The topic of abortion is a heated subject that has been debated by philosophers for centuries. While many people focus more on the end results for analysis, the principled Voluntaryist first must analyze the situation from inception and apply the core philosophical principles to the entire process that leads to children being born.
In doing so, it becomes much easier to balance the negative rights of the mother and child without creating contradictory assertions and unlimited duties.
To properly analyze the situation, we must first look at the nature of conception itself. Pre-existing humans came to be through the evolution of organisms over time. Without reproduction, there are no humans to even have a philosophical discourse about. If no one reproduces, within a generation, all humans would die off. Seeing this fact sets the groundwork that reproductive action is a biological function and a predicate to existence.
Next, we must look at the nature of conception and how that fits within the non-aggression principle ethic. As Voluntaryists seek to maximize consent and minimize the initiation of violence, it becomes difficult to tackle the nature of conception as children are created without their consent. It is physically impossible (as far as we know) to gain consent from a conscious being before they have consciousness with which to consent.
Which would mean that, if we hold the N.A.P. standard to conception, it would justify stopping parents from procreating as their action forces a child to come to life without their consent.
This absurdity cannot be metered without reaching a nihilistic, anti-human end where humans would eventually go extinct if kept from procreating on the notion that a child cannot consent to being created.
To avoid this self-defeating conclusion, the act of conception should be considered in-and-of-itself a biological process that is a-moral, much like the act of having blood or breathing air.
As conception is itself a necessary predicate to existence and human life, the N.A.P. analysis cannot be applied to it as it would lead to human extinction.
With this in mind, arguments about parents choosing to have sex and, thus, being held responsible for a child’s existence as a unilateral duty can be rejected.
If unnerved by this rejection, we can look what applying the N.A.P. to conception would look like for the other absurd results in consequence.
1.) If procreation creates a duty-causing violation, then people would be justified in using defensive force to stop would-be parents from procreating.
2.) If procreation creates a duty-causing violation, then parents can be held as indentured servants to their child for their child’s life as the N.A.P. violation is life-long.
3.) If procreation creates a duty-causing violation, people are justified in investigating whether a woman’s miscarriage was caused by the woman, either by intentional force or by negligent or reckless behavior.
4.) If procreation creates a duty-causing violation, and a mother has an abortion, that woman could be killed for their violation under estoppel, as women cannot claim that they should not be killed if they themselves murder.
5.) If procreation creates a duty-causing violation, then people can use physical force to compel a mother to provide whatever a child demands, as there is no minimum or maximum standard of care to limit what a parent should be providing save the victim’s demands.
As you can see, the idea of holding a parent as having a duty to a child because of a unilateral responsibility from “forcing” a child to exist would create some bizarre situations that would encourage force being used against mothers and fathers.
In addition to these deductive conclusions, it is also important to note the current biological conditions of mothers in procreation.
Miscarriage, a biological eviction, currently takes place in 20-30% of conceptions depending on access to medical care. Because of this, one should also consider the fact that attempting to have a child is itself a risk of a child dying. Put into perspective, this 1-in-5 chance of miscarriage would be akin to running over and killing a child unintentionally 1-in-5 days of going to work.
Would most people drive cars to work if one day each week they ran over and killed a child?
Yet, this takes place in millions of iterations as billions of people around the world have sex and, in many cases, conceive but then lose the child.
While some people try to suggest miscarriage is a special situation as it is not necessarily chosen, one should recognize that miscarriage risks are known and that a woman could reduce miscarriage risk or choose not to procreate should the risk be too high.
Some factors that increase miscarriage rates includes obesity, weak uterine lining, and unhealthy food and drink choices. Women who have had a prior miscarriage are also at a significantly higher risk for future miscarriage as well.
So, if in other areas of life, risky behavior can make someone considered liable for unintended consequences, why would the act of procreation receive special pleading?
For example, driving and texting (distracted driving) is a known risk that can lead to someone’s death if they are run over. If someone was distracted while driving and hit a child, killing that child, they would be considered negligent or reckless in causing that child’s death, even if they did not intend it.
To be consistent, women who attempt to procreate with known risks, and whose attempts lead to miscarriage, should be held liable if holding a strict N.A.P. standard.
Of course, few, if any, proponents who consider abortion outright “murder” hold this standard. Instead, they attempt to downplay the risks and outcomes of attempted procreation while holding women to a standard of care only if their mind wishes for the abortion/eviction to take place.
Between the inherent risk of miscarriage and the focus on not causing infant death, one would expect that a robust application of the N.A.P. to procreation would put a duty on women to only attempt procreation if they are healthy enough to do so with minimal risk.
This standard is not generally held and, thus, should be another factor in rejecting the argument of anyone trying to suggest that abortion/eviction is always outright murder.
If one is unwilling to place a duty of care on a mother to not procreate if there is risk, but they will put a duty of care for other activities that can lead to unintended deaths, then they are hypocrites.
So what then is the ethical conclusion about what a mother could do with a child in her body?
For the sake of argument, we can assume that a child should be considered a full human being at the point of conception. This helps to eliminate any ambiguity and gives the most favorable position to respecting the body and property rights of a conceived child. It’s also a reasonable position to take as all the genetic information for a child is present when the egg meets sperm and the process of cellular division begins.
Given a most-favorable light position to a child in the womb, one can then analyze how to meter out the hierarchy of property rights and self-ownership.
As the mother pre-exists the child, and the child only comes into existence through the grace of the mother’s continued supply of blood and nutrients, it should be noted that the mother’s claim to her own body is at a higher right of claim than a child’s. A child cannot be owed a duty and a right to the mother’s bodily resources as this is a forcible taking of the mother’s bodily resources.
Any attempt to create an analogy to this situation with third parties fails for a lack of true similarity.
For example, some suggest an analogy to conception with someone who accidentally ends up on an airplane. The person who ends up on the plane may have drunkenly stumbled into the plane or may have been a worker who was knocked unconscious by a falling suitcase while putting bags into the plane. Someone unwittingly ending up on a plane is not analogous to conception and child carriage as a child’s existence is wholly predicated on the actions and givings of the mother, unlike a stranger caught in someone else’s property.
This is important to remember as the argument for suggesting a duty to a child can also be conversely argued in similar fashion of a child owing a duty to a mother and father. It could be said that, as a child’s life is formed from a property giving of a mother’s body, that the child should be the mother’s property or, at least, “owe” his or her parents for his life. This, of course, should be rejected for the aforementioned idea of considering conception a-moral to avoid unlimited, unilateral duties and, as well, for the logical absurdity of outright human ownership (explained in another article here).
Looking at the mother and child’s independent rights to their bodily property and the existing hierarchy, it can be argued that a mother has the right to remove the child from her body. Walter Block has called this process “evictionism.” However, unlike Walter Block’s position, I do not argue that a mother has a duty to pay for and use life-sustaining technology to keep a child alive. Rather, a mother has a right to expel a child from her body and, if that child dies in the process, such is a consequence of the exercising of said rights. While I do not personally find this to be an admirable thing, it is an important consistency to hold to avoid rationalizing other people escalating violence against mothers.
To uphold the Voluntaryist prongs of maximizing consent and minimizing the initiation of violence, a mother should avoid going out of her way to kill a child i.e. killing a child as a focus rather than as a result. Where this comes most clearly into play is where a mother is nearing term and the eviction of a child would still leave a child alive outside the womb. Killing a child intentionally, such as with using scissors or a vacuum on the way out, should be considered an escalation of violence as it goes beyond removal. In sum, killing a child who would otherwise survive the chosen removal process would be a violation of the child’s bodily property rights.
What this standard does is permit respect of a mother’s bodily property right to expel unwanted persons from her body while also respecting that other human beings should not intentionally kill a child outside of the removal process.
In tandem with this, a mother has a negative duty to not harm a child physically beyond removal and, thus, a mother cannot forcibly keep a child from care offered by others.
Holding this standard both avoids imposing a duty on a mother to provide care but also permits the opportunity for a child to receive care from willing persons.
The reason why this standard is wise to maintain beyond the deductions from establishing property right hierarchies is to recognize that unwilling mothers are going to be problematic in how a child is treated. Forcing motherhood on an unwilling mother would likely have serious consequences for how a child is cared for growing up. Further, any deviation from this reciprocal standard would also rationalize physical, violent force being used against a mother to both take care of a child prenatally and after a child is born.
Anyone who tries to impose a duty but who will not articulate a standard of care for how a child should be treated before and after birth and, for what duration, is trying to hide behind ambiguities. They have no skin in the philosophical game for a “compared to what” of what a mother should do for her child to not be considered negligent and for how long she should offer a child care to not be considered abusive.
Continuing with this line of thought provides a clear framework that parents should not be held to a standard of care outside of N.A.P. thinism and that children, likewise, cannot be forced to remain with parents who are hurting them through physical violence or starvation.
This makes the most sense when one internalizes that “good parenting,” whatever that may entail depending on the social sphere, cannot be forced without creating more opportunities for physical violence against both parents and children who are threatened to conform to some amorphous outside social sphere of “right” or “wrong” parenting styles.
Of course, with education and technology, abortion and eviction can be reduced trending toward zero. This requires a change in culture where people are actively thinking about how to respect the bodies and properties of others so that they can grow in empathy and prudence.
Rationalizing more opportunities for violence against women exerting their bodily property rights is only going to lead to a rationalization for interventionism and spying on women and their families.
ADDITIONAL NOTE: A common counter-argument some try to levy is that even though a mother has no duty to a child in providing sustenance, a mother has a fixed duty to not kill the child in eviction. The contradiction in this thinking is exposed when one counters that a mother could cut her umbilical/nuchal cord, which would cause the child to die due to lack of blood flow. Most often in response, the counter-arguer will suggest that the mother cannot do this because it will cause the child to die. Suggesting that a mother could not sever her own body part (her property) to stop her own blood (her property) from flowing is itself an imposition of a forcible, unilateral duty to give up her body’s resources and a claim of ownership to her blood and tissue. This imposition debunks the original statement that a mother has no duty to give sustenance to a child. The argument that a mother cannot remove a child because a child may die becomes moot at this point because the claimant now is clearly trying to impose duties onto the mother to force her to provide her blood and connection to a child regardless of eviction/abortion outcomes. If being consistent, a child who dies because of cut-off blood flow is experiencing the inevitable similar outcome of evicting a child from the womb who dies being cut off from the umbilical cord and mother’s blood flow.
Miscarriage Probability Chart