It had occurred to me, some time ago, that there ought to exist some means that would allow libertarians in opposition to abortion and the institution surrounding it to maintain this antagonism and do so in a way describable as wholly libertarian. That is to say, I recognized a need for an anti-abortion theory steeped in property-rights and adherent to the non-aggression principle. By developing such a theory, I thought, I could give pro-life libertarians firm ground to stand on, as well as offer a view to those libertarians, pro-life at heart, who had adopted a pro-choice or evictionist position only so as to remain, as they thought, consistent libertarians and who would only require for conversion mere notification of the existence of a liberty-based approach compatible with their pro-life nature. Also appealing to me was the notion of presenting arguments to recruit to my cause staunch libertarian abortion supporters or, at least, to make such folk think more deeply about their convictions on this issue.
Before I decided to pen my theory, I had found that there existed few other views that cogently articulated and fully realized a position that addressed what, to me, seemed the most formidable abortion-amenable, libertarian theory published—that which Murray Rothbard sounded and which Walter Block fully developed: evictionism. I understand that most libertarians are familiar with this view, but I must nonetheless (briefly) summarize it here. Under evictionism, the mother is likened to a property owner (her womb the property in question) and the fetus to an ordinary trespasser. In the same way that a property owner has the right to evict the trespasser on his premises, the mother has the right to remove the fetus in her womb. If the trespasser is a non-criminal (e.g., unwittingly occupying the premises against the wishes of the property owner), then his removal by the property owner must be in accord with the libertarian axiom of gentleness. So killing the morally innocent womb-trespasser (e.g., taking the “morning after pill”) is not an option under evictionism, but evicting it unto death is. Accordingly, if the gentlest manner possible consistent with stopping the aggression necessitates the death of the trespasser, the owner of the land is still justified in upholding the entailed property rights.
But does the death-necessitating eviction of a fetus equate to the gentlest manner possible consistent with stopping its property-directed aggression? With this question I believed that I had found my “in” and thus was born the libertarian theory of departurism.
Departurism keeps the property owner/trespasser analogy but takes into account the morally relevant conditions of a trespass within the womb. To wit, a fetus is less like an “ordinary” trespasser and more like a non-criminal one in the process of departing the owner’s premises. This process of departure (gestation) constitutes deference toward the mother’s property rights. So, under libertarian law, she would be quite outside of her rights in lethally evicting the morally innocent, trespassing fetus when less harmful means exist by which its aggression may be stopped.
These accounts of evictionism and departurism, of course, have been overly simplified as the arguments for and defenses of each occupy a much more technical realm of libertarian theory. For more thorough explanations, read the Libertarian Papers accounts (here and here), and the second round over at the Journal of Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom (here) for further immersion into this abortion disputation.
Abortion is a very complex issue and there are libertarians on every possible side (evictionism, departurism, neither, etc.). It is my intention here not to persuade readers into adopting departurism, but to draw attention to the debate. For those libertarians wishing to better understand it, for those wishing to hone their arguments, for those wishing to be privy to an interesting joust, or for those simply wishing to, as Walter has put it, “get that proverbial one millionth of an inch closer to the Truth,” I recommend at least absorbing the evictionism/departurism back-and-forth.