Murray Rothbard on Abortion

In the June 1971 issue of The Libertarian Forum, Murray Rothbard published a front page essay on libertarian strategy, titled How to Destatize. In this essay he looks at what libertarian activists were doing, and what libertarian activists were saying had to be done to bring about a free society.

After critiquing the “education” approach of right-wing libertarians, and the left-wing actions on May Day in 1971, Dr Rothbard looks at two victories for liberty in New York state – the end of rent control, and the legalization of abortion. New York state legalized abortion in 1970, three years after Gov. Ronald Reagan had signed a law to protect abortion rights in California in 1967. Rothbard credits the focus of the women’s movement on principle, and their willingness to act in support of principle, for pushing New York state to legalize abortion. Here is what he wrote in 1971:

“Abortion reform also had the ingredients of sound libertarian theory at work plus a crisis situation. The theory had been propounded for years by pro-abortion groups, but was accelerated recently by the fact that the Women’s Lib groups, in their raucous and annoying manner, had stumbled across a purely libertarian theory which they propounded with force and effect: that every woman has the absolute right to own and control her own body. The attention devoted to Women’s Lib by the media assured that the politicians finally were able to hear, not a wishywashy liberal plea for moderate abortion reform, but the “extreme” – and consistent – view that the State had no right to pass any abortion restrictions whatever.”

“While libertarian theory had been firmed up and spread more aggressively, a crisis situation was becoming ever more blatant: and this was the massive, non-violent civil disobedience of women and doctors who obtained their abortions illegally. And not only were increasing numbers of women and doctors willing to ignore the law; but others were increasingly willing to broaden the fuzzy zone that often exists between legality and illegality: for example, doctors willing to stretch the definition of “endangering the health of the mother”, which made abortion permissible. Furthermore, it was also becoming evident that, taking place as they did under conditions of illegality, the abortions were both unnecessarily expensive and unnecessarily dangerous. In the case of abortions, then, it was mass civil disobedience that brought about the crisis situation, while the spread of libertarian theory made the government more willing to turn· to the de-statizing solution, But not only theory: also the use of the theory to pressure the politicians, by petition, by noise, by threat of votes, etc.”

You can access The Libertarian Forum as PDF @ The Mises Instiute (Scroll down to June 1971)

With the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v Wade, and the actions of the “Mises” Caucus at the Recent Libertarian National Convention, it is necessary to reassert the libertarian commitment to personal rights, including the right to privacy and the right to self-ownership.

(By Gene Berkman, Editor, California Libertarian Report)

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