Whenever abortion comes up in a political context, pro-choice advocates highlight pro-life candidates’ refusal to support a “rape and incest exception” to any proposed ban on, or regulation of, abortion. The 2016 presidential campaign is no exception. This week CNN anchor Dana Bash handed the hot potato to former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Huckabee’s response:
“A 10-year-old girl being raped is horrible. But does it solve a problem by taking the life of an innocent child? And that’s really the issue.”
Pro-choice publications predictably erupted, painting Huckabee as cold-hearted for his position. But that position flows inexorably from the logic of his larger pro-life stance, and is in fact a libertarian argument.
Notice that I said A libertarian argument, not THE libertarian argument.
Libertarians differ among ourselves on abortion (no, I’m not going to tell you where I come down on it). Some of us are pro-choice. Some of us are pro-life. But all of us view the issue through the lens of the same principle: That it is impermissible to initiate force and that we may only use force defensively or to recover damages from someone who “threw the first punch.”
Pro-choice libertarians believe that a fertilized embryo or in utero fetus is not a person with rights, that the mother is fully entitled to control of her own body, and that forbidding her an abortion would be an initiation of force against her.
Pro-life libertarians believe that at some point prior to birth (for some, that goes all the way back to conception), a fertilized embryo IS a person with rights — a person who has initiated force against no one and who therefore may not be permissibly killed.
There are other, more nuanced, libertarian arguments about abortion, but those are the bare basics.
Coming from the pro-life libertarian position, both the 10-year-old pregnant girl and her unborn child in this story are victims of an aggressor (the rapist whose actions resulted in the pregnancy). Abortion violates the rights of the unborn child, who is not an aggressor, and is therefore morally impermissible (unless, of course, it becomes a matter of self-defense, i.e. carrying the baby to term would kill or gravely harm the mother).
The problem with the “rape and incest exception” position is that it doesn’t address the questions raised above.
If abortion is a right, it’s a right whether rape or incest are involved or not.
If abortion is not a right, rape and incest don’t make it into a right.
To put it more bluntly, the “rape and incest exception” attack is demagoguery — a crass play on emotion rather than an appeal to fact. As a pro-choice argument, it’s an epic fail.
Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.
- “Abortion: The ‘Rape and Incest Exception’ is Demagoguery,” by Thomas L. Knapp, Ventura County, California Citizens Journal, 08/19/15
- “Abortion: The ‘rape and incest exception’ is demagoguery,” by Thomas L. Knapp, Davenport, Iowa Quad-City Times, 08/19/15
- “Abortion: The ‘rape and incest exception’ is demagoguery,” by Thomas L. Knapp, Muscatine, Iowa Journal, 08/19/15
- “The ‘rape and incest exception,'” by Thomas L. Knapp, Orangeburg, South Carolina Times and Democrat, 08/20/15
- “Abortion: The ‘Rape and Incest Exception’ is Demagoguery,” by Thomas L. Knapp, River Cities’ Reader [Iowa], 08/26/15
- “Abortion: The ‘Rape and Incest Exception’ is demagoguery,” by Thomas L. Knapp, Sonoran News [Arizona], 08/26/15