Libertarian looks at Arizona abortion law
Like so many others, Libertarians wrestle with the moral issues associated with abortion. While our party includes a significant number of people who describe themselves as pro-choice, nearly as many members describe themselves as pro-life. In my own view, however, there is no conflict: the best way to respect life is to prevent government from interfering with individual rights.
Most who refer to themselves as pro-life believe that the fetus becomes an individual endowed with full rights at the moment of conception. Most of those who call themselves pro-choice believe that an individual entitled to rights does not exist at least until there is a functional brain, capable of consciousness, which most scientists place somewhere between 22 and 26 weeks.
Regardless of one’s view on this matter, however, we should all be able to agree that a pregnant woman is an individual with rights. And that includes the right to make often-difficult decisions concerning her own body.
One provision of the recent modification to Arizona law prohibits the termination of a pregnancy once 20 weeks have passed from the start of the woman’s last menstrual period before fertilization. After that, abortion is permitted only in medical emergencies threatening the mother’s health.
This provision is more of an insult to women than a substantive restriction, since nearly 99 percent of all abortions already take place before the end of 20 weeks, while virtually all remaining abortions do involve protecting the mother’s health. Arizona might as well have passed a law prohibiting mothers from waterboarding their infant children for all its relevance to the actual behavior of these women.
The ugliest part of the Arizona law, however, is a provision requiring a woman to undergo a physically invasive transvaginal ultrasound before she is even allowed to choose. The goal, of course, is to humiliate her into deciding not to proceed.
We all know that abortions still take place even when they’re prohibited. Countries with severe restrictions on abortion actually have a higher rate of abortions (once the illegal ones are included) than countries that have few restrictions. The lowest rate of abortion in the world is in pro-choice Holland, widely considered to be a hotbed of promiscuous sexual activity.
As libertarians, we also support the removal of restrictions on adoption, including laws against cross-racial adoptions and adoptions by unmarried adults and same sex couples. All of these changes will help reduce the number of abortions that take place. Indeed, abortion rates have dropped steadily in recent decades as women, including teenage girls, have faced fewer obstacles to learning about sex.
Mark Hinkle is chair of the Libertarian Party.