Posted by Brad @ 9:22 am on April 28th 2011

Ron Paul on Abortion

Interesting excerpt from his book Liberty Defined. For our social liberal friends, it’s probably at least worth reading his argument on the issue – which is much more thoughtful and in depth than most any politician on either side – before immediately dismissing him as a Christianist fascist. I happen to still disagree with him, but, again, it’s worth reading.

H/T: Reason, who have a similar take.


  1. In that argument he says: “The only issue that should be debated is the moral one: whether or not a fetus has any right to life.”

    For most people, it isn’t a black and white issue since you have to decide whose rights are more important; the right of all fetuses to be born, or the right of all women not to be compelled by the government to carry every pregnancy to term. Dr. Paul clearly believes that the right of the fetus supersedes the right of the woman, and I truly do sympathize. However his complete disregard for the pregnant woman, whose life and liberty (for I would assume Paul wants the woman to abstain from all of the things pregnant women are forced to abstain from for the health of the baby) are now secondary to the fetus is difficult to swallow.

    That’s not to start the abortion debate here, I don’t want to do that, but his take, while thoughtful, really isn’t all that nuanced.

    Comment by Liz — 4/28/2011 @ 2:43 pm

  2. Well, as you said, that’s the crux of the debate, but I think Paul’s argument is that if you do accept that life begins at conception, you aren’t really talking about a “right to be born” – as in a right to compel some action on a person – but rather a literal right to life – a right to not have action performed on a discrete individual human being which will kill him or her. If you don’t accept that life begins at conception, then you are essentially dealing in the arbitrary. To put that another way, the pro-choice view – in Paul’s conceptualization – is that life begins when we say it does. Whereas the pro-life view – again, in Paul’s conceptualization – is that life begins at a certain point regardless of our subjective and arbitrary opinion on the matter. I don’t think Paul’s argument is that this is a black or white matter in the sense that there isn’t a tradeoff – what he’s saying is he doesn’t see a compelling reason to err on the side of a mother’s quality of life, versus erring on the side of not defining away someone’s entire existence.

    But, as you say, I don’t think Paul’s point – certainly not mine – is to convince anybody to become pro-life. He’s not really evangelizing in the same way he does on other matters. Rather, he’s laying bare his own thinking on the matter, how he reached the conclusion he has. And I post it just as a matter of interest, because A. I would encourage more politicians to have to write chapter-length explanations of their stances on difficult subjects, and B. Paul’s stance and thought process strikes me as more thoughtful than most people would like to credit him for.

    Of course, if you out-of-hand consider any stance that doesn’t protect the right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy to be irrational, and unthoughtful, and lacking nuance, and are uninterested in considering how people arrive at a pro-life conclusion, just that they do arrive at a pro-life conclusion, this post probably isn’t very informative or interesting.

    Comment by Brad — 4/28/2011 @ 2:58 pm

  3. I don’t consider pro-life to be an irrational stance at all, I didn’t say that. I think what he said is honest and thoughtful, it just isn’t particularly nuanced – there doesn’t seem to be anything even subtly different from the standard pro-life position although he’s very eloquent in his explanation. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    What I was trying to say, and perhaps badly, was that I respect his opinion, I respect the expression of that opinion and find his reasoning interesting to read, but it loses points in the lack of discussion about pregnant women as individuals with rights.

    Comment by Liz — 4/28/2011 @ 3:59 pm

  4. While I am constitutionally (ahem) more alinged with Liz on the meta issue, I disagree in that I do think this was a well explained and reasonably nuanced explanation of his views, how they were derived, and the implications. Having said that, i would take exception with RP’s eliding of the 14th Amendment and incorporation, and this paragraph in particular:

    However, that does not mean that the states shouldn’t be allowed to write laws dealing with abortion. Very early pregnancies and victims of rape can be treated with the day after pill, which is nothing more than using birth control pills in a special manner. These very early pregnancies could never be policed, regardless. Such circumstances would be dealt with by each individual making his or her own moral choice.

    Writing laws “dealing with” abortion is not really what he means is it? he means writing laws criminalizing it. And while it is nice to see his acknowledgement of the true medical nature of morning after pills, what possible reason does he have to believe that, South Dakota say, will take the same view and not criminalize such things as well? Even worse, the idea that rape and incest victims are always, or even usually, identified and available for such treatment, i.e., within a two days of intercourse, is naive to the point of willful ignorance. And he suggests that pro choicers refuse to address uncomfortable aspects of their positions!
    I can appreciate the thoughts, but he is actively arguing that states should have the power to compel childbirth in all circumstances, and yet his rigorous support for local control over such a decision ends when he can use the power of the federal government to restrict abortions in D.C. against the expressed will of the electorate and their representatives, or for service members serving overseas.

    Comment by Jack — 4/28/2011 @ 6:09 pm

  5. I’m a bit confused. I’m with Liz in that I don’t really see this as nuanced, and I think it’s clear she was respecting his views (as do I, but that’s because I respect all pro-lifers), but I don’t get where Jack and Brad find Paul’s views notable or well explained versus the standard pro-life view. Either I managed to grow up around racist, bigoted, homophobic fundamentalist Christians who somehow also managed to be very eloquent in expressing their pro-life views or there’s something Jack and Brad are reading into Paul’s views that they don’t see in the standard pro-lifers views. And it’s something I’m missing, unless the fact that he links it to being anti-war is the insightful part.

    I believe the vast majority of pro-life individuals would agree with Paul’s statement that the only question is a moral one, does life begin at conception? They’d overwhelmingly say yes and turn it into a black and white issue. That’s the crux of the abortion issue. Do you agree with an absolute truth that life begins at conception or do you believe in a more nuanced approach that can be seen, as Brad describes it, as subjective and arbitrary.

    To be even more of a devil’s advocate, I’d argue that Paul is being deceitful in his strawman argument of the pro-choice position. I don’t think it’s fair for him to act as if the refusal of pro-choice advocates to support abortion in the final trimester, just days before birth, is somehow a helpful insight into the debate. Most pro-choice advocates are open to restrictions on abortions later in the pregnancy. I find pro-lifers holding up almost fully developed fetuses as the symbol of all abortions and using it to advocate for a total ban on abortions even in the first trimester to be dishonest.

    Abortion is a difficult issue. Ultimately I think pro-life libertarians have an “easier” time in the culture war because their solution is so black and white. Ban it entirely. A pro-choice libertarian has a very difficult time in the culture war because he or she can try to remain neutral in the culture war and try to keep government out of the debate but I don’t think this is possible in today’s world.

    On the other hand, if you actually pay attention to what the Republicans in the House are doing on the issue of abortion there’s a clear divide between their attempts to limit the use of tax credits for abortion and the more standard libertarian view of tax credits as outlined by the recent Garriott vs. Winn and Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization vs. Winn cases. And if you look at the arguments from libertarian organizations like Cato about school vouchers and religious schools you’d find some clear inconsistencies with the logic put out argue against government funding of abortions. But that’s getting really off topic.

    Comment by FreedomDemocrat — 4/29/2011 @ 8:22 am

  6. Most of those are perfectly fair criticisms. The one issue I would take is Liz’s “he doesn’t talk about the rights of women” angle. Again, if you believe a fetus, from conception, is a sovereign human being, what is there, really, to talk about? I think you could certainly write a long and mostly patronizing digression about how women who have to deal with unwanted pregnancies will need support and adoption needs to be streamlines and yadda yadda yadda, but at the end of the day, those are indeed digressions, because ultimately no amount of hardship on the part of the woman save, perhaps, life-threatening, is going to justify, morally, the murder of another human being. Can there be, if you accept as your premise that life begins at conception and a fetus is a human being deserving of all the rights we accord other human beings? Is there any combination of quality of life issues that is going to blow through that one, cold fact? Any right of the mothers’ that supersedes it? I don’t see how there can be.

    Clearly I’m playing devil’s advocate here, but I’d find a discussion of the rights of women in this context to be patronizing because, in a sense, the entire conversation is about the right of women under discussion – that is, the right to have an abortion. The entire argument boiled down can be very simply restated as “I don’t believe such a right exists”. What’s left to discuss?

    Comment by Brad — 4/29/2011 @ 8:56 am

  7. I suspect we are devolving into pedantry in trying to define a line as to what is nuanced and what is not. I disagree with RP’s views on this issue. I think they are built on false assumptions and outright dismissive of any respect or concern for the state compelling childbirth in women. I find his explanation to be consistant with his religious and social views, as well as his unfortunate perspective to advance state (vs federal) power at the expense of individual liberty. But I appreciate that he acknowledges the reality and need for for morning after pills, something many social conservatives absolutely oppose. Perhaps this is not enough for some to see as nuanced, but I have no problem with calling it such while disagreeing strongly with the reasoning and implications.

    Comment by Jack — 4/29/2011 @ 9:06 am

  8. Yeah – I guess I wasn’t intending to start a discussion of abortion, but since a lot of the left-libertarian crowd sneered at his pro-lifeness, I thought it was interesting to read his in-depth thoughts on the matter (which I had not). I found them pretty thoughtful and less…evangelizing? aggressive?…than a lot of pro-life pols.

    Comment by Brad — 4/29/2011 @ 9:59 am

  9. I guess I’ve been missing the left-libertarian sneers over his pro-lifeness. I still see left-libertarian sneers over immigration and pandering to racists though. The latter is a much, much bigger problem for me than the former. I don’t think I’d ever use someone’s position on abortion as a determination for my vote.

    Comment by FreedomDemocrat — 4/29/2011 @ 10:47 am

  10. I think this is a good summary on how to approach abortion as a civil libertarian/anti-war opponent:

    Comment by FreedomDemocrat — 4/29/2011 @ 12:09 pm

  11. That’s more or less exactly where I come down on it too.

    Comment by Brad — 4/29/2011 @ 12:26 pm

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