremy Lyman
    August 28, 2012 at 4:38 pm #

    Nick, I should also point out that unilateral contracts are every bit as binding as 2-party contracts. In the case of the woman voluntarily becoming pregnant, she has essentially made a promise to the unborn baby, she has essentially signed a unilateral contract securing a dwelling place for the baby, who is obviously unable to sign, and whose signature is not necessary on the unilateral contract.

  8. Nick M.
    August 28, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    In involuntary conceptions, the baby did show up uninvited. It was not wanted. It is a trespasser.
    As for voluntary conceptions, there still is no contract between woman and anyone, because there isn’t two parties.
    And you say the contract the woman enters in voluntary conception doesn’t require a second party (which is counter to the definition), but later say she is entering a binding contract with nature (which has no will, voice, or personification) or with God, who may or may not exist and whose will cannot be empirically known. So is the contract between woman and no one or between woman and the divine second party?
    As for erring on the side of protecting life, that would suggest we can’t let sperm go to waste, for that is killing life . . .

  9. Jeremy Lyman
    August 28, 2012 at 4:54 pm #

    Nick, you are incorrect in your assertion that a contract requires agreement between two parties. Unilateral contracts are legally enforceable, and of course, they make sense.

    For instance, if I promise a reward of $10,000 for the safe return of my lost poodle, I have signed an agreement that no one else has signed. It is a unilateral contract, and the moment you walk through the door with my poodle, I owe you $10,000 based on the contract.

    The suggestion that the contract was made with nature (or God) simply illustrates the point that the woman is voluntarily doing something which she knows could naturally result in a baby growing in her belly. Forget I said it if it confuses you. It’s kind of like saying that jumping off a cliff is entering into an agreement with nature (or God), agreeing to have one’s legs broke. You can claim that nature has no will, voice, or personification, or that God’s will cannot be empirically known, but in fact if you jump off a cliff you DO know what nature will do to you.

    You claim that “In involuntary conceptions, the baby did show up uninvited. It was not wanted. It is a trespasser.”

    Let me ask you this. Suppose you happen to be cruising along on your private yacht in the middle of the ocean. If I kidnapped a baby and lowered him from my helicopter onto your yacht and then disappeared into the night, would you have legal and moral justification in throwing that “trespasser” off of your private property? After all, “the baby did show up uninvited. It was not wanted. It is a trespasser.”

  10. Nick M.
    August 28, 2012 at 4:56 pm #

    And Connor is saying that entering the sexual union carries with it a contract, with implicit terms and conditions: “These consequences [of sexual intercourse] are observable, natural, and thus may be construed as implicit terms and conditions of a contract.” Who am I making this contract with? Who set the terms?
    “These consequences [of falling off Devil’s Tower] are observable, natural, and thus may be construed as implicit terms and conditions of a contract.” So am I bound NOT to pull my parachute?

  11. Jeremy Lyman
    August 28, 2012 at 5:00 pm #

    Pulling your parachute does not violate the life, liberty or property of any other person, so it is completely irrelevant.

    On the other hand, if you chose to jump on top of another person from the top of Devil’s tower, knowing that landing on them would kill them and save you, then you have no natural right, and no moral justification for doing so.

  12. Nick M.
    August 28, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

    I should backtrack and reaffirm that the whole contract idea is rooted in sexual union, not impregnation. So let’s focus on that.
    So I won’t touch the yacht thing, since it’s not at all similar.
    So apply the unilateral contract to sex, if you would . . .

  13. Nick M.
    August 28, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    So letting sperm go unfertilized, letting them die, is that not violating life?

  14. jimx
    August 28, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

    What is the doctrinal basis against abortion? This commentary is very scant or abscent of sources from LDS scripture or LDS General authorities.

    Locally I often see christians outside of abortion clinics, usually catholic. I they have pictures of severed heads of fetuses etc, but I have yet to encounter any actual reference to anything from the Bible, or quote from a pope. Which seems pretty odd, considering they have prayer beads, wear crosses etc.

    Why is such a high value placed on innocence? According to christian scriptures, nobody is innocent. (Romans 3:23)

    The inherent value of life might be the basis against abortion, but again, there are times in which that is waived for higher purposes of god. (this example is in LDS scripture)
    1 Nephi 4:13

    I don’t see “Abortion is an attempt to evade the natural consequences of sex.” That is assuming a lot about the nature of sex that doesn’t hold true as every possibility, and every experience of sex.

  15. Rhonda
    August 28, 2012 at 8:37 pm #


    I agree with your logic and conclusions.

    The best way to rid our nation of the stain of killing the unborn is to be able to freely teach these principles, morals, and responsibilities.

    The question now is- what is a fair and just consequence for someone who does terminate a life within them?

  16. outside the corridor
    August 29, 2012 at 9:08 am #

    I hate abortion as much as I do war–or more; both are violent and anti-life.

    But as an LDS I have come to feel/wonder if a woman (IF she is allowed to choose, really choose and isn’t pressured by family/friends/medical practitioners/governmental agencies) decides not to live with the consequences of having engaged in sexual activity–

    and allows her unborn child to die (and I DESPISE anyone who assists in abortion)–

    then she has simply made a very sad choice as to how she feels about procreation. IF she has future children, they will also suffer; everyone will suffer–

    I know a woman whose mother had an abortion, and that woman almost went insane over it–(not the mother, but the child, who knew about the abortion)–

    and spent the rest of her life (and still is) trying to work it out and trying to give as much life as she could; it was a very sad situation–

    a woman who chooses to have an abortion and then chooses to have children she allows to live and tries to raise . . .

    doesn’t realize what she does to her other children, unless she lies, and that is problematic for other reasons–

    it is a huge issue and one with eternal ramifications–

    someone who comes to earth to get a body (what we LDS believe) and then won’t allow others to get a body–

    but chooses to do what creates bodies . . .

    obviously doesn’t understand. If she doesn’t understand true principles and doesn’t want to understand them, then she is surely condemning herself to misery after death–

    if she doesn’t understand and wants to understand, then maybe there will be a time of regrets and repentance; I don’t know–

    but it seems that few things overturn the purpose for being alive more than abortion–

    and it would be a terrible burden to carry, that a person had rejected that gift–

    And, Connor (or anyone), do you or anyone else know if Mitt Romney’s Bain really did benefit financially from involvement with a company that ‘disposed’ of dead unborn humans?

    And if so, how can it be documented?

    I have tried to talk to some other LDS who support Romney about it, and I have been scorned, perhaps because my source wasn’t MSM–

    but in my mind that would make him even more of a vulture capitalist than his economic plunderings–

  17. Marc
    August 29, 2012 at 10:18 am #

    This Rothbard stance on abortion is one reason why I really dont care for the libertarians. They try to make sense of the world strictly through logic and neglect to include God in the equation. Can you really have a correct understanding of right and wrong without understanding God’s view and teaching? The libertarians teach that ever greater amounts of liberty are the answer to the nations woes, but is that really true? Can you have complete liberty in a nation full of godless people? The founders said the constitution would only work with a nation of moral people and that religion was an indispensable support to morality. The BOM teaches that America will be prosperous and free as long as its people worship Christ (thus supporting the founders argument concerning morality and religion). I like alot of what libertarianism teaches but they fall short in numerous areas (like this failed abortion argument) and this because they fail to include God’s laws in applying understanding to the situation.

  18. Jeremy Lyman
    August 29, 2012 at 11:49 am #

    Marc, the beauty of libertarianism and natural law is that when you follow the principles to their natural conclusions they do not conflict with God’s laws or the gospel

    That Rothbard has failed to properly follow the same principles that he espouses and successfully applies in other areas is no indictment of libertarianism, but is simply proof that he is human, and that he is sometimes wrong.

    You make assumptions about libertarianism and the failure to “include God” in the equation that simply aren’t logical. Here’s my point. There are Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals, and libertarians that believe in God, and there are also members of each of these (and basically every other) schools of thought that don’t believe in God. You can’t make a generalization that libertarianism somehow has a corner on the atheist or agnostic market.

    As to your assertion that the founders said the constitution would only work with a nation of moral people and that religion was an indispensable support to morality, that has nothing to do with being libertarian.

    What exactly are you suggesting? That we scrap the constitution since we are no longer a moral people?

    And no, libertarianism doesn’t fall short. Some libertarians do (as do some Republicans, some Democrats, some conservatives, and some liberals, all of whom support the pro-choice position).

  19. John
    August 29, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    I read the non-aggression essay by Block, which you link to, and it is one of most amoral essays I have seen. He states that libertarianism is not concerned with morality, suggests that a rape victim is justified in shooting any man who may enter her apartment, and seems to conclude that property rights always trump life and liberty.

    A more correct way to consider the situations proposed in his essay is to realize that both (proposed) outcomes violate a moral principle, either life or property, therefore seeking an absolute moral outcome is impossible. We must back off from absolutist adherence to principles in such cases, and simply ask what outcome is most just.

    Situation 1: I do not agree with Block that someone who tells the man hanging from the flagpole to fall to his death would be justified, either by the law or by God. That is not merely inaction, it is actively obstructing the man from saving himself.

    Situation 2: The man in the woods violates property to save his life, but he also makes full restitution, thus satisfying justice, and preserving a life, which cannot be restored.

    Moral principles are absolute, but it is easy to construct hypothetical situations where they conflict with each other, usually by assuming one has already been violated. Once any moral principle has be violated, fanatically holding as inviolate some other moral principle, as Block does, can easily lead us into greater errors.

  20. Clumpy
    August 30, 2012 at 10:23 pm #


    I’ve always felt that there are very compelling reasons why both nontheists and theists (and Christians/Latter-Day Saints in particular) might subscribe to libertarianism. As a codification of one viewpoint of what constitutes aggression, and how to minimize it, it certainly excludes neither group. Indeed it’s a philosophy without passions of its own, and thus can’t.

    That said, I have a real problem when people try to shoehorn religious principles into libertarianism, or to act as if acceptance of the former must necessarily entail acceptance of the latter. It’s as fallacious as arguing that Christ would accept a welfare state in its current form because of the mandated charity and brotherhood included in His gospel, as many do. One could argue that it might be so, and attempt to cite examples, but in the end we’re projecting modern political discourse and post-Enlightenment philosophy into a time where neither existed, or could even have been conceived of.

    It’s difficult to read the extremely rigid and theocratic Old Testament Israelite communities as embracing anything approaching a “non-aggression principle,” and (for Latter-Day Saints) even in the comparatively “tolerant” Nephite communities, you could still be put to death for plenty of non-aggressive actions.

    “Natural law” then, in practice, (and here I speak purely from my own frustrated experience) feels like an attempt to end the debate and spirit away ambiguities or alternate arguments by saying “My particular view of law is just and right, and others wrong and coercive… um, because God says so.” As a member of a church which never withdrew support for prohibition, which actively campaigned against the acceptance of gay marriage in California, and whose prominent leaders have even argued that legislation ought to mandate equality of pay and opportunity, I have trouble believing that the debate is really this simple. The general libertarian belief in contracts simple cannot be shoehorned onto abortion, and the “eviction” argument employed by Rothbard and Block coldhearted sophistry (of course, taking any other viewpoint would have been tantamount to admitting that a landlord who evicts a family into the cold knowing that they will freeze is committing a form of murder, something that none of these Austrian school libertarians could ever admit, but an idea which is fairly congruent with Biblical injunctions).

    Both of these competing arguments reek of an attempt to bring arbitrary order to a tumultuous and difficult argument, or to inject religious rhetoric into a debate by masking it as a secular principle, by people without the courage to just say “An unborn child is life as generally agreed, but also life with rights which ought to be legally protected, and my faith, conviction and reasoning all tell me so.”

  21. Jeremy Lyman
    August 31, 2012 at 8:48 am #

    Clumps, I am not projecting modern political discourse and post-Enlightenment philosophy into a time where neither existed. I don’t even know that that means.

    I’m talking about the compatibility of the principles of the gospel, as taught by the LDS Church, and basic libertarian principles. I said, “they do not conflict…”

    I’m having a hard time with your suggestion that I am trying to shoehorn religious principles into libertarianism. Really? “They do not conflict…” I stand by that, no shoehorning necessary.

    Also, you put a lot of words in my mouth. For instance, “My particular view of law is just and right, and others wrong and coercive… um, because God says so.”

    I never said anything even similar to that. In fact, the use of the term “natural law”, and particularly the way I use that term (if you have ever read my comments or posts), precludes the need to bring God or religion into the debate. A meaningful debate can really only be had by people who have some common ground to start from. As such, if you happen to be LDS, then quoting an LDS prophet from the pulpit is meaningful. But if an LDS member is discussing an issue with a non-member, or non-Christian, or an atheist, then there wouldn’t be much point to it.

    My point was that I reach the same conclusion by applying the principles of the gospel to the question as I do by applying what I view as “natural law” to the same question. To me it is called “natural law” because it is just that, perfectly natural, inherent, logical. It’s the same reason that the founders, in the Declaration of Independence, referred to the truths they were basing their declaration on as being “self evident.”

    I’m sorry if you find inconsistencies in your religion and your political philosophy. I don’t.

    Your examples of the Church supporting prohibition or opposing gay marriage, or of libertarians like Rothbard and Block supporting abortion, are examples of men, not principles.

    True principles are eternal. They do not change. They do not vary with circumstance. They are often hard to define, and that’s where the confusion enters. But I personally don’t believe that an eternal religious principle, that I believe to be true, could be in conflict with some sort of secular principle that I also believe to be true. They couldn’t both be true if the were in conflict. To deny this would be to embrace cognitive dissonance. For me, there aren’t different sets of principles, some religious, and some secular. That really doesn’t make any sense to me.

    And for the record, I obviously didn’t bring religion into the picture in the way that you have suggested… “inject religious rhetoric into a debate by masking it as a secular principle…” or whatever. I was simply refuting Marc’s claim that libertarian principles are not compatible with religious principles. That some libertarians are atheists and have discovered some true principles simply because they are “natural” and not “because God said so” and that some libertarians have missed the mark on certain issues (like abortion) is no proof of anything other than that God’s principles really are “natural”, and they aren’t some arbitrary principles that only exist “because God says so”, and that men are not infallible, even great thinkers that may have discovered most of the truth.

  22. Clumpy
    August 31, 2012 at 9:00 am #

    Jeremy, I don’t think I really put my comment into the proper context. Only my first paragraph was intended to be a direct response to your comment, after that I guess I sort of expanded into something that irks me personally. My apologies for giving you the (totally valid, in retrospect) impression that I was going after you personally for crossing that line.

  23. Clumpy
    August 31, 2012 at 9:23 am #

    I attempted to edit my comment but timed out, so here’s the second part:

    Even my mention of “natural law” was referring only to Connor’s use of the term, not yours, which I didn’t catch (and again, I would have thought the same thing you did, so my apologies).

    One clarification, though: I would say less that I find contradictions between my political and religious principles, than that I don’t feel that I have cause to believe that my political principles are the only logical extension of my religious principles. As I try to break down my dislike for natural law arguments here, I’ll clarify again that I’m merely trying to give my views on the concept as it often seems to be used on this blog, and not referring to anything you’ve written specifically.

    “Natural law,” for example, is often used to argue that protecting certain rights (such as the right to property) makes inherent sense, while involving the state in securing others represent an encroachment or coercion. Many branches of libertarianism, on the other hand, hold other, equally valid, interpretations, which leads to other views of the “proper” role of government. For example, in a “natural,” stateless society, I would be unable to cordone off natural resources or land and prevent others from using them – this land doesn’t become “property” until somebody encroaches on it and claims it as their own. A natural law perspective, on the other hand, says that the government can imprison people for violating the monopoly on my “property” that it itself creates. Which coercion do we look at? The potential coercion of trespassers or those who would use my “property” against my will, or my own coercion for claiming inalienable “first dibs”?

    Anyway, I actually support property rights – this example is intended to illustrate the ambiguities of the debate more than anything. Numerous other examples exist. For example, it is “natural” to many for the government to enforce private contracts, while others argue that in a “natural” state of being both parties would be required to only enter into contracts which they have the leverage and resources to enforce. Libertarian John Hasnas deconstructs the former view of contracts so well that I feel obliged to recognize either that a Rothbardian stateless society is the only truly consistent libertarian model, or that some “unnatural” governmental protection might be okay: link to article.

    So while I do view “natural law” when used in certain contexts as people attempting to involve God in the discussion while being able to debate secularists, the occasional religious injection really isn’t my problem with the philosophy. It’s the inconsistency of natural law itself, the finality with which it says “My particular set of views makes perfect sense and has no error,” while ignoring ambiguities or alternate ways of looking at things which could lead us toward different policy conclusions entirely. In practice it feels like an attempt to end any such debate before it begins.

  24. jimz
    August 31, 2012 at 9:22 pm #

    I often get distracted by the term ‘natural law’, as the only one I am really familiar with is from nature itself. As such I have a difficult time believing ‘natural law’ when it invokes any man made law or concept, especially when it requires institutions to enforce, like legal systems and police etc…

    Any type of medical practice to me also seems to fit in poorly with ‘natura law’ as it often keeps people alive with mechanical things, and or sythetic medications.

    Along with that the use of plastic, synthetic pesticides, tilling the ground to grow grains. And probably a lot of other things, which are not natural, and artificially favor the human population.

  25. Clumpy
    August 31, 2012 at 10:28 pm #


    “Natural” law is basically a philosophy characterized by a belief in inalienable rights which cannot be infringed or restricted by government, nothing to do with technology or farming methods :). It’s actually pretty strongly associated with the end of the divine right of kings, as people began to believe that a monarch could not justly restrict certain rights, which was revolutionary at the time. I do think that the human race is strongly predisposed to fight against leaders who restrict their free speech or rights to habeas corpus, which is a wonderful thing, though I object to the confidence with which natural law proponents often appeal to a “state of nature” in attempting to reason out which rights are inalienable and which are not. And yes, as you imply, libertarians who invoke these arguments in supporting governmental institutions of enforcement often draw the line pretty arbitrarily.

  26. jimz
    September 3, 2012 at 8:34 am #

    Jeremy Lyman,
    Thank you for the link. I notice and appreciate the emphasis on LDS membership in reference to authority counsel. The exceptions to the rule are interesting, but still counsel with church authorities are so encouraged. Is abortion discouraged in all cases? dispite this public statement?

  27. jimz
    September 3, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    Is there any LDS official statement against abortion with doctrinal support, with scriptural references? Its in the general christian consciousness, and perhaps in other religions. But I honestly don’t see an absolute prohibition of abortion based on traditional scritpures.

    In fact some scriptures do not count a fetus or a child under a month old as even a person. Numbers 3:15-16
    The question of guilt or innocence of a fetus is mute, as sometimes a fetus was punished along with its mother for her behavior. Genesis 38:24

    Life in general was only valued for compliance to law, and a very bad sin was the shedding of innocent blood. Capital punishment was enforced for a number of violations.

  28. Amber
    September 3, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

    The idea of amorally evicting a fetus, even if it kills the child, makes me sick. At least Block tried to suggest an alternative to leaving the child to die (I’m one of those weird people who think that growing a baby in a test tube is far better than putting them in a bucket and walking away).

    I think of this issue as being closer to the slave issue, though I’m probably not very libertarian in this.

    Basically, the fetus had no choice but to grow inside the mother. It did not choose to go there. It is just where it cannot help but to be. In this way, the fetus is less free than a slave is, since the slave has a chance to either escape or voluntarily die. The fetus has neither.

    It is unjust to kill a fetus who doesn’t have freedom, anymore than it was just for slaveowners to kill (or rape or otherwise abuse) slaves, their property.

    Also, what about the baby’s property rights? Is it unjust for the state to deny a farmer from collecting rainwater, but perfectly just to deprive a helpless human being of its only source of life? Is life that insignificant in the life/liberty/property triangle?

    Is nine months or less really worth that?

  29. Charles D
    September 6, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

    Forget about debating when life begins and ask yourself what kind of intrusive measures would be necessary to enforce a government ban on abortion. How can anyone who pretends to value personal liberty condone big government coming between a physician and patient? How can anyone who values personal freedom insist that big government deny a person the right to determine the course of their own life?

  30. JJL9
    September 6, 2012 at 8:52 pm #

    Charles, would you use the same logic if people were killing their 6 month old babies, 1 year old babies, 3 year old toddlers? What if their physician recommended it because the stress of having kids was just too much for them?

  31. Charles D
    September 6, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

    In those cases government would not have to intrude any further than it already does to deal with other crimes. I don’t want government telling my physician what he or she can or cannot say to me. I want them to give me the best advise they can based on their education and experience and if I choose I will get a second opinion. I don’t want government giving them a list of approved options.

  32. JJL9
    September 6, 2012 at 9:01 pm #

    LOL. So you only want government to intrude when parents kill their living children because government already does that? I’m thoroughly confused by your response.

    As to your not wanting government telling your physician what he or she can or cannot say to you, and giving you the best advise they can based on their education and experience, etc.., that’s just fine, but when they recommend that you kill another human being, then what? Or suppose he recommends that you steal my stuff. Then what?

  33. Charles D
    September 6, 2012 at 9:06 pm #

    In those cases government would not have to intrude any further than it already does to deal with other crimes. I don’t want government telling my physician what he or she can or cannot say to me. I want them to give me the best advise they can based on their education and experience and if I choose I will get a second opinion. I don’t want government giving them a list of approved options.

    Most Americans do not consider the termination of a pregnancy a murder and I agree with them. We are talking about the life of an adult or near-adult citizen here and you are suggesting that the government should force her to carry a fetus to term against her will and endure the agony of birth against her will and assume responsibility for the life of a child she does not want against her will. That combination of coercive acts by government violates every principle of personal liberty and freedom.

  34. jimz
    September 9, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

    I assumed that abortion was a modern practice, but I recently found out its actually an ancient practice. Probably not as safe or as effective as modern times, but it still existed quite a long time ago. I assumed incorrectly that the lack of commentary in the Bible was due to abortion being modern. So, if its not modern, why is there a lack of commentary? I could be wrong, is there a single verse anywhere in the Bible on this topic?

    I pointed out in an earlier post that infants under one month old were not counted as people in the O.T. Is there any other commentary that counters this?

    More to the topic of this post, people can be property in some cultures and time periods. I just read about a husband selling his wifes kidney without her persmission, in that country its ok. Also a young girl was lost in a poker game.

  35. Rhonda
    September 10, 2012 at 9:50 am #

    yes, abortion has existed for a long time. Native Americans had certain plants they would eat to cause it. Modern people weren’t the first to want to avoid natural consequences of their actions.

    Sometimes countries have laws that count people as property. That doesn’t mean it is moral or approved by God, just that people decided on something.

    There are a few biblical scriptures related to abortion. One is Exodus 21:22-25- it says if men are fighting and ACCIDENTALLY hurt a woman in a way that she has a miscarriage, the man at fault will be punished in a way determined by the husband. If, however, the one at fault hurts further, intentionally, the full punishment applies of eye for eye, hand for hand, etc. (I am not advocating reverting to the Law of Moses…)

    Another is D&C 59:6 “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Thou shalt not steal; neither commit adultery, nor kill, nor do anything like unto it.”

    Most of the related scriptures, though, refer to the sanctity of life and the Lord’s part in forming a body for our spirit, the latter already existing.

    There is an official LDS statement on abortion, found at Here is a piece of it: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes in the sanctity of human life. Therefore, the Church opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience, and counsels its members not to submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for such abortions.”

    If you are really trying to understand our point of view on abortion, and not just trying to argue, an excellent article written by an apostle can be read at

  36. jimz
    September 10, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

    Thank you for attempting to answer some questions. However, abortion takes special medical training to do properly and its not the result of a fight as described in Exodus 21:22-25. In addition the fetus sounds vaguely like ‘property’ in this verse for lack of a better word. Certainly its status as a full human is not yet established.

    Jeremy has been kind enough to previously provide a link to the official LDS statement against abortion, I was disappointed with its lack of supporting scripture or doctrinal statements. Which I suppose is fine, if one accepts their word as being inspired. At this time I will refrain from commenting on the last link.

  37. Rhonda
    September 10, 2012 at 6:03 pm #

    The kind of ancient abortions I know about did not require special medical training.

    That’s funny that you’ll refrain from commenting on the last link, I’d think it fits the bill better for you than the official church statement does. The talk goes into a lot more detail and uses scripture; the other is meant to be a concise statement.

    It sounds, though, like you are not interested in understanding this point of view, just in picking it apart.

  38. Anna
    September 12, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    We are sovereign individuals whose rights come from God. Once you reliquish those rights to a govmt you are no longer sovereign. The govmt can then tell you what else you can and cannot do to your own body.

    Would you give MORE rights to an illegal allien than to a legal citizen? Then why would you give MORE rights to a part of a woman’s body that is totally incapable of life outside of her body? If I want to cut my leg off am I guilty of murder?

    Go ahead and elect Presidents who inject their religious beliefs into our judicial system and see how tyrannical it becomes.

  39. Anothercoilgun
    September 19, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    – Kill your own 1 year old, you in big trouble.
    – Rob a bank, you in big trouble.
    – Kill you own < 1 year old, not a problem.

    Cannot kill that was not alive. Are kids in the stomach alive? Why has is not be stated so simply as this.

    Wait, what happens if person A goes and kills person's B yet to be born child. Can person A claim "it was just abortion". It would seem killing is relative. Some are more killing equal than others.

  40. Pastor Sean
    September 26, 2012 at 8:10 am #

    An unborn child is not merely the result of a contract, it is either an implied or constructive Trust (depending on your law system). There are three parties involved. Two parties contributed equally to the creation of the corpus of the Trust, and one is the Trustee (the mother). All three are beneficiaries. The trustee has legal title of the corpus, but does not have full or even majority equitable title. Therefore the trustee cannot terminate the trust until it has reached maturity. During the life of the trust, the trustee is legally obligated to protect the corpus of the trust from injury or damage. If the trustee fails in this duty, the beneficiaries have a tort. Either the father, or the child can bring suit. In the case of the child, if the father does not act as legal guardian, the state, through the court can and should appoint an attorney to represent the child. The state also has a legal interest and responsibility to see to it that the trust is honored and carried out according to the law.

    The tenant example is not applicable since in the case of an unwanted tenant, if the tenant refuses to leave, the land lord is not justified in killing the tenant, dismembering her, and dragging her body out into the ally and dumping it in the dumpster, which is essentially what happens in an abortion.

  41. jimx
    November 2, 2012 at 7:20 pm #

    Sorry I have been so busy to not even come to this webpage. There is much that is contradictory in the Talk in the link you provided. I don’t quite understand the war reference as its perfectly fine for LDS members to be part of the military and to participate in wars. Abortion cannot be argued against on that basis, unless you are a conscientious objector and obstain from service in the military. The only Christian body I can think of that officially does that as an organization are the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Others that are not christian might be Buddhists, Jains, some hindus and perhaps some atheists.

    There seems to be very little to grasp in the talk, there isn’t anything which directly addresses abortion as far as scripture goes.

    In general the Bible is NOT against the taking of life in and of its self, but perhaps why is a big question. There was capital punishment for a number of offenses, like breaking the sabbath day, disobeying ones parents, witchcraft are a few that come to mind. The only possible case one can make using the bible is the sin against the shedding of innocent blood. Guilty blood isn’t a question, but only the innocent, such as an infant or small child.

    Perhaps in our modern era there is more of a sense wanting to protect life in and of itself, even protecting the life of the guilty. But this is more in line with atheism, and perhaps eastern faiths like Buddhism, hinduism. I don’t particularly equate this thought with the monotheistic faiths for some reason. But perhaps they are changing with the times.

  42. Casey
    November 27, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    “abortion is an act of violence and should be treated as such” – Ron Paul

  43. jimx
    November 27, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

    well, meat eating is violence. Building a city is also violence. Driving a car, flying a plane is violent. Even walking or wearing clothing is potentially violence. I suppose these are all a matter of degree and intent or lack of intent, but they can all result in the harm of some form of life.


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