I despise abortion. Even though I’m a libertarian and most libertarians are pro-choice, I am not a fan. I’ve spent over two decades cringing inwardly every time one of my fellow libertarians spouted the overly enthusiastic “We’re pro choice on EVERYTHING” catchphrase, and hours of time trying to sort out my beliefs in my mind. Do I think abortion should be illegal? Even if I do, does that give me the right to impose my morality onto others? And how can I reconcile this with my belief in limited government?
As a result, I find the recent firing of Tomi Lahren to be of some interest.
A lot of my conservative friends were ecstatic about this (as was I, if perhaps for different reasons) because as they said, abortion was a litmus test for them. If a person is pro-choice, they cannot be a conservative. Those two beliefs are mutually exclusive, a person can’t hold them both. But during those many hours I spent thinking about my ethical quandary over abortion, I came to realize it’s actually impossible for me to hold the view that abortion should be illegal. I cannot hold that position in good conscience. I suppose that’s at least in part why I consider myself libertarian; it’s why I can’t make the leap to conservatism even though I share most of the same personal values as conservatives do. What it boils down to is this: If you believe in limited government as a good and noble thing, it means you don’t get to use it to impose your own set of moral beliefs onto others..
A government with minimal power to regulate morality guarantees that a minority group of any philosophical bent could never seize the reins of power and inflict their beliefs onto everyone else. Even if that minority is totally right, even if their moral compass is steering them true. No matter how heartfelt your convictions, no matter how pure your motives, you just can’t do it. It’s against the rules. Only when most people agree that something is wrong, could it ever be made illegal (and oftentimes not even then, if it’s unconstitutional). It’s a check and balance; it may not be spelled out as clearly as other checks and balances are, but it’s still there, still working for us behind the scenes. Unless most voters agree on a law, it probably won’t be enacted. And if it is, if politicians act against the will of their constituents, it’s only good until the next election when the voters throw the bums out and send new legislators to do our bidding.
The idea that none of us have the right to dictate issues of morality to our neighbors is the foundation of not only libertarianism, but also small-government conservatism. Having a government powerless to legislate morality ensures that there could never be a theocracy of any flavor in the United States. Under no circumstances could a small group of cultural Marxists or religious extremists get into power and alter the law to control people’s personal lives and choices. The argument can be made that that situation has already come to pass and cultural Marxists already do hold a good deal of power over our lives, inflicting their values onto everyone else, forcing nuns to pay for birth control, forcing all Americans to fund Planned Parenthood and abortions overseas. But even they don’t have the kind of power over people’s lives that would be required to enforce abortion laws. Not even close. The kind of power that would be required to ban abortion in the United States would be unbelievably intrusive. The results would be horrific. No believer in small government, be they libertarian or conservative, should ever want to hand that kind of power to bureaucrats and law enforcement officials.
That is the fundamental argument as to why abortion must not be made illegal. It’s not about right or wrong. It’s not even about majority rule. It’s because making abortion illegal tomorrow would be a fricking disaster. It would place a terrible amount of power into the hands of an already-too-strong Federal government that in recent years has shown itself only too happy to abuse that power. The NSA would be listening to people’s phone calls to see if they’re pregnant. Police would be stopping and frisking people looking for morning-after pills. And in a few years when the Republican Party inepts themselves back out of power, then what? Will President Cory Booker or whichever SJW the Democrats thrust at the nation’s voters cautiously roll back that power grab? Of course not. S/he’d stop using it for abortion, though, and start using it for some other thing instead. And around and around we’d go until eventually we would have handed over so much power to the Feds that one party or the other would decide, “ya know, maybe we’re just not gonna give this up after 4 years”.
Some would argue that we already place this kind of power into the hands of the government in the name of criminal justice. No one would argue that because police officers sometimes go too far investigating murder, that homicide should therefore be stricken from the laws of the land. Law enforcement officers investigate murder, robbery, kidnappings, assault. We grant them power that civilians lack in order to do that. Power that could be abused, and sometimes is, but a price we are willing to pay, a chance we’re willing to take, because we need them to enforce the law. Some would argue that it is right and just to extend this power to prohibiting abortion, because abortion is wrong. Abortion robs a person of their right to life, and thus prohibiting it is a legitimate use of government force just as prohibiting murder of an older individual is. The problem is, abortion is much like a victimless crime. It’s not victimless, of course. But it’s victimless in the sense that there is no one who can come forth to report it.
Making victimless crimes illegal has never worked. They’ve never stopped bad behavior. Drug laws, prostitution, gambling laws, prohibition – none of these laws have worked and all of them have led to civil rights abuses that are arguably worse than the crimes themselves. Driving them underground puts the criminal activity associated with them beyond the reach of the law and leads to greater harm to individuals and society as a whole than if they had been legalized. Making victimless crimes illegal serves no purpose but to hand over abusable power to law enforcement and to empower actual bad guys by creating a class of victims who are too scared of prosecution to go to the police.
Murder and robbery are fundamentally different from abortion because someone can come forward to tell the police that something bad has occurred. A person can show up at the police station to report a missing person or that someone broke into their car. Even if it is the discovery of a corpse dumped in the woods, the police find out. Victimless crimes, on the other hand, are hidden by all participants. Without that witness coming forward voluntarily to tell the police a crime has been committed, not only do people get away with committing victimless crimes often enough so the threat of arrest is far less of a disincentive, but police have to dance on the border of civil rights abuse just to investigate it. Police end up entrapping people into committing a crime in elaborate sting operations or going undercover and actually break laws themselves or stop drivers and search their car only to arrest them for doughnut crumbs.
If somebody steals your bike, you call the police to report it. But imagine if owning a bike itself was illegal. Not only could you not go to the police if your bike had been stolen, but the police would be constantly snooping around the neighborhood, looking into your yard, into your garage, even coming up onto your porch looking for bike paraphernalia like inner tubes and those squirty water bottles. Spandex would be seen as a gateway drug and it would only be a matter of time before it too was banned, much to the chagrin of middle aged women like me who are in desperate need of our Spanx. Soon we’d be breaking the law too, trading worn out body suits in dark alleys in the dead of night, assuring neighbors and co-workers that our svelte figures were a result of Yoplait Light and Piyo.
I’m obviously having a bit of fun here, but there would be nothing fun about trying to enforce laws about abortion. And I’m not talking about for women who wanted illegal abortions. I’m talking about for the rest of us. Abortion is very, very similar to something a woman’s body does naturally – losing a pregnancy. Instead of nosy neighbors and the cop on the beat peering into your garage looking for incriminating Lance Armstrong posters, they’d be peering into your bedroom, your bathroom, your doctor’s office. There would be police waiting to interrogate women at the emergency room after they’d suffered a miscarriage. It would be horrible and hellish and humiliating and women would start hiding their pregnancies till out of the first trimester and attempting to manage miscarriages at home, alone, without medical help. Women would die, not because of coat hangers or filthy doctor’s offices, but because they were too ashamed and afraid of potential prosecution to go to the ER.
You’d need a judge’s order to have a medical procedure if your baby had died in your uterus, which happens sometimes, or if a miscarriage had been incomplete, which happens quite frequently. Since many vitamins, herbs, and household substances can trigger a loss, any woman who had a miscarriage would find her life torn open for scrutiny, with the coffee on her shelf and the bottle of cooking wine in the cupboard under suspicion. She’d have to justify the amount of weight she’d gained (or not), the amount of exercise she’d done (or not), even the plants growing in the flower bed outside would be fair game for the investigation. Now imagine this happening at least a million times a year. Imagine the time and effort and resources this would require. We’d have to live in a police state to ban abortion, not because abortion would be widespread in a world where it was illegal – I do believe the number of abortions would decline greatly if it were banned – but because miscarriage is such a common occurrence. The cost to civil liberties would be astronomical. The cost would be astronomical, period. Divorcing the issue entirely from matters of right and wrong, the nation’s time, money, and energy would be so much better spent elsewhere.
The costs to civil liberties and to the nation’s bank account would be too high. And you know what, that’s the reason why Tomi Lahren should’ve been fired. If ya want to be a conservative mouthpiece, Tomi, be one. Don’t parrot liberal arguments to get the approval of Joy Behar in the hopes of parlaying that into a gig on The View – because come on, I think most people agree that’s what she was trying to do. She can’t make the right argument because I suspect she doesn’t even know or understand the philosophical underpinnings of small-government conservatism, she doesn’t understand that it is better, not for some pie-in-the-sky reason that gets people to subscribe to her YouTube vids, but because in practical application, having a limited government is superior to a big, bad, busybody one. We are better off with the Nosy Nannies of the world out of our business, even if they are totally right and we are all going to burn in Hell forevermore because of our sinfulness.
I hate abortion. But turning our nation into a police state and blowing up our national debt even more is not the solution. You can hate something with every fiber of your being, it can turn your stomach and make your skin crawl, but it doesn’t mean that it should be illegal. Government should not be in the position to legislate morality, not yours, not mine, not anyone’s. And government has proven repeatedly that it is incapable of negotiating the gray areas without abusing its authority. It is not a risk we can afford to take. We’ve given them too much power already.
Safe, legal, rare. Let’s work towards that tangibly in a conservative way by making adoption easier and cheaper, by doing away with regulations that make birth control more expensive and harder to get than it needs to be, and by fixing the economy so that people can afford to raise their babies, instead of destroying civil liberties and setting fire to a trillion dollars pursuing an unenforceable law.
Image by Gage Skidmore