Congressional Record Proceedings and debates of the 96th Congress, first session
Logos Courtesy of Lonnie R. Williams
Wednesday, November 28th, 1979, Vol. 125, No. 167
Libertarians for Life
Copyright © 1979
Hon. Ron Paul of Texas in the House of Representatives
Mr. PAUL. Mr. Speaker, as a medical student, I had not really thought about abortion until I saw a two-pound infant taken from the mother's womb after a hysterotomy and left on a table to die. That experience taught me all I needed to know.
The right to life is seamless, extending from the moment of conception, when a new life begins through the grace of God, until old age.
Abortion, like infanticide and euthanasia, is murder.
Recently my good friend Doris Gordon, founder and head of Libertarians for Life, addressed the Maryland Right to Life Convention.
What Mrs. Gordon has to say is important for all of us, as is her eloquent dedication to human life and individual rights.
Her address follows:
How I Became Pro-Life By Doris Gordon
In 1959 I read a book that changed my life and thoughts profoundly. Its name was "Atlas Shrugged"; its author, Ayn Rand. It was her ideas together with those of Nathaniel Branden, a famous psychologist who was once closely associated with her, that made me eventually pro-life. Ironically, both strongly support abortion.
Rand and Branden taught me aggression is wrong; that human relationships should be based upon persuasion and voluntarism instead of coercion and fraud; that the moral and the practical are one and the same, in the long run at least; that first of all we must do no harm; and that each of us is personally responsible for our own actions, but not the actions of others.
I also learned that the chief source of coercion and fraud is the state; that instead of being helped and protected by the state, we are harmed in countless ways; that in order to create a more humane and healthy society, we should turn away from the state and strengthen those voluntary institutions in society which do in fact promote the good -- such as the family, private charities, the free enterprise system, and even the churches. I say "even", for, as some of you may know, I am an atheist. I point this out just to make it clear my pro-life position is derived entirely from philosophical and scientific ideas and is not influenced by religious beliefs.
I don't know when I first thought about abortion, but I had always accepted the idea in some vague sort of way. But twelve years ago, I attended a lecture given by some disciples of Rand. Someone in the audience challenged their pro-abortion position and then a debate ensued about when the human being comes into existence. This struck me as odd, for Ayn Rand’s philosophy, which she calls Objectivism, starts from the premise that existence exists, "existence" meaning something physical exists. Why were they disagreeing about when something as physical and as easily observable as the human body comes into existence?
This shocked me into thought. It was easy to figure out that the human being begins to exist at conception. It took just one more step to decide that the human being at conception is capable of having rights; for if all human beings have rights, so do the unborn.
But I couldn't go further, for there seemed to be a conflict of rights between the mother and her child in the womb. In 1973, the Washington Post printed my letter about this. It said in part, "The abortion issue will remain insoluble. The reason is that there are two basic rights in conflict... the right to life in the child and the right to liberty in the mother... The implementation of one right requires the violation of the other... Some may argue that life is a higher value than liberty. But then there was Patrick Henry who said, 'Give me liberty or give me death.' Life without liberty can be meaningless and of no value." It seemed to me that if someone was enslaving me, I would have the right to kill that person if that was the only way I could free myself.
The belief that there is a conflict of rights between mother and child still persists, not only among pro-abortionists, but among pro-lifers. I no longer believe such a conflict exists, but it took me three more years to figure out why. I am going to give you some of the reasoning I went through. It may sound complicated and confusing in part, especially if you are hearing it for the first time, but the bottom line is very simple and everyone knows it: There is no conflict of rights between mother (or father) and child because parents have an obligation to care for their children and, therefore, children have a right to that care. Most of us, even pro-abortionists accept this idea about children after they're born. Even the state acknowledges this is true, for the state compels parents to support their children. If children are children before as well as after birth, then parents have the obligation to care for them, also.
This means women have no right to choose to kill their unborn or to evict them from their bodies. Mothers have the obligation, instead, to house and feed them and protect them in the womb. Perhaps when the pro-abortionists wear their buttons saying "Choice," we should wear one saying "Responsibility."
Now I will go more into the ideas that changed my mind about abortion. To do this I have to talk about my views on the military draft. The draft and having an unwanted pregnancy have something in common: They are both involuntary servitude in the sense of having to do something against one's will rather than by choice. I may say some things that some of you will strongly disagree with, but right or wrong, it was my work on the draft and amnesty issues that gave me the idea and courage to form Libertarians for Life. Libertarians agree that the draft is immoral and I hope to use this common understanding to help explain why abortion is immoral, too. Perhaps my comments will be useful in talking to non-libertarians, too.
In the case of the draft, I believe involuntary servitude is aggression. In the case of the usual pregnancy, it is not. The distinction hinges on whether or not we owe something to someone else. Involuntary servitude is justified only in order to compel someone to give what he or she owes to another. None of us can point to another person and say you owe me X number of years of service in the military. But children can point to their parents and say you owe me care.
Now I can point my finger at each one of you and say you owe me something and that is to never initiate aggression against me. I, of course, owe you the same respect. Otherwise, when we speak of "owing," it means that a particular person owes a particular debt to a particular person or persons. We have to be able to identify the parties involved and show exactly what that debt is and how it arose. We can't owe to an abstraction such as "society" or "the country", only to individuals.
Libertarians believe strongly in defense, but the freedom of even one of us must not be violated in the name of defense. Defending freedom by infringing freedom is a contradiction in terms. We should and can be both pro-defense and pro-individual liberty at the same time.
The general principle here and the one that should guide all our chosen actions is that the ends do not justify the means; that is, the initiation of coercion or force is impermissible, whether committed by the individual, the group, or the state. This means that peaceful people have the right to be left alone and go their own way. We may stop murder or theft because people owe us non-aggression. We may compel payment on contracts or compensation in the case of accidents. Something is owed in these cases and the debtors and creditors can be identified. We are entitled to gain or to keep our own life, liberty and property for ourselves and free from harm.
Having been harmed in some fashion does not entitle us to make a claim against just anyone. Being in need, even when the need is real, does not justify taking from someone who does not owe us, who is not directly responsible for that owing. If you or I take when nothing is owed, unless that person gives willingly, we are guilty of stealing. And we know the Biblical injunction, "Thou shalt not steal".
Many of us agree that you and I have no right to use coercion against people who don't owe us anything. The same prohibition applies to groups of people who constitute the government. The reason is simple: unjust acts do not become just when legalized. Legalizing abortion did not make that right. Majority rule does not justify aggression. Might does not make right. Defending our liberty is important, but if the United States of America deprives us of our liberty, where can we be safe?
Let's consider the argument that my son and daughter or yours have an obligation to submit to the coercion of a draft. If our children have such an obligation, to whom do they owe it? If it cannot be shown that they owe it to me or to you or to any other individual, then there is no such obligation and you or I have no right to threaten or punish them with imprisonment if they won't go. And therefore, neither do we have the right to use the arm of the law to do so. No law can justify aggression.
It has been argued that they, or perhaps we, too, owe some service to our country because of the benefits the country gives to us. Perhaps we do get some things from the state, but don't we pay for them with our taxes and inflation? Furthermore, the individual has no real choice, for the most part, about what he is given. And then he is compelled to pay for it, sometimes by spilling his blood. If someone were to send you unordered merchandise in the mail, no one would have the right to compel you to pay for it and the state recognizes this fact. The only thing it could be said that each of us owes our country is to respect the freedom of everyone else. That is the only way to pay for the benefit of freedom or to protect it. The protection of the rights of the individual is the only justification for the existence of government, and this is recognized by the Declaration of Independence.
Now pregnancy and abortion are different matters in regard to the justice of involuntary servitude. This is so because we can show very clearly how one individual owes another. We are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of our own actions as they affect others: that is, when we impose ourselves upon others without their permission. We are especially responsible when the person affected has absolutely no choice about being stuck in the situation, as is the child in the case of pregnancy.
Sometimes I hear the argument that the child was not affected by being conceived because no child existed before conception. But how else can we explain the child's situation except by referring to the actions of the parents? Parents can't blame their unborn children for their mother's pregnancies. Conceiving children may be unintentional on our part, but having sex is usually a voluntary act and most people know getting pregnant is a possible side effect. We have some choice in the matter of creating children. It is the children who have no choice about being affected when we experience the pleasures of sex.
Not only are children not responsible for the consequences of a mother's pregnancy upon herself, neither are they to blame for their need to remain in the womb. This need is something we impose upon them when we create them. The child's life and needs are a package deal.
Once having brought children into a state of dependency, we have the obligation to bring them safely out. This means we must wait until they are able to come "out" safely. This also means parental obligation continues after childbirth.
As one libertarian said about abortion: Creating a child is like inviting someone into your home and rendering him incapable of living on the outside for nine months. We have no right to toss him out. Another libertarian, a psychiatrist, made an even stronger analogy. He said when we create children, it could be said we create "captives". We are not entitled to kill captives nor endanger them. In fact, we have the obligation to care for them while they are captive and to see that they gain release from their "captivity." This means in the case of children, we have the duty to bring them to a state where they can take care of themselves.
Sometimes I hear the argument that yes, it is true that the unborn child needs care and thus is in harm's way. However, they say, we've given the gift of life, something so valuable, that we bear no net obligation. The answer is that we do not have the right to force a gift upon anyone, and that we did not get the child's permission. This is not a case where the child freely accepts the good with the bad. So we are still responsible for protecting the child from harm. The net gain to the child is irrelevant. Our obligation comes from the fact that we impose the situation upon children without their assent.
Where parents choose not to fulfill their duty to children, such as when they choose to have an abortion, others are entitled to defend the child's rights, for such defense is no aggression upon anyone. We must exercise caution here in that the question of what other things do or do not constitute proper care is a separate question apart from abortion and which perhaps remains unsettled at this time.
Another point I must mention is that libertarians hold that human needs, even when they are real needs, are no obligation in themselves. While parents owe care to their own children, we don't owe care to anyone else's. The libertarian makes a distinction between purely moral obligations and legal obligation, legal in the sense that someone is entitled to use force against us, not merely because the law says so, but because we have a morally enforceable debt. Anyone who claims there is such a debt and wishes to compel payment has the burden of proving such a debt exists and the responsibility of his own actions if he is in error.
Libertarianism does not require us to give to charity, but charity is not charity unless it is given voluntarily. If taken by force, it is not charity but theft. The one who forces us to give owes us a debt. Libertarianism is silent about the religious or moral belief that we have a general duty to others or to God to help feed the hungry. Libertarianism is only about owing, as I have explained before. In order to avoid being guilty of committing aggression ourselves, we must leave it to each one of us to decide if, and when, and how much one wishes to willingly help others they don't owe. If we learn to solve human problems by non-aggressive means, the need for charity will be far less than it is today.
One final point about parental obligation. If there is no such obligation, we would have to say that at least non-lethal abortions are permissible. This is because parents would have a right to evict and to abandon their children, as in the hysterotomy abortion. I would be interested in hearing other arguments in support of parental obligation, including those based upon the Bible.
I seldom see any mention of parental obligation in pro-life literature. I wonder why it is not emphasized more. Sometimes I read that there is a conflict of rights between mother and child. There may be a conflict of needs, but not of rights. I also hear pro-lifers say in response to the "woman's right to control her own body" argument that life is a higher value than liberty and, therefore the child's rights come before the mother's. But again, it is not a matter of the child's rights vs. the mother's. It is a matter of the child's rights and the mother's obligations. The child has two rights against the mother: the right to life, that is, the right not to be killed, and the right to parental care. And the mother has two obligations: her obligation not to kill the child and the obligation to care for her child. Libertarians for Life thinks this is an important argument and would like others to try it out. I hope you will tell me your thoughts on this.
As I said at the beginning, it was the ideas of Rand and Branden that made me eventually pro-life. It was an article by Branden* in one of Rand's publications that had to do with parental obligation in the case of born children. When I made the connection with what he said there to the abortion issue, the lights went on and the bells rang. I had solved what I had thought was the insoluble issue.
* "What are the respective obligations of parents to children, and children to parents?", Nathaniel Branden, The Objectivist Newsletter, December, 1962, co-published and co-edited by Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden.
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Congressional Record Proceedings and debates of the 96th Congress, first session
Logos Courtesy of Lonnie R. Williams