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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Yet Another Libertarian Abortion Debate

Brian Holtz // Dec 16, 2009 at 7:15 pm

Michael Wilson, I’m sympathetic to your complaint, but isn’t technically true that in the earliest days of our republic we had a free market in healthcare — leeching, humours, etc.? :-)

Other Michael, the LP will never stop being pro-choice about abortion in the first trimester (when 91% of abortions are performed). You’re wrong that there is no principled position to take between conception and birth. The best position is a modified evictionist position:

Jurisdictions may choose the point during the second trimester at which a healthy fetus starts acquiring rights and must if feasible be left unharmed by a termination of pregnancy.

Amazingly, a second-trimester-line like this commands majority approval among American voters, but NONE of the five biggest parties (D, R, GP, LP, CP) take this position. Instead, they all pander to their base with the two extremist positions, each of which has only minority support among American voters.

I’ve long claimed that there is no position that ANY of these five parties could take (but hasn’t yet) where both 60% of their members and 60% of Americans support it and it is not already staked out by any of the other four parties. I repeat my offer of a $200 bounty on this question.

The opportunity before the LP here is unique in modern American politics, but we will continue to ignore it.

Brian Holtz // Dec 16, 2009 at 7:25 pm

This is the first I’ve heard of any contact to the 2010 PlatCom from the Women’s Caucus. That caucus — nor any other caucus, except for the hypothetical “Brevity Caucus” I jokingly created with Mik, Bonnie, and Guy in Portland — is not mentioned anywhere among our 997 group emails so far. If that or any LP caucus had issued a statement about the Platform since this PlatCom was formed, I would hope that somebody would have forwarded it to the list.

Rob, regarding minority reports, I’ll be happy to put my record of platform-related predictions up against yours any day. :-) It’s very likely that I’ll be trying to organize minority reports for at least 1.0, 2.3, and 3.5.

Brian Holtz // Dec 16, 2009 at 7:35 pm

Rob, the proposed Bylaws change sets the plank-retention bar to a point higher than it ever was for any convention except Denver. Deletion of any plank by a simple majority of NatCon delegates has been part of the LP’s rules from the very first Bylaws in 1972. If a plank can’t command majority approval from NatCon delegates, why should it be in the Platform?

Carolyn, my article already explains why Root was in the room. Being in the picture doesn’t mean he was on PlatCom. The group-photo arrangements were an example of spontaneous order. No government rules or Committee votes affected the composition of the photo. :-)

Brian Holtz // Dec 16, 2009 at 8:04 pm

Duensing wasn’t in the room when the picture was taken. We were there for many, many hours. Root was there at the beginning, during public-comment and picture-taking time. Jim was there hours later. And then on Sunday, Kevin Takenaga popped in for a few minutes to take a few pictures, but had to hit the road so soon that some people were wondering who the heck he was.

Libertarians, of all people, should know that things are not always as they seem. Toward the end I remarked to a new PlatCom member that this meeting had been quite cordial. When he pointed out that M and Aaron got quite testy toward each other at a few points, he was shocked when I told him that they are very close friends.

We work hard, we fight hard, but in the end, most of us know to give Libertarians the benefit of the doubt, and that (as George Phillies preaches) The Enemy Is Not In This Room.

Brian Holtz // Dec 16, 2009 at 8:13 pm

Rob wrote: “Note that Brian voting with me on most recommendations did not negate my being on the losing side of the majority of votes.”

Rob, in all of its Vegas roll call votes, the committee voted with you 19 times, and against you 11 times.

Brian Holtz // Dec 17, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Michael H., maybe that “restoring and reviving” sentence should be replaced with: “We support the separation of medicine and State.” Alas, on the 2008 PlatCom I was on the losing side of the argument about whether “separation of X and State” is good rhetoric for our platform. What do Libertarians here think of that question?

Trent, if you only consider one clause of my article to be opinionated, then I must not be trying hard enough. :-)

Carolyn, our not-the-government’s-business dodge is embarrassing for a “Party of Principle”. It’s as if we said:

Recognizing that enslavement of Africans is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each plantation owner for their conscientious consideration.

Recognizing that newborn infanticide for gender selection is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each parent for their conscientious consideration.

Recognizing that in-flight ejection of stowaways is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each pilot for their conscientious consideration.

I wish someone in the Libertarian Women’s Caucus would explain why it should be illegal to kill a baby girl for gender selection the day after birth, but it should not be illegal two days earlier to destroy that same girl for the same reason.

Similarly, I wish someone from Libertarians For Life would answer Reason Magazine’s question in Is Heaven Populated Chiefly By The Souls Of Embryos?”: A fire breaks out in a fertility clinic and you have a choice: You can save either a three-year-old child or a Petri dish containing 10 seven-day old embryos. Which do you choose to rescue?

The American people have already figured this one out. They agree with LP founder David Nolan: pregnancy termination should be discretionary in the first trimester, “for cause” in the second trimester, and must leave a healthy fetus alive in the third trimester. It remains astonishing that none of the D/R/LP/GP/CP has claimed the undefended popular high ground on an issue this significant. Yes, Daniel, I do recall increasing my bounty to $1000 after it had lain unclaimed for almost two years. I’ll be very impressed if you can claim it. (Note that the issue has to be as enduring and significant as abortion; picayune and ephemeral issues don’t count.)

But I recognize that many in the LP’s pro-first-trimester-choice supermajority aren’t yet ready to overcome their fears of a slippery slope on the abortion question. That’s why in Vegas the only abortion plank change I advocated was to add opposition to subsidies and mandates for abortion — a position that was in the 2004 and 2006 platforms as well as in Rob’s 2008 minority report. The only other change seriously debated on the plank was to vacuously “welcome both pro-choice and pro-life” people to the LP. There was never any danger that the abortion plank would be diluted or deleted, as there would have been at most only about 6 votes out of 19 for such a move. As far as I know, no such motion was ever made in Vegas.

Brian Holtz // Dec 17, 2009 at 6:17 pm

Carolyn, analogizing is not “equating”. Calling an argument “offensive” sounds like an attempt to dodge it. I still wish you could explain to those of us who aren’t women why it should be illegal to kill a baby girl for gender selection the day after birth, but it should not be illegal two days earlier to destroy that same girl for the same reason. Is your comment about do-not-resuscitate orders for sick infants supposed to be an argument against infanticide laws?

As for “never facing the question”, have you ever held your infant child in your arms as he died? I have. Does that mean that I’m qualified to argue about laws governing neonatal death, but you’re not? If we Libertarians can’t argue against what we call aggression until after we’ve walked the same ground as the alleged aggressor, then we might as well lock the LP’s doors and turn out the lights. The purpose of the LP is to implement and give voice to our Statement of Principles. In those principles we defend the rights of all individuals, regardless of how well we can empathize with people in a position to infringe on what we claim are rights.

I call “vacuous” the welcoming language rejected in Vegas only because its inclusion in our Platform would not change our policy positions one iota. I obviously agree that we should not draw a bright line on fetal personhood, but surely you must admit that this is exactly what our abortion plank does. Do you deny that the LP Platform opposes any law that would outlaw the aborting of any fetus — right up until the bright line of birth? “Government should be kept out of the matter” is a fig leaf trying to hide that bright line, but it’s there for all to see. There must be something wrong with a stand so embarrassing that we feel the need to try to deny we’re even taking it. If we really think that full-term fetuses deserve no legal protection, then we should have the moral courage to say so. I don’t believe that “most” Libertarians would say that a full-term fetus deserves no legal protections.

Brian Holtz // Dec 17, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Here are the positions the LP platform has taken on abortion, labeled by the earliest platform in which I have a record of them appearing:

2006: “Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on both sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.”

2000: “Recognizing that abortion is a very sensitive issue and that people, including libertarians, can hold good-faith views on both sides, we believe the government should be kept out of the question.”

1996: “Recognizing that abortion is a very sensitive issue and that libertarians can hold good-faith views on both sides, we believe the government should be kept entirely out of the question, allowing all individuals to be guided by their own consciences.”

1990: “Recognizing that each person must be the sole and absolute owner of his or her own body, we support the right of women to make a personal choice regarding the termination of pregnancy.”

1976: “We further support the repeal of all laws restricting voluntary birth control or the right of the woman to make a personal moral choice regarding the termination of pregnancy.”

1972: “We further support the repeal of all laws restricting voluntary birth control or voluntary termination of pregnancies during their first hundred days.”

1972 temporary platform: [silence]

Brian Holtz // Dec 17, 2009 at 7:15 pm

Carolyn wrote: “The whole point of the LP platform as it stands is that it doesn’t take a particular stand on that issue.”

Ah, OK, you’re simply misreading our platform. The LP Platform, as written, opposes a law that would outlaw abortion of fetuses in the eighth month of pregnancy — just as it opposes a law that would outlaw an abortificant like RU486. When the Platform says “government should be kept out of the matter”, it’s not saying that the LP has no opinion on abortion. Rather, it’s saying that the LP’s opinion is that there should be no laws about abortion. This is LP Platform 101. If you’re not sure on this, just ask the Women’s Caucus if the LP Platform currently opposes all laws outlawing abortion of eight-month-gestation fetuses.

Thus you’re simply mistaken that I want “to lock it down more precisely”. The platform currently draws a bright line at birth. I think an optimal platform would draw a fuzzy trimester-wide line between the 1st and 3rd trimesters.

I’m not arguing from emotion. “Arguing form emotion” is when you say that your possession of a different reproductive organ than mine means you don’t have to address certain arguments. :-) I stand by my argument that infanticide and abortion are directly and intimately comparable. I also stand by the relevance of evictionism (pilots) and the disputed ethical status of beings — fetuses, infants, slaves, infidels, etc. In the peer-reviewed literature on the ethics of abortion, nobody would dare argue that such comparisons can be dismissed because they are “offensive” when coming from someone lacking a uterus.

I coldly and dispassionately disagree with your assertion that my experience of the death of my son gives me any sort of privileged ethical insights about how the law should relate to neonatal death. Unless you’ve experienced such a death yourself, it’s odd for you to claim that I must have insights that you yourself cannot have.

I used to attach personhood to viability too, but then I realized that the rights of the fetus should not be a function of technology. My use of trimesters is just shorthand for fetal neurological development and differentiation.

You still haven’t answered my question about infanticide. Is it “dictating medical policy” to have a law against murdering a 1-day-old baby girl for gender selection? If so, then shouldn’t such laws be repealed? If not, then why should it not be murder to destroy that same entity 48 hours earlier?

This is the question that no “pro-choice” Libertarian can ever seem to answer. By evading it, you’re in good company. :-)

Brian Holtz // Dec 17, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Carolyn wrote: “the language adopted in 08 was in reaction to the proposed plank at the time, which was definitely canted pro-life.”

No, the 2008 PlatCom’s proposed plank did precisely what you now claim that Platform does and should do: take no position on the legality abortion. It said:

We recognize that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on both all sides. Taxpayers should not be forced to pay for other people’s abortions, nor should any government or individual force or disallow a woman to have an abortion.

The reason this was considered a “pro-life” proposal is that it would have made the LP no longer be absolutely 100% pro-choice.

I argued against this PlatCom proposal, because 1) the “Party of Principle” should not simply dodge the abortion question, and 2) the LP should be unequivocally pro-choice in the first trimester (which covers 91% of all U.S. abortions).

Brian Holtz // Dec 17, 2009 at 7:29 pm

Yikes, we’ve found another bug in the 2008 convention minutes. The language in the PlatCom report was:

We recognize that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on both sides. Taxpayers should not be forced to pay for other people’s abortions, nor should any government or individual force a woman to have an abortion.

Brian Holtz // Dec 17, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Oh, I was looking at an early draft of the convention minutes. The latest and greatest on the web site have the correct text:

We recognize that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on both sides. Taxpayers should not be forced to pay for other people’s abortions, nor should any government or individual force a woman to have an abortion.

The “both/all” and “disallow” differences in the draft were probably editorial vestiges of motions from the floor to amend the proposal after it failed its initial vote. In particular, M Carling was the one who proposed from the floor to replace “both” with “all”.

Brian Holtz // Dec 17, 2009 at 10:43 pm

Carolyn, the reason you can’t call on a doctor to perform discretionary infanticide of a 1-day-old girl is that it is illegal. However, killing her 48 hours earlier is not, and there are doctors who will do it for you. Why should the platform advocate that such killing not be illegal? (I know you consider such killing unconscionable, but that’s not the question I keep asking — and that you keep evading.)

I agree that discretionary infanticide and discretionary late-term abortion are both rare. So is drowning your kids in a bathtub so they will go straight to heaven. Is any of this supposed to be a reason why the LP should oppose laws against late-term discretionary abortion, but not oppose laws against murdering one’s kids?

You and I have already agreed to a certain extent on an evictionist approach to abortion, but that’s not what the LP platform currently advocates. Instead, it says that the government cannot outlaw killing a baby the day before it is born. Eviction stories are irrelevant to the question of whether the LP platform should oppose laws against such killings — except insofar as the ease of eviction makes opposition to such laws all the more indefensible. (That’s probably why nobody here is interested in defending this aspect of the abortion plank.)

I’m still not quite sure whether you’re saying the death of my son gives me any sort of privileged ethical insights about how the law should relate to neonatal death. I still completely reject the idea that because I’ll “never face the question” of whether to kill something in my uterus, I’m not qualified to make ethical judgments about when things in uteruses have rights.

I’d like to confirm whether you, a candidate for Vice-Chair of the LP, understand that the LP Platform draws a bright line at birth on the question of abortion. If a Libertarian candidate advocated outlawing discretionary abortions in the eighth month of gestation, would this or would this not be inconsistent with the Platform’s admonition “that government should be kept out of the matter”?

That the slave analogy invokes emotions does not mean I was “being emotional” or needed to “calm down”. Nor is the raw power of the analogy a valid argument that the analogy isn’t apt. In both abortion and slavery, an entity whose ethical status is in dispute is having its treatment left to the “conscientious consideration” of the person who has custody of the entity.

I agree that the Abortion plank should be broadened to be about procreation in general. If we wanted to truly straddle the issue — rather than advocate pro-choice absolutism while pretending not to — we would adopt deliberately ambiguous language like this: “government should neither restrict, nor subsidize, nor dictate the reproductive choices of individuals”.

Brian Holtz // Dec 17, 2009 at 11:47 pm

Good, so we agree that the LP platform does draw a bright line, and it draws it at what you and I agree is clearly the wrong place.

That’s a platform bug. It should be fixed as soon as fixing it is possible.

You can’t point to a similar platform bug regarding infanticide. If you could, I’d say it should be fixed too.

Your proposed abortion bugfix would be a major improvement, but I don’t agree that it would be easy to pass. Too many NatCon delegates are either 1) pro-choice extremists or 2) emotionally invested in not making what would appear to be a concession to pro-life extremists.

We may get there someday, perhaps in a decade or so. But we won’t get there by May.

Brian Holtz // Dec 18, 2009 at 12:04 am

Mik, Bylaws Article 12 says: “The National Committee shall respect the vote of the delegates at Nominating Conventions and provide full support for all nominees for President and Vice-President as long as their campaigns are conducted in accordance with the Platform of the Party.”

Carolyn, if anybody would be in a position to sell such a compromise to the “pro-choice” wing of the LP, it would be you. That would be a real feather in your cap, in terms of demonstrating the ability to bridge factional divides within the Party. However, I suspect that some of the people who have already endorsed you would be opposed to such a compromise.

Brian Holtz // Dec 18, 2009 at 1:43 am

Mik, does mandating that stowaways be evicted only without harm reduce pilots to slavery?

As Carolyn said, the evictionist position always allows the host to “defend herself” — it just doesn’t grant the arbitrary right to destroy a healthy guest/stowaway that could feasibly be evicted unharmed.

The “defend herself” and “slavery” rhetoric suggest that the pregnancy was completely involuntary, when that is usually not the case. This point is made at e.g. The various arguments either way are explored in more detail in this article on Thomson’s landmark 1971 paper:

The abortion debate is by now so familiar that we could proceed just by exchanging a series of URLs. Libertarian debates on abortion would be far less tedious if people just used the wikipedia URLs for the various standard arguments that we’ve all heard so many times before.

Brian Holtz // Dec 18, 2009 at 1:59 am

From the Wikipedia article: “The pregnant woman voluntarily engaged in sexual intercourse foreseeing that a fetus may result, and so has tacitly consented to the fetus using her body. The pregnant woman voluntarily engaged in sexual intercourse with the result that the fetus stands in need of the use of her body. The woman is thus responsible for the fetus’s need to use her body and so the fetus has a right to use her body.”

The consent dispute here is of course moot for people like me who say that neurological development does not bring personhood until well after the woman has had every opportunity to engage in contraceptive abortion. But you, Carolyn, will have problems if you still hold your non-heroic-viability standard for personhood when, in a few decades, non-heroic technology will make every fetus and zygote as viable as run-of-the-mill preemies are now.

Brian Holtz // Dec 18, 2009 at 3:16 am

If you put one bullet in a 100-chamber revolver, spin the chamber, and then aim it at my head and pull the trigger, are you off the hook for the consequences as long as you vouch that you did not want me to get shot?

The first sentence of the first plank of the LP platform says: “Individuals should be free to make choices for themselves and to accept responsibility for the consequences of the choices they make.” The word “punishment” isn’t in that sentence.

Your hypothetical pro-life person is hypocritical only if she says e.g. that the pilot has to give the sole parachute to the stowaway when the plane is going down. But most pro-lifers don’t say that the right not to be killed also trumps the right to life of an unwitting host.

But again, contraceptive abortion is a non-issue if fetal personhood is recognized to be an inherent property of neurological development, and not contingent on the state of technology.

The “problem” I mentioned with that contingency is that if technology ever makes it routine to rescue zygotes and embryos that women don’t want, then pro-life zealots would be able to homestead parental rights from a lot of women who wouldn’t necessarily be thrilled with the idea of their biological offspring being raised by some stranger. Of course, those zealots will already have their hands full after some prankster leaves a million viable stem cells on their doorstep. Technology is going to make pro-life zealots put their money where their mouth is.

For the rest of us, personhood should be about more than just having 46 chromosomes, a cell wall, and technologically-contingent independence from any particular host. Personhood should be about how far you’ve developed along your path toward sentient intelligence.

We’ll have a brief respite from the personhood wars after technology makes abortion no longer necessary.

Then will come the robots.

I wonder what planks will be proposed by the first robot to serve on an LP Platform Committee — assuming we don’t have any serving secretly right now. :-)

Brian Holtz // Dec 18, 2009 at 10:15 am

Carolyn, if their stated reason is that one can never ever kill an innocent life under any circumstances, that’s worse than hypocritical — it’s outright self-contradictory. But in a quick web search on “abortion rape incest exception pro-life”, the top four results are pro-life groups who reject even life-of-the-mother exceptions. Either way, cogent ethical thinking is not what I would expect from people who think a cell can be a person.

Bob, I agree with Debbie that it would be lame for a “Party of Principle” to have no principles on a question like abortion. What’s at issue here is not whether to be “live and let live”, but rather what entities fall under the protective umbrella of that dictum.

Strictly speaking, questions of franchise — who is a person? who deserves protection equal to the most-protected persons? — are indeed orthogonal to the core libertarian principle of non-aggression among persons. But it would be extremely lame for the LP to punt on all questions of franchise: slavery, women’s suffrage, infanticide, child abuse, spousal rape, immigration, foreign intervention, etc.

What’s fascinating to me about this subject is that, despite our penchant for ideological consistency, few if any Libertarians are rigidly for or against expanding franchise across all of these issues.

Brian Holtz // Dec 18, 2009 at 2:05 pm

By “can be” I didn’t mean “can become”, but rather “can be considered”.

I just don’t see how a cell can be considered a person. I also don’t have any intuition that a 12-week-old fetus is a person:

However, I’ll admit to suspecting that if humans were marsupials, we might have different intuitions about when personhood obtains. People yearn for bright lines on this question, because we have nothing in our wiring or experience that equips us to think about quasi-persons. If chimps were smarter, or Neanderthals weren’t extinct, or Sasquatch were real, that would have interesting impacts on personhood debate.

Bright lines may also soon also be endangered in the no-longer-uncontroversial question of personal identity. Here is a funny video exploring the question:
My answer is that you share identity with your closest close-enough continuous-enough continuer. However, I can imagine cases where identity forks, or where “close-enough” and “continuous-enough” are blurry enough that identity isn’t clearcut.

Brian Holtz // Dec 19, 2009 at 12:13 am

Should the LPUS concern itself only with federal issues? Good question. My answer is here.

I don’t really like the “Party of Principle” label. The Green and Constitution parties are just as principled as the LP — it’s just that not all of their principles are libertarian principles.

The LP Platform is nearly exclusively devoted to the principle of banishing fraud and initiated force from human relationships. There are only two plank sentences in the 2008 platform that are not devoted to that principle, and the 2010 PlatCom has recommended deleting both of them.

Brian Holtz // Dec 19, 2009 at 1:39 am

Michael, are you saying that this right to “sustain one’s existence” wouldn’t be be protected if fraud and initiated force were banished from human relationships?

Also, I worry that this “right to sustain one’s existence” could be used to justify fraud or initiated force as a means to that end, so I can’t endorse that principle as stated.

It strikes me as an instance of the to say that one’s existence implies the right to sustain one’s existence. Libertarians don’t agree on how (or whether) one can deduce the non-aggression principle from more-fundamental principles, and it would be divisive for the LP to officially take a stand on this philosophical question.