Walter Block: Abortion is justified as evicting a trespasser from private property – but not as killing
With the present kerfuffle concerning the Supreme Court’s rejection of Roe v. Wade, it might be a good time to consider the philosophical case for and against abortion. Which is correct: The pro-choice view or the pro-life position? Neither. The only tenable stance is a compromise between the two of them, called evictionism.
We start out with the assumption that human life begins not at birth, nor when the heart starts beating, but at the earliest stage possible, the fertilized egg. Very young people at this age of development have all the rights that anyone else has, certainly including the right to not be murdered. There are two reasons for taking this position, at least arguendo. Firstly, the evictionist position allows for the death of pre-birth human beings, see below, and I don’t want to be guilty of engaging in any straw man arguments. Secondly, the nine-month-old fetus who is about to be born is no different in any relevant way from a post-birth newborn. Being born is merely a slight change of address. If it is illicit to kill the latter, and it most certainly is, then this applies, too, to the former. But the former is in no relevant way at all different from the fertilized egg at the very beginning of human life.
What, then, is evictionism? It is the view that the mother has a right to evict her baby at any stage of its development, but not, ever, to kill him (except in self-defense when her life or health is at stake). At the present level of medical technology, this means that when and if evictionism is adopted as the law of the land, the baby’s life will be protected during the last trimester, when it is viable outside the womb, but not during the first two trimesters, during the time that it is not capable of living on its own (even with help, of course). Hence, evictionism constitutes a compromise position between pro-life and pro-choice.
How, ever, do we arrive at any such position as this? We do so on the basis of private property rights. The mother is the complete and total owner of her own body. She has “mixed her labor” with this physique of hers, in the words of philosopher John Locke, hence she is the proper owner of it.
What about the fetus? The unwanted pre-birth baby is a trespasser! This is easy to see in the case of rape. A woman is walking down the street when she is grabbed, raped, and impregnated. There is now a full rights-bearing person growing inside of her body. While the father of this very small human being is certainly a criminal, the youngster is itself totally innocent of any crime. Yet, it is in the position of occupying someone else’s property, its mother’s, without her permission.
If person A drugs person B, renders him unconscious, and secrets him onto the plane or boat belonging to person C, person B, too, is an innocent trespasser. If person C tosses person B out of his property to his death, person C is not a murderer; person A is. There is no positive obligation in proper (e.g., libertarian) law; person C should not be legally required to be a Good Samaritan. In like manner, if the woman evicts her baby during the first two trimesters, it will perish, but she is within her rights.
It would be nice, decent, lovely, if she harbored her baby for the full nine months, and, also, if person C saved person B’s life. But none of us should be charged with a crime for failing to engage in supererogatory behavior, over and above what should be legally required of us.
What about voluntary sexual intercourse which results in an unwanted pregnancy? Does not the woman then have an obligation to continue her pregnancy for nine months? After all, did she not, in effect, at least implicitly “invite” the fetus to stay with her for that period of time, and thus cannot be considered a trespasser?
No. For there to be an invitation, there must be both an inviter and an invitee. At the moment of sexual intercourse, there was not yet any fertilized egg in existence. There was no one, then, alive, to be invited. It takes time for the sperm to travel to the uterus and then upward into the fallopian tubes to meet the egg. All unwanted pre-birth babies are trespassers! The only exception to this rule is the case of the host mother who is contractually obligated not to evict the very small person growing within her.
There are several compromise positions now being bruited about: 15 weeks, heartbeat, some states will go this way, others in the opposite direction, etc. Compromise is all to be desired in these contentious times. But only evictionism offers a philosophical justification for such a conciliation.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.