As a libertarian, I consider the right to own oneself the foundational right of liberty. I often call myself “pro-choice on everything!” Of course, “pro-choice” has a very particular meaning in mainstream society, specifically related to the right to have an abortion. I’m a very vocal advocate for that right.

But what happens when a woman chooses to give birth? As a pro-choice advocate, I have always emphasized the need to be able to make the choice: to terminate or keep. Once you’ve made that choice to keep, I’ve pretty much assumed a woman just goes about her pregnancy and birth however she desires.

I’m becoming increasingly aware that there are many more choices to make, and ways that society steps in, to impose upon what women do with their bodies and their babies. Pregnant women ask for help from others to discourage strangers from coming up to them at random to touch their bellies asking personal questions. People constantly give unsolicited advice or harshly criticize the pregnancy and parenting decisions of others, to the extent that they call it “Mommy Wars.” Thankfully, these examples are only social dynamics, and some other mother doesn’t get to legally decide whether another does home/hospital birth, or chooses breastfeeding/formula.

Then there’s law. This spring in Tennessee, a law was passed to allow the state to criminally prosecute new mothers who used drugs while pregnant resulting in a baby born with “addiction” or injury. This is not the only law of its kind, as all over the country, pregnant women increasingly face criminal prosecution for positive drug tests. These invasions of privacy may be well-intended, but they have problematic consequences. Where do babies go when their mothers are serving time for drug “assault” charges? The state decides. Pregnant women who are afraid they’ll get in trouble for their addictions  are less likely to seek help for them or get pre-natal care at all, putting themselves and their babies at even more risk for life-threatening complications.

Then there are women who haven’t done anything wrong, except to have an opinion about what they want to happen to their bodies while they’re bringing new life into this world.

Jennifer Goodall received a letter in early July from her intended birth hospital in Florida that informed her that her doctors were seeking a court order to perform a cesarean surgery on her “with or without her consent” if she went to that hospital. They were also planning to report her to the Department of Child & Family Services if she didn’t comply. Their reason? She wanted to try having a vaginal birth.

Now, the reason the doctors advised against having a vaginal birth was because she’d previously had cesarean births and there are numerous risks that occur when following one with the other. There are perfectly legitimate reasons to, as a medically licensed doctor, advise your patients against things you think are a bad idea. But, with or without her consent? A federal judge ruled in favor of the hospital when she filed a complaint.

You wouldn’t see this happening if she had cancer and refused chemotherapy, or if she had endometriosis and refused a hysterectomy. When there’s a baby, though, suddenly a woman’s right is… disregarded.

Cue my outrage.

I’m a staunch advocate for the right to choose an abortion, but the choices don’t stop there. Whether it’s seeking help for drug addiction while pregnant or wanting a “natural birth,” women will have numerous decisions to make, and force should not be part of the equation. No person should ever hear they’ll be forced to undergo a medical procedure “with or without your consent.” Jennifer Goodall ultimately went to another hospital which respected her wishes to attempt to have a vaginal birth. After she was unable to deliver vaginally, she had a consensual c-section and a healthy baby boy.

Your body is your own. You own it. You choose.

  • April Casey

    Without LIFE, all other rights would be meaningless. That’s why I’m a pro-life libertarian. Human rights are for ALL humans, not just some.

    • This is certainly an understandable position. The contention between a potential human’s rights and its human host’s rights is certainly not without good arguments on both sides. Much like people have a right to live, they also have a right not to be enslaved to one another. When one’s life depends on the enslavement of another, there is a problem.

      Which is why I am so personally interested in seeing greater preventative birth control technology and practice, so such choices no longer need to be made. Also, as technology increases to the point that a fetus can be moved from a human host to an incubator, we could also see the removal of this moral issue. The choice to bear or the choice to terminate are both very hard choices to make, and until there is some way to remove the issue of competing rights, I will always err on the side of the person whose full personhood is not in contention. At the end of the day, I see the State as a blunt, violent instrument of force which has no place in a woman’s womb.

    • Kirsten Tynan

      ALL shouldn’t magically exclude women who are pregnant.

      • Gene Callahan

        “ALL shouldn’t magically exclude women who are pregnant.”

        Who is “magically” excluding them? NO ONE has the right to take an innocent life, INCLUDING women who are pregnant. See? Very much included, not excluded.

        • MaineShark

          No life, no matter how innocent, has a right to inhabit another human’s body, absent that other human’s consent.

          • Gene Callahan

            “Right”?! As if the child had trespassed in there!

    • MaineShark

      Human rights are, indeed, for all humans.

      No human has the right to inhabit the body of another human, except by that other human’s consent.

  • Matěj Šuster

    Regarding the issue of abortion, I am pro-choice but mainly for utilitarian / consequentialist reasons. In particular, I strongly disagree with the claim that there´s a “natural” right to terminate late-term pregnancy (ie. one month or one week before the expected date of labor).

    In my country (Czech Republic), abortion is legally allowed without any restrictions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. In the second trimester, you are allowed to have an abortion only if it is ‘medically necessary’ (medically indicated). After the second trimester, abortion is prohibited (although there is an exception if an abortion is necessary to preserve the life of a woman).

    Moreover, it should be pointed out that abortion is NOT paid by public health insurance (unless it´s performed for medical indications). However, it´s quite a cheap medical procedure — it costs roughly 4,000 Czech koruna(s). For comparison, the median (gross) monthly wage of women is roughly 20,000 Czech koruna(s):$File/1413134438.pdf

    In my view, this legal arrangement is a pretty good compromise and it works very well in practice. Abortion is not a particularly contentious issue in Czech Republic. For example, according to the latest poll (pg. 2): (English summary of a previous poll:

    — 67% of respondents say that women should have an unrestricted right to an abortion on demand (in the first trimester, I presume);

    — 20% of respondents say that abortion should only be allowed for health and/or social reasons;

    — 7% of respondents think that abortion should only be allowed if woman´s life is at risk.

    — and finally, just 2-3% of respondents think that abortion should be banned.

    Note: the Czech Republic has probably one of the least religious populations in the world.

  • Matěj Šuster

    By the way, as a libertarian I have quite a high toleration for “disgust”. That said, I truly find the following reasoning and arguments of Sharon Presley and Robert Cooke (1979) morally unacceptable, abhorable and repulsive (I apologize for these strong terms — no personal offence intended).

    They write:

    “Block, for example, maintained in his 1978 article that “the trespassing fetus should be removed in the gentlest manner possible ….If and when medical science devises a method of abortion which does not kill the fetus (this has already come to pass in some limited cases) then it would be murder to abort in any other way.” Thus, argues Block, if the fetus can be removed without killing it, it should be raised independently of the mother. Only if no one else is willing to raise it could the fetus legitimately be killed.

    Although Block made this claim in an article that is allegedly pro-abortion, the argument is, in fact, anti-abortion. (…)

    In thinking that his position is pro-abortion, Block fails to recognize (or else discounts) the real point of abortion–not that the woman does not want to be pregnant, or that she does not want to raise a child, but that she does not want to bear this child. If the fetus is removed and raised independently, as Block suggests, the woman is still the biological mother with all the psychological significance that implies. She has still been forced to be the baby machine. But, we maintain, a woman’s right to self-determination includes the right to refuse to bear a child as long as that choice is still physically open to her.

    Thus, even if the fetus were a person, it could not justifiably claim a right to live at the expense of the woman’s resources or her right to self-determination.”


    As Murray Rothbard would say: “Monstrous!” 😉