Reply To: Logic on Abortion Issues


Mises007 (I like the name!)

You write: “1. Progressives who believe that nobody has the right to make choices for a woman over her own body are being inconsistent when they support the redistribution of wealth for the “common good” because (assuming we ignore the possible rights of the baby) both cases are essentially about protecting the rights of property (the mothers body and the fruits of ones labor) and liberty (the right to do what you want with your property).”

Let’s see if we can express your arguments in the foregoing paragraph formally:

Argument 1
Premise 1: If I own x, then I may do as I wish with x
Premise 2: I own whatever is in my body
Conclusion: Therefore, I may do as I wish with whatever is in my body

This argument is valid a form of the hypothetical syllogism—i.e. if its premises are true, its conclusion must be true as well

Argument 2
Premise I: If I own x, then I may do as I wish with x
Premise 2: I own the fruits of my labour
Conclusion: Therefore, I may do as I wish with the fruits of my labour

This second argument has the same form as the first and is similarly valid.

Your hypothetical ‘progressive’, while accepting the validity of both arguments, is very likely going to reject the truth of 2-2 (“I own the fruits of my labour”) so the soundness of the argument will turn on the defence of this premise. That defence will itself be either a matter of logic (based on yet another argument) or its truth will be a metter of some other kind of evidence, not excluding self-evidence.

The first argument, while valid, isn’t immune from critique on grounds of soundness (i.e. evaluating the truth/falsity of the premises). I’m not sure a libertarian would be willing to stand over the self-evident truth of premise 1:1 “If I own x, then I may do as I wish with x” without adding the rider “provided that in so doing, I don’t infringe upon the non-aggression principle”. The revised argument would now read:

Argument 1a
Premise 1: If I own x, then I may do as I wish with x, provided that in so doing, I don’t fringe upon the non-aggression principle
Premise 2: I own whatever is in my body
Conclusion: Therefore, I may do as I wish with whatever is in my body provided that in so doing, I don’t infringe upon the non-aggression principle

Now I think it become clear where the lines of the different positions are drawn. The question becomes one of whether or not in the case of abortion, one is or isn’t aggressing against another.

You write: “2. If one believes in late term abortion on the grounds that the child is living off of the mother and is a part of her body, then he/she should also be ok with abortion after the baby has been fully extracted from the mother but is still attached to the umbilical chord.)”

The elements of the argument here rest on (1) what it is to live off the mother, and (2) what it is to be part of the mother’s body.

Somebody supporting abortion but unwilling to countenance the killing of the child born alive but still connected via the umbilical cord to the mother might want to argue that such a child while living off the mother is no longer part of the woman’s body and that that fact makes a moral/legal difference.

Some people argue that the movement of an entity from one location to another doesn’t normally change an entity’s ontological or moral status, so that if abortion in utero is legal, there is no principled reason why infanticide should not also be legal. Of course, one can run this argument in the other direction and argue on the same grounds that if infanticide is (or should be) illegal, then so too should abortion!

[Moving away from the purely logical for a moment, I published a book some years ago, before I became a libertarian, on certain aspects of the law of homicide in the UK and USA pertaining to the very young. If anyone would like a PDF copy of this book, I’d be happy to send it along.]

The same considerations relevant to your second argument apply, more or less, to your third argument.

You write: “4. A quote from Ron Paul: “The fact is that a fetus has legal rights not to be injured or aborted by unwise medical treatment, violence, or accidents. Ignoring these rights is arbitrary and places relative rights on a small, living human being.
The only issue that should be debated is the moral one: whether or not a fetus has any right to life. Scientifically, there’s no debate over whether the fetus is alive and human—if not killed, it matures into an adult human being. It is that simple. So the time line of when we consider a fetus “human” is arbitrary after conception in my mind.”
Q: Is their anything illogical about his statement? Particularly the part about any determination of life after conception being “arbitrary” when everyone agrees that on some level a fetus is alive on some level at conception.”

Dr Paul’s point relates to the soundness of the various arguments on this issue. If something is what it is and has the rights that it has because of what it is, its size or its relative state of development don’t seem to be particularly relevant considerations. To take a ridiculous example: a very short person (e.g. 3’ 6”) isn’t entitled to be treated with only half the respect due to a tall person (e.g. 6’ 6”). If it’s the case that once a human being comes into existence as a foetus, it is and continues to be a human being until death, then it would seem to be arbitrary to deal with its right not to be aggressed against in different ways simply because of its state of development (or its location). Of course, those who do not accept Dr Paul’s position will argue that a more or less fundamental change of moral/legal status takes place at some more or less specific developmental stage (implantation, viability, 2nd trimester, etc.) and so the argument/s will proceed on these issues.

It would be a useful exercise to attempt to formulate your arguments in categorical or hypothetical logical form or, if that’s not possible, to construct an informal argument as clearly as possible.