Selective Libertarianism

When it comes to defending abortion, women's groups are great libertarians. They will point out that abortion is about the right to choose and about protecting the "fundamental civil and human right of women to make the most intimate decisions about their bodies and their lives".  Its about not letting the government interfere with individual decision-making or a "woman's right to privacy".  Its about assuming women are grown-up enough to make difficult choices about their fetus and their own health and safety.  Opponents of such choice are "ultra-conservatives trying to deny women control over their own bodies".  (all quotes from the NOW web site).

So, women's groups seem to be good libertarians concerned with the primacy of women's decision-making over their own body.  Except when they're not.  NOW has been feverishly campaigning to get the government to limit a women's right to choose breast augmentation, despite the fact that the science is overwhelmingly behind the safety of implants.  Sure, as in any medical procedure, there are some risks, but I defy anyone to tell me that the risks associated with breast implants are greater than the risks associated with abortion.  Abortion is a much weightier and more difficult decision, and, unlike breast implants, it is irreversible.  If women are mature enough to make abortion decisions, they certainly are mature enough to weigh the risks of breast implants.  Or take the birth control pill -- the impact to a woman's body of silicone sacks in their boobs is far less than that of trashing their entire hormone balance.  Sure, the pill makes sense for a lot of people and its great that the option exists, but don't tell me that the the changes the pill engenders in the body are OK but bags of silicone are not.

The real issue, as pointed out early and often by Virginia Postrel, is that feminists consider breast implants as at best frivolous, and at worst a demeaning surrender to male objectification of the female's body.  They don't think women who choose these implants are making the right choice, so they, in their elite holier-than-thou wisdom, want to take the decision away from women.  Hmmm.  Freedom for me but not for thee.  More along the line of distrusting individual decision-making here.

Update:  My main point of this post was on breast implants, and comparing feminist retoric on that issue vs. their retoric on abortion.  I feel the need, though, to mention that I don't accept that abortion is necesarily a pure individual choice situation.  Individual decision-making should be trusted when individuals make choices that affect only themselves, without coersion or fraud.  The problem in the case of abortion is whether the fetus is a piece of tissue that is a part of a woman's body, or an independent life.  In the former case, its removal is subject to individual decision making, but not in the latter.  As I have written before, I think the fetus is protoplasm at 1 week and a baby at 8 months.  At some point in between we draw an arbitrary line between part-of-the-mom and independent life.

Many abortion supporters, unwilling to risk that society might draw this line earlier in the pregnancy than they might want it, take the extra step of arguing that the very determination of whether the fetus is a life or not at 2 or 5 or 7 months should be up to individual taste, and that the government should have no say in that determination.  That strikes even me as the hardcore libertarian as going too far.  Certainly in its limited role of protecting individual rights, the government has a role in determining just who is an individual with rights subject to protection.  Determining if a fetus is an individual with independent rights and at what point in the pregnancy it is treated as such are reasonable roles for government legislation.


  1. Matt:

    One is forced to conclude that they assume that abortion necessarily _is_ the right choice.

    Listen to these people for any length of time and it becomes painfully obvious that "choice" is literally nothing to them except a codeword for "abortion". In pregnancy, abortion is the only choice they respect, and in every other aspect of a woman's life, they don't even pay lip service to the concept of choice. Do it their way, or else you're Wrong(tm).

    I sometimes think they actually don't know the meaning of the word "choice". Because if they do, then plastering it all over their slogans is awfully disingenuous.

  2. Jason Bontrager:

    I know you weren't trying to start a discussion of abortion, but that's a risk you take when mentioning it:-).

    What I'd like to see is an open and honest discussion of the rights of the *father*. If a woman can kill my child with impunity, even if it's still inside her body, why can't I do the same? If she can force fatherhood on me (hypothetically), then why can't I force motherhood on her? She made her "choice" when she opted for insufficiently protected sex IMO.

  3. Tracy Saboe:

    See This is the Libertarians For Life page.

    I agree about NOW's double standards. But that's pretty typical for any member of either mainstream political ideaology.


  4. benway:

    A similar example would be the feminist lobby in favor of abortion choice, but in vocal opposition to a pharmacist's right to choose whether he or she wishes to sell morning-after abortion pills. Choice is fine, so long as they agree with the choices of others.

  5. Wilky:

    I agree with Jason, and your update. If the woman wants an abortion and the man doesn't and is willing to raise the child, the man has no rights. If the woman doesn't want an abortion and the man does, the man has the right to pay child support for the next 18 years, or go to jail. It seems the best 'choice' would be that if its human, be it elderly, adult, child, infant, embryo, we don't kill it. If we 'choose' to engage in adult play, we should live with the consequence of our actions.

  6. Mary Anne Martin:

    I totally agree with what you're saying. I wish more people felt this way and took the time to express themselves. Keep up the great work.

    Mary Anne Martin

  7. Mary Anne Martin:

    You are right on the money with this one. Well said!

  8. Mary Anne Martin:

    Great information. You are really true in what you said. If you get a chance, you can check out my blog on {breat implants} at

    Mary Anne Martin

  9. Ash:

    I agree with you that both the mother and father should have a say on what they believe is the right thing to do with the fetus. Although Why should women be forced into having an unwanted child, just because the father wants to have it. The childs upbringing is at risk when this is the case, the mother may not be financially or emotionally able to take care of the child. And in the end why shouldnt the woman have freedom to choose and decide for herself what happens to HER body.