Suicide: The Answer to the “Right to Life” Dilemma of Abortion?
By: Barry Belmont

After one of our more rip-roaring meetings about Left wing politics (in which we went into great length about abortion), I started thinking about all of the points presented. There were many great arguments for both “pro-life” and “pro-choice.” Personally, I tried to defend the idea of “evictionism” wherein a lady is allowed to evict a baby from her womb, so long as she tries her best not to kill it. I am still unsure of how plausible this solution is and I will continue to think it through. But…I stumbled upon something for which I haven’t thought of a satisfactory answer to and I hope one of you might be able to help me.

I offer this thought experiment for your consideration.

A lady has been pregnant for four months. She planned to get pregnant with her loving husband who he has been nothing but supportive. However, recently she has become depressed. She has thought long and hard about it and she has decided that she would like to kill herself. She knows if she kills herself the baby will not survive. Is she allowed to go through with it?

I believe this thought experiment highlights a dilemma for us libertarians. We believe the idea that the “right to life” is congruent with the “right to death.” That is, if one is allowed to do with their life what they wish, then ending it is as justifiable a measure as any other. (Now, there is some debate as to whether this is entirely true, but, for most of us, we would say that a person has a right to kill themself.)

So, is the mother allowed to take her life knowing that she will take the life of another (we are, for the sake of argument, holding that life begins at the very moment sperm touches egg)? One obvious answer is no, she hasn’t that right. It would be comparable to saying a suicide bomber is justified in detonating in a marketplace. Suicide is ok, murder is not.

The rebuttal, however, is: well, what right do any of us have to force the mother to live? Can we say, justifiably, that we may violate the right to life of one person in order to uphold the right to life of another? I do not believe we can in this case. We cannot agree to this because what it requires is that a third party (who is not in danger of someone violating their right to life and who the two parties concerned have not agreed to let arbitrate the dispute) deciding whose life is more important. Clearly allowing this third party to decide is a violation of both the mother’s and the fetus’s right to life.

What if the mother “evicts” the fetus before she kills herself. She tells her husband to take her to the hospital where the doctors will do everything in their power to save the life of the unborn child. Being only four months old, however, the child has little chance of surviving without the mother’s womb. Is this justified? May she now kill herself?

I think she may. If she does everything in her power to let the child live and yet (due to the inabilities of modern medical techniques or what have you) the child dies, I do not think she could be held culpable for murder any more than a poor mother would for letting her child die by not being able to afford vaccinations. Thus, simply by “evicting” the fetus, the mother is not responsible for murder, even if she knows the child may die.

And I believe this stems from the fact that the “right to life” is simply a form of the “right to property.” Consider a life without a body, without any material property at all: to what extent could this be called a life? If you are religious you may believe that there exists a soul and perhaps that soul has no material property and that may exist, yes—I can grant you that. But, then, in what sense can one “kill” a soul? Without delving into theological complexities, I think we can agree that life as it exists on earth for us right now is, at base, at least tied intractably with physical material—that is, property.

Therefore, the right to life is a facet of property rights. Well, if this is the case, then isn’t the developing fetus responsible for a greater violation of rights than the mother? Even conceding that both the mother and the fetus are violating each other’s right to life in equal proportion (once again, who’s to decide it would be unequal?), isn’t the fetus also violating the property rights of the mother? Surely the womb of a woman is hers. The mother isn’t violating the property rights of the fetus. The fetus has no “right” to live in a womb any more than I do. The fetus has a right to life, yes, but it has no right to usurp property.

If we are just chalking up who has violated the least amount of rights, it can clearly be seen that it is the mother who has done the least amount of rights violations and has had her rights violated the most. We must hold then that it is the mother who we must support in her decision as the more justified. If a pregnant lady wants to kill herself, I think she must be allowed. And if a pregnant lady is allowed to kill herself, I do not see why she cannot simply evict someone from her womb without having to resort to suicide and homicide to do it.

Or am I completely wrong?

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8 Comments Posted in Libertarianism
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  • a Duoist

    It’s good to see the Campus Libertarians getting organized at UNR. For Eros468: who are the other 467, and why are there only 468?’Be free.’

  • http://unrforliberty.com/ John

    Barry I am having a difficult time with your comparison of a womb to a piece of real estate. I understand that with such a supposition, one can easily claim that because “the right to life is a facet of property rights”, a developing fetus is violating her property rights. I find it dubious at best to try and make the comparison between a fetus and a tenant – and a mother, a landlord. This type of thought is dangerous because it can trick a person who supports property rights to meet the logical conclusion: a landlord may evict a tenant.

    The problem I find with this conclusion is that 1) a womb's private property rights are being violated with a child as much as my swinging fist is being violated by your face and 2) during the time a woman is pregnant, the unborn child has an equal claim of the womb for it is the only option it was given to live. The mother signed a contract on behalf of the child (since, after all, it could merely be a cluster of cells at this point) to ensure it develops into a human. A breach of this contract holds the woman liable to negligence, just as a day care company could be held liable for beating a child with a baseball bat. Granted, the child getting beat to death does not hold a right to life, but surely the company has the responsibility to ensure the life of that child while it is on the premise.

  • http://unrforliberty.com Barry Belmont

    I find your analogies (beating a kid with a baseball bat, eviction as a form of face punching, a lady “signed” a contract, etc) to be misplaced. They do not adequately describe what is actually going on seemed to be based more on emotional responses than sound reasoning.

    I think it is important that we separate what it is I am going for in this case (that is what the law “should” say) and what it has been mistaken for (morality). I am in no way saying killing yourself is good and killing babies are good (I mean, they're just a bunch of vagrant squaters right?). I am not saying any of that.

    My argument is simply that because it can be seen that the baby is violating the mother's “right to life” in this sense shown by how the baby violates her “right to death” that the argument that abortion unfairly violates the baby's right to life is ineffective. The mother and the child are mutually violating each other's right to life to the same extent.

    Well, what are we then to do? We must see what other rights are being violated. The mother provides food and oxygen and whatnot for her kid. Perfectly fine when it's perfectly voluntary. But supposing the lady no longer wants to give the kid food and oxygen and whatnot…well then this is a clear cut case for someone living at the expense of another without the other's consent. Certainly morally justifiable from the fetus's point of view. Certainly understandable as a measure to live when there appears no other way to. But how is it that we balk at this scenario when it's a Marxist saying it yet not when it goes along with our preconceived notion of “right” and “wrong.”

    We must look beyond morals and beyond what we would do in particular situations. If we are to add anything of substance to this debate we must realize that our task is strictly limited to what the law “ought” to say and not what people “ought” to do.

    • http://unrforliberty.com/ John Russell

      But Barry, isn’t law merely a reflection of morality? Who is it to say that stealing is wrong? Who is it to say that enslavement – or murder – is wrong? These are nothing but moral judgments. To try and dismiss the notion of morality within this context is equivalent of dismissing the notion of law. Morality must be taken into account when any type discussion of “right and wrong” in such a context is concerned. These “rights” that you speak of are nothing more than what people believe is right and wrong. So if we are going to be discussing who has the “right” to do anything, then dismissing morality is plunder.

      In order to properly address this issue, we need to temporarily separate your notion of “eviction” and “tenancy” from the argument. These words are nothing more than fuzz used to justify the act of abortion as they distract the more important values at hand.

      What happened to personal liberty, responsibility, and freedom? If we are operating under the assumption that life begins when both haploids meet, then why does the pro-abortion argument have no problem denying life, liberty, and freedom from an unborn child? Sure, one may argue that the child is infringing upon the rights of a mother (to kill herself?) but this is true to the very nature of pregnancy. One cannot claim to hold absolute sovereignty over oneself when there is a dependent, separate entity completely distinct from the mother. Besides, couldn’t an equally valid argument be made that the mother is infringing upon the rights of the fetus to move about freely? Isn’t the mother forcefully enslaving the child and therefore should be cut down to uphold the child’s rights? Clearly we can see the absurdity in this argument when such rights given to the mother are instead given to the child.

      What happened to personal responsibility? Granted, I am conflicted to include this subjective argument, but it must at least be mentioned that the vast majority of abortions occur because the mother said she wasn’t ready to have a child, or did not have enough money to raise it. How can someone who supports such a tenet justify removing an unwanted child due to the irresponsible actions of other people? It makes little to no sense to sanction aggressive action towards an innocent based upon the mistakes of others. This is selective freedom – which imposes aggression on a defenseless unborn human.

      What happened to the principle of nonaggression? Abortion is the polar opposite of nonaggression. As a result of the parent’s own irresponsibility, a decision can be unilaterally made on behalf of a child’s life that obviously has no say in the matter whatsoever. Sanctioning abortion is sanctioning aggression, and gives the rights and privileges to some (mothers) while removing the rights and harming others (children).

      Abortion is aggressive, it promotes sanctioned irresponsibility, and it denies personal freedom, liberty, and justice to a weaker (inconvenient) class of people. How much further from the ideology can one support? Don’t be so quick to buy into the “private property” view of the argument, for it quickly derails the more important *ethical* inconveniences presented.

  • http://unrforliberty.com/ John

    But Barry, isn’t law merely a reflection of morality? Who is it to say that stealing is wrong? Who is it to say that enslavement – or murder – is wrong? These are nothing but moral judgments. To try and dismiss the notion of morality within this context is equivalent of dismissing the notion of law. Morality must be taken into account when any type discussion of “right and wrong” in such a context is concerned. These “rights” that you speak of are nothing more than what people believe is right and wrong. So if we are going to be discussing who has the “right” to do anything, then dismissing morality is plunder.

    In order to properly address this issue, we need to temporarily separate your notion of “eviction” and “tenancy” from the argument. These words are nothing more than fuzz used to justify the act of abortion as they distract the more important values at hand.

    What happened to personal liberty, responsibility, and freedom? If we are operating under the assumption that life begins when both haploids meet, then why does the pro-abortion argument have no problem denying life, liberty, and freedom from an unborn child? Sure, one may argue that the child is infringing upon the rights of a mother (to kill herself?) but this is true to the very nature of pregnancy. One cannot claim to hold absolute sovereignty over oneself when there is a dependent, separate entity completely distinct from the mother. Besides, couldn’t an equally valid argument be made that the mother is infringing upon the rights of the fetus to move about freely? Isn’t the mother forcefully enslaving the child and therefore should be cut down to uphold the child’s rights? Clearly we can see the absurdity in this argument when such rights given to the mother are instead given to the child.

    What happened to personal responsibility? Granted, I am conflicted to include this subjective argument, but it must at least be mentioned that the vast majority of abortions occur because the mother said she wasn’t ready to have a child, or did not have enough money to raise it. How can someone who supports such a tenet justify removing an unwanted child due to the irresponsible actions of other people? It makes little to no sense to sanction aggressive action towards an innocent based upon the mistakes of others. This is selective freedom – which imposes aggression on a defenseless unborn human.

    What happened to the principle of nonaggression? Abortion is the polar opposite of nonaggression. As a result of the parent’s own irresponsibility, a decision can be unilaterally made on behalf of a child’s life that obviously has no say in the matter whatsoever. Sanctioning abortion is sanctioning aggression, and gives the rights and privileges to some (mothers) while removing the rights and harming others (children).

    Abortion is aggressive, it promotes sanctioned irresponsibility, and it denies personal freedom, liberty, and justice to a weaker (inconvenient) class of people. How much further from the ideology can one support? Don’t be so quick to buy into the “private property” view of the argument, for it conveniently derails the more important *ethical* inconveniences presented.

  • http://www.unrforliberty.com Barry Belmont

    You assume life is sacred (prove it using libertarian theory), you assume laws and morals are the same (prove it using libertarian theory), you assume that a baby is somehow “more important” because it is dependent (prove it using libertarian theory).

    This is not to say life isn't sacred, not to say laws and morals don't talk about many of the same issues, not to say that babies aren't special, but these are all outside of the scope of the discussion. I will repeat, we must focus on what the law should be.

    To highlight, where I think you've gone wrong, consider this example:

    A fine young lady, unmarried, no real close friends, lives with her parents. One day the roof of the family's house collapses on her. When the parents come home they see what has happened and rush her to the hospital. The doctor's say she's going to need to be on life support. [you see where this is going] The lady has no one but her parents to take care of her and she will die. Are the parents allowed to take her off life support?

    Now you can add all the sugar coating detal you want (maybe mom and dad built the house, mom took a sledgehammer to the walls a couple weeks ago, etc…) the main point is clear: does one have the right to live at the expense of another just because they're dependent. The answer is a simple no. No one has the right to live at the expense of another. Period.

    Your other arguments fall apart just as readily. The Nonagression Axiom applies only to consenting adults (first of all) and even if it did apply, you've used it backwards. It is the fetus who imposes upon the mother first. It's violated the mother's right to her property, the right to her body, right to her life, and taken resources even without the consent of the mother. And this is all before the mother has even considered abortion. It is your fetus who is the aggressor, John.

    Sanctioned irresponsibility? Personal Freedom? Liberty? Justice? Somehow denegrates an entire class of people? These are all fluffy concepts, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. If the mother wants to evict her kid and goes to hospital to try to have them remove it as safely and humanely as possible (which my “evictionism” is advocating), then where exactly is the irresponsibility? Is it the act of consensual sex? And your solution?

    What personal freedom and liberty exist for a child who can neither be free nor has any will to speak of? Where is the injustice in upholding property rights? Or is allowing homeless people to take over wherehouses, allowing teenagers to sleep in unrented houses, allowing starving children to steal from groceries all ok? See, here is your difference in law and morals. Morally I would say all of the above acts are 100% justified. Legally they are all 100% unacceptable.

    And still this is all beside the point. As I made the case (and will say again) if a pregnant woman in allowed to legally kill herself, if the parents of a child on life support are allowed to pull the plug, abortion (in the form of my “evictionism” and not some straw man) must be allowed.

  • Brit

    Mr. Belmont, there are a few things I am curious about. One, while I understand that the mother has rights to her own body and that the fetus infringes upon those rights, however I am curious that in the context of marriage, would not the father of the child have a right in this matter considering that a marriage contract does have unwritten terms in it. And perhaps one of these obligations in agreeing to sharing ones life with another that maybe some how in some way the father may have a contract with the mother to carry his child to full term or at least till a doctor gives the OK for a cesarean?

    And because he has contract obligations (such as caring for his wife when she is ill, and if perhaps she is diagnosed with a mental illness, she becomes his charge) perhaps then he can not allow her to take the suicidal action because she is not in a mentally capable state to make rational decisions? Among other things.

    But perhaps I am thinking about this too much.

    I just have a concern for your example. If this women were unmarried and had no other parties in participation your arguments seem thought provoking at least. But because there are other factors that should be, and can be considered, I do not see how the women can be justified in the supposed actions she takes when so many other factors can be taken into consideration.

  • Brit

    Mr. Belmont, there are a few things I am curious about. One, while I understand that the mother has rights to her own body and that the fetus infringes upon those rights, however I am curious that in the context of marriage, would not the father of the child have a right in this matter considering that a marriage contract does have unwritten terms in it. And perhaps one of these obligations in agreeing to sharing ones life with another that maybe some how in some way the father may have a contract with the mother to carry his child to full term or at least till a doctor gives the OK for a cesarean?

    And because he has contract obligations (such as caring for his wife when she is ill, and if perhaps she is diagnosed with a mental illness, she becomes his charge) perhaps then he can not allow her to take the suicidal action because she is not in a mentally capable state to make rational decisions? Among other things.

    But perhaps I am thinking about this too much.

    I just have a concern for your example. If this women were unmarried and had no other parties in participation your arguments seem thought provoking at least. But because there are other factors that should be, and can be considered, I do not see how the women can be justified in the supposed actions she takes when so many other factors can be taken into consideration.