Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Missouri have all come under fire recently for their passing of various –extremely restrictive and possibly unconstitutional– anti-abortion laws. The goal of such laws –it is claimed– is to curb abortion rates, preferably to zero. The problem is, however, that prohibition has never worked to achieve such goals. Even if one is pro-life or wishes to curb abortion rates, it does not change the fundamental fact that criminalizing abortion only leads to a rise in unsafe abortions, rather than curbing overall rates.
As the era of alcohol prohibition, the ongoing war on drugs, the outlawing of sex work, or any number of similar measures have shown, prohibition is inadequate at best to solve such issues and at worst typically exacerbates them. Alcohol prohibition led to underground speakeasies and distribution via bootleggers where one had to take on extra risk and associate with “shady” characters in order to enjoy something that was once imbibed in comparatively harmless situations. Prohibition meant that educational efforts were not undertaken to teach people how to drink responsibly, and thus those illegally consuming were less educated on how to safely handle their alcohol. As you can imagine, this likely had an effect on everything from drunk driving to consent.
Drug prohibition has lead not only to mass incarceration, but has also deterred people from seeking treatment for fear of retribution. The war of drugs has torn apart families and led to countless deaths. The libertarian solution has always been to decriminalize all drugs and focus on education, treatment, and harm reduction. Just because libertarians realize the damage drug prohibition causes does not mean every libertarian is cool with drugs. In fact, libertarians can be personally straight edge, or even adverse to drugs and drug culture entirely, while recognizing that the drug war does little-to-nothing to curb drug rates and has various negative consequences which far outway any positive gains.
The prohibition of sex work has also not done anything to extinguish the market. All it has served to do is make the market much more dangerous for sex workers. Internet censorship has taken away some of the best advertising and screening resources of the previous decade, while criminal status keeps sex workers from reporting abuse from clients or pimps. Decriminalization would allow more grounds for self-defense, the right to unionize, employee healthcare, and so much more. It’s all about harm reduction.
The same approach of harm reduction can be applied to the issue of abortion. Even if one truly believes that life begins at conception, it is hard to consider prohibition an effective solution from a libertarian perspective. Certainly, such expansive laws as the ones recently passed in Alabama and Georgia cannot be considered libertarian as they use the mass incarceration system as a deterrent, even targeting and harassing those dealing with the tragedy of miscarriage, all while doing nothing to strike at the root causes of the issue.
Abortion prohibition has not proven effective at combating abortion rates but rather seems to lead to a rise in illegal and potentially unsafe abortion methods. Whether illegally ordering abortion pills through the mail, using herbal abortifacients, or much less safe and more violent means such as clothes hanger abortions, drugs, and self-harm. This not only puts the potential child at risk but also puts the parent at a vastly increased risk of harm or death. If the goal is truly pro-life then advocating for a situation that puts both the parent and child in more danger in order to combat a system which only puts the child in danger seems counterproductive.
If we are to focus on actually curbing abortion rates instead of merely virtue signaling via ineffective and counterproductive legislative measures, then we must shift focus to the root causes of many abortions. These include factors like poverty, domestic abuse, rape, a lack of resources, a lack of sexual education, a lack of functional alternatives, etc. With this in mind, the solutions start to look a whole lot different. All of the sudden, fighting for things like parental work leave, adequate social safety nets, a living wage, affordable housing, access to healthcare, a better educational system and accessible daycare, more functional and accessible adoption and foster care systems, honest and open sexual education, access to effective birth control methods, and the end of rape culture become much bigger concerns.
Of course, these solutions don’t have to come from the state. Libertarians and anarchists of all stripes have been working on solutions to this issue for decades from an anti-prohibitionist stance, some while being rather pro-life in their beliefs. Two such examples would be the evictionists and the founder of Planned Parenthood herself, Margaret Sanger.
Evictionism is a libertarian moral theory on abortion, based on Lockean property rights, created and advanced by Walter Block and Roy Whitehead. Evictionists take a very unique approach, in that they do believe that life begins at conception but they also believe in bodily autonomy, and thus divide abortion into two separate issues: 1) the eviction of the fetus from the womb, and 2) the death of the fetus. Following the traditional stances of libertarians as against trespassing and murder, it then stands to reason that one such libertarian would be both for the right of bodily autonomy of the pregnant person and against the death of a fetus.
Evictionists thus propose a system of “homesteading” where those who wish to evict their pregnancy can announce their custody of said fetus and allow for others to offer to care for the developing child instead. Failing to find someone willing to “homestead” the child, the person may turn to abortion as a backup option. The difference between this method and that of traditional adoption is that it promotes the use of advancing medical technology to increase the chances of viability outside of the womb at much earlier stages in development, meaning that one can potentially evict a fetus without killing it. This would be seen by evictionists as preferable to abortion where available and with the advances in neonatal care over the past several decades leading to a decrease in the lower limit of viability (which is already at approximately 5 months gestational age) this is becoming increasingly available as an option.
Another option comes from the infamous birth control activist Margaret Sanger. While some myths have floated around concerning her ties to the promotion of eugenics, she was an anti-fascist throughout her life and, though many may not know, was even an avid anarchist. While she could be seen hanging out with the likes of Emma Goldman or writing publications such as The Woman Rebel (whose slogan was, “No Gods, No Masters”) it may surprise some, even more, to know that her motivations for championing the causes of birth control and sexual education were very pro-life. Throughout her early activism, she made known her stance against abortion, even championing birth control as a way to curb abortion rates with such pro-life slogans as, “Do not kill, do not take life, but prevent,” and even warning patients: “that abortion was the wrong way – no matter how early it was performed it was taking life; that contraception was the better way, the safer way – it took a little time, a little trouble, but it was well worthwhile in the long run, because life had not yet begun.”
Even while fighting for access to legal and safe abortion methods, Sanger continued her crusade to curb unwanted pregnancy and abortion rates by means of sexual education and access to birth control. Unfortunately, in today’s modern context it’s doubtful you will hear Planned Parenthood lean into that side of Sanger’s politics, despite it being a way to build potential bridges between themselves and pro-life feminists who maybe also skeptical of prohibition.
Groups such as New Wave Feminists and In Defense of Life already take a similar approach. Both mix a modern intersectional feminist perspective on social justice with the more traditional Consistent Life Ethic espoused by the likes of the Catholic Church and other social justice advocates while remaining solidly against prohibition. New Wave Feminists doesn’t, “work to make abortion illegal. [They] work to make it unthinkable and unnecessary. And [they] do that by getting to the root of the need for it.” Groups like Feminists for Life, Susan B. Anthony List, and Feminists for Nonviolent Choices, on the other hand, tend to lean towards targeting the root causes of abortion while continuing to advocate for prohibition and would benefit from more open interaction from libertarian pro-lifers of an anti-prohibition persuasion to push them towards more holistic solutions.
Such solutions can be found in supporting a strong grassroots union movement which can fight for healthcare, parental leave, and a living wage, fighting bigotry in private adoption programs as to give children a better chance to find a loving family, abolishing Child Protective Services in favor of a system of grassroots Child Placement Agencies, building and participating in community mutual aid networks to help people with daycare, food, baby supplies, housing, and other daily and emergency expenses, providing access to effective methods of birth control, and empowering individuals by teaching consent and honest and inclusive sexual education.
We can debate over the religious morals of sexual activity and can even encourage our children and others to adopt our sexual morals but, from a purely harm reduction standpoint, honesty is still the best policy when it comes to sexual education. Teaching individuals how to be safe when engaging in sexual activity is not the same as encouraging sexual activity and one can provide honest and open sexual education while still warning children against engaging in such activities until older or in a healthy and/or committed relationship. And while birth control can be a touchy subject for some religious folks, we need to remember that is a private medical and religious decision and thus should not be regulated legislatively.
As far as responding to prohibition laws, our first goal should be providing safe access to abortion methods. Thankfully technology and scientific knowledge have greatly advanced over the years and thus it is much easier to obtain a safe abortion even while they remain illegal. While obtaining an abortion illegally can increase your risk of being subjected to the violence of the police and prison systems, it no longer has to come with an increased risk to one’s health.
As Beau of the Fifth Column points out, many abortions nowadays are induced via oral medication. Even when such pills are banned for abortion purposes, since they are multi-use medications, they will continue to be available for other needs. This opens up the door for the savvy agorist or counter-economist to access such pills, only to redistribute them to those in need. If one wishes to be even more professional with such a venture, sonogram machines are easily available for only a couple hundred bucks online. Whether it be via professional doctors and nurses providing such services in secret for needed clients, or concerned citizens researching and training to provide the best care they can, we need to push for this kind of safe access as a means to curb the death rates caused by unsafe abortions which tend to spike under prohibition.
While groups like New Wave Feminists and In Defense of Life are a start, we still need more radically libertarian voices interjecting themselves into the conversation in an attempt to sway pro-lifers away from prohibition as the solution. We need the efforts of agorist abortion providers to help curb the death rates caused by unsafe illegal abortions. We need the efforts of the scientists and medical professionals working to increase the viability rate of prematurely born fetuses. Whether pro-life or pro-choice, one should be able to find common ground in the fight against prohibition and the fight against rape culture, poverty, and inadequate sexual education. It’s just a matter of making people realize how these issues intersect.