On December 8, 2019 I had the pleasure of debating Walter Block at the Soho Forum in New York City on abortion, specifically his theory of eviction. Blocks presents his theory as a “principled compromise,” a truly unique libertarian take on abortion which solves the problem over time. I spent a great deal of time reading through a number of papers and some of his critics. His argument has evolved a bit over time but is simple in its essence: an unwanted fetus may be a rights-bearing individual, but they also are a trespasser, and the woman has a right to evict trespassers from her property, namely her womb. Post-viability, eviction necessarily excludes killing; pre-viability, eviction necessarily includes killing. Block’s aim is that the market will produce technology which will advance viability even to the point of conception so that all babies will eventually be spared from death in the womb.
Having read his work on the topic, I have come to appreciate his effort – I think he and I have the same goal: to articulate a uniquely libertarian position on abortion which breaks the current stalemate, make a woman’s right in the matter unambiguous, and eventually end the practice of abortion. My argument is that since libertarianism intends to absolutize human rights, then by absolutizing the rights of the fetus, we absolutize the rights of women. In this, we become more aware of how the market empowers women in every facet which impacts her choice to produce new self-owners (or not), and we also create a framework for crimes against women, such as rape – something that is sorely lacking in our current system.
Most abortion debates are impossible; this topic is polarized and it is only getting worse. 2019 brought us some of the most extreme abortion legislation from both sides. Libertarian philosophy has not really settled on an answer to this question, but it needs to since there is a rights claim over abortion.
In most cases, pro-choice and pro-life libertarians tend to make the same old argument in libertarian terms. The Libertarian Party’s stance has been to chalk it up to a difficult decision that should be left to the woman. Libertarian feminists have argued that abortion is a natural right of women in which the state should not intervene. Conservative libertarians have tried to argue for implied contracts with the fetus. Still, most libertarians (and really most Americans, I think) recognize the issue is complicated enough that they do not see a straightforward answer.
My aim with this debate was to turn the argument on its head: to put the woman front and center because she is the one person who stands between the fetus and the rest of the world. And the only way to bring an end to the practice of abortion is through her perspective.
This debate was the most relaxed abortion debate you might imagine. Walter and I had a conversation prior to going on stage and I think it really set the tone for the rest of the debate. The audience was interested and engaged; there was even a group of teens who came with their instructor for the debate. There were no hecklers and many people interested with more questions following the debate. There’s a depth to the debate that neither Walter nor I got into. But it is the beginning of a new conversation on abortion. None of my claims in my presentation have not already been thought through and over the next several months I will be formalizing my argument in writing.
Please do take an opportunity to listen to this debate and let me know your thoughts. If you benefit from it in anyway, please share it with others.