Tuesday, February 24, 2009

On Abortion Rights, Cato Is Bullshit

I see that Cato has added anti-abortion guys Tucker Carlson and Nat Hentoff to its ranks. I've been complimentary of Cato in the past for supporting unpopular positions liberals and libertarians can agree on, like stopping the drug war that's ripping apart Mexico and urban America.

But look, Cato people. This is bullshit.

I get some of the basic intuitions that make libertarianism go. I understand that people don't want the government wiretapping them. I see how people could be unhappy with the deal they're getting when the government takes away a big chunk of their annual income for a bunch of services. I get how it'd annoy you if there was some mutually agreeable contract you wanted to make and the government stopped you, or if onerous regulations blocked a beneficial way for you to develop your business. I get how you might not like the government telling you what you could smoke or drink or snort. Having no need for additional protection or a symbolic extra penis, I don't really get the gun thing, but I can see how some people get into it.

But you know what would be worse than having the government deny your liberty in any of these ways? If the government made you grow a creature your abdomen for nine months, despite the fact that you desperately didn't want it to be there and there was a simple way for it to be taken out. If this weren't a core part of the policy agenda of the until-recently-dominant political party, it'd sound like the premise of some kind of wacky sci-fi dystopia.

Look, you can tap my phone. You can overtax me and hedge my business in with weird regulations. You can keep me from smoking or drinking or snorting stuff. And, guns, whatever. But please, don't force unwilling people to grow other people inside their tummies for nine months. Here's David Boaz getting all upset about how pro-choicers aren't cool with the whole libertarian program and its focus on choice. There's a reason for that, Mr. Boaz. It's because all the other rights you mention look pretty darned trivial compared to the one at stake in the abortion debate. Who a lady can hire is negotiable. Whether the government can force her to grow a living creature inside her abdomen is not.

If there were a solid case for an early-term fetus having even the faintest glimmer of a mind, that would make a difference. You might have to do some heavy stuff when a creature capable of reason and feeling is located inside another creature capable of reason and feeling. Fortunately, we aren't faced with that problem, since the neural circuitry for something as simple as experiencing pain doesn't show up until the end of the second trimester. Bringing in the law in after that might not be unreasonable. But abortions that late are almost always done because the mother's life or health is at risk, giving us reasons not to constrain doctors unnecessarily.

Cato does have people -- well, one person, Sigrid Fry-Revere -- who gets the size of the rights violation involved in banning abortion. But mostly, it isn't an issue they care a lot about. While this guy says he's pro-choice, his article is about how abortion isn't as big a deal as other stuff. Plenty of the commentary is of the "oh you say you're pro-choice, but why do you support public arts funding" variety.

Which shows you something. When it comes to one of the most central and obvious cases -- whether the law can force an unwilling person to grow another creature inside her body for nine months -- feminists have a much better grip on individual rights than so-called libertarians.
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