The Libertarian stand on abortion

by Harry Browne

December 21, 1998

The terms "pro-choice" and "pro-life" should be eliminated from any Libertarian's vocabulary. They give the wrong impression of what Libertarians believe.

When you say you're "pro-choice," half the population is likely to assume you're a liberal who likes Affirmative Action, big government, and a whole range of other liberal stands.

When you say you're "pro-life," the other half of the population probably assumes you're a conservative who likes to legislate morality, wants to put prayer in government schools, and has all sorts of other dandy ideas to run their lives.

Abortion is a sensitive issue on which reasonable people can differ. We achieve nothing when we use a sloganized term to assert a position — acting as though any different position were unreasonable.

Some people believe a fetus is a human being who is entitled to the same right to life that will apply after he's born. Other people see the fetus differently, and believe that women have a right to decide for themselves whether to carry it to birth.

We aren't going to change either group by spouting contrary slogans at them. This will only identify us as opponents to be disregarded on all issues.

In my view, an uncompromising Libertarian position on abortion doesn't have to offend anyone. Whatever we believe abortion is, we know one thing: government doesn't work, and it is as incapable of eliminating abortions as it is of eliminating poverty or drugs.

This position allows us to offer hope to either side of the debate.

To one side we say: we will not let the government impose its way upon you.

To the other side we say: if you want to reduce abortions, there are much better ways than by depending on the government — because it will only disappoint you. Every day you spend trying to get the government to do something to reduce abortions is a day wasted, a day that could have been spent doing something effective about abortion — such as working for less-restrictive adoption laws, encouraging private educational efforts to show young women the alternatives to abortion, repealing the income tax so that parents can afford to spend time teaching their children the values that will minimize teenage pregnancies. Given the results of the government's War on Poverty and the War on Drugs, we can assume that a War on Abortion will lead within five years to men having abortions.

We should never define Libertarian positions in terms coined by liberals or conservatives — nor as some variant of their positions. We are not fiscally conservative and socially liberal. We are Libertarians, who believe in individual liberty and personal responsibility on all issues at all times. You can depend on us to treat government as the problem, not the solution.