Murray Rothbard was one of the 20th century’s greatest scholars and the world’s most important libertarian political philosopher and libertarian activist. I have read much of his vast output and agree with Rothbard on most of the positions he took but he did make mistakes and today I want to give my side of the abortion issue which is in direct contradiction to that of Murray Rothbard.
Murray Rothbard was crystal clear on his position on abortion in Chapter 14, “Children and Rights”, of The Ethics of Liberty.
In part Rothbard wrote:
The proper groundwork for analysis of abortion is in every man’s absolute right of self-ownership. This implies immediately that every woman has the absolute right to her own body, that she has absolute dominion over her body and everything within it. This includes the fetus. Most fetuses are in the mother’s womb because the mother consents to this situation, but the fetus is there by the mother’s freely-granted consent. But should the mother decide that she does not want the fetus there any longer, then the fetus becomes a parasitic “invader” of her person, and the mother has the perfect right to expel this invader from her domain. Abortion should be looked upon, not as “murder” of a living person, but as the expulsion of an unwanted invader from the mother’s body. Any laws restricting or prohibiting abortion are therefore invasions of the rights of mothers.
Rothbard likens the situation to a guest in your house who overstays his welcome and you have every legal right to tell him to leave your house. You even have the legal right to have him removed by force if he refuses to voluntarily leave. Rothbard at least agrees that the baby is a human being from the time that the sperm meets the egg unlike many other pro-abortionists. I like that Murray did not try to wiggle around the life cycle of animals by claiming that life does not begin at conception.
What we have then is a situation much like the man who invites a guest on to his boat for a trip out to sea. I have myself been a guest on a friend’s boat. We left out of Coco Beach, Florida and went out a couple of miles into the ocean. It was my first trip to sea and I enjoyed every minute of it. Now suppose after we got 2 miles out this man decided to withdraw his invitation and ask me to get off of his boat. Since I can not swim this amounts to murder by this man. He did not have to invite me for a boat ride on the ocean and he does not ever have to invite me again; but if he tosses me overboard then no court in the world would find him within his rights to do so. Murder would be the charge.
By the same token, if a woman and a man decide to create a new human being they have invited that new life into this world and to withdraw consent and have the innocent baby killed is not only reprehensible but is murder in my view. Should a woman control her own body? Why yes, just as my friend controlled his boat — but she invites a new life into the world by having sex without using contraceptives. Once the life is created we have the situation that she has given an invitation for a nine month ride to the baby until it can survive on its own.
But Murray Rothbard went even further than just supporting abortion. He told us that the mother could abandon the child anytime she wanted even after she gave birth to it. Infanticide was OK by Murray as long as no force was inflicted. Just walk away from a two week old baby and let it try to survive on its own — no fault of yours if it dies.
Applying our theory to parents and children, this means that a parent does not have the right to aggress against his children, but also that the parent should not have a legal obligation to feed, clothe, or educate his children, since such obligations would entail positive acts coerced upon the parent and depriving the parent of his rights. The parent therefore may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die. The law, therefore, may not properly compel the parent to feed a child or to keep it alive.
I must disagree here also. The parent having invited the soul into this world has an obligation to that being to see that it reaches a stage where it can care for itself. My reasoning is the same as before. Once you invite me to your property you can not cause my certain death by suddenly withdrawing consent knowing that I would perish.
If you knowingly cause my death by enticing me to use your property and then suddenly withdraw consent then you have committed an aggression against me. The Non-Aggression Axiom is against Rothbard on this issue. Murray Rothbard was a systems builder and an extraordinary man, but on the issue of babies and children he went astray in my opinion. He did write that he was talking about libertarian law and not morals on the issue; but there can be no law that is not rooted in the morals and ethics of the people so that is hardly an out for Rothbard on this issue.
Those libertarians who support abortion and/or think that the mother owes nothing to the newly born baby may well have many good arguments to support their views, but the property rights use of eviction of an unwanted guest is not one of them. Sorry Murray.