Abortion doesn’t just divide the left and right in America, it divides libertarians as well. Libertarian economist Walter Block has come up with a solution called “evictionism” in an attempt to bring both sides together and to allow everyone’s rights to be respected.
What Is Evictionism
Block says that an unborn child, from the point of conception, is a human being with all the rights that any innocent human being has. Block also says that a pregnant woman owns her body and her womb, and has every right to decide if an unborn child may or may not use her body and womb and for how long.
Block says that because the unborn child is an innocent human being, no one has a right to kill it. However, since the Mother owns her body and her womb, she has every right to have the child removed at any time in the gentlest manner possible. In other words, an evictionist couldn’t kill the baby and remove the body like abortionists do today. They would have to keep the child alive and unharmed as much as medically possible.
What evictionism means for unborn children in today’s world is that most children evicted in the third trimester will survive. Some evicted in the second trimester will survive. And any child evicted in the first trimester will die. For the babies evicted before they are viable outside the womb this is a tragedy. They are innocent and helpless. This tragedy, however, doesn’t change the fact that no one has the right to the body of another. The woman is the owner of her body and she has the right to choose who can or can’t be inside of it or live off of it.
In the near future, however, medical technology will allow for babies evicted at even the earliest stages to survive and live full, healthy lives.
This is a quick and simple explanation of evictionism. For a deeper understanding you can read a comprehensive essay penned by Block and Roy Whitehead here, or you can listen to a Podcast from the Lions of Liberty where they have a deep discussion with Block about evictionism here. Otherwise I’ll attempt to quickly handle some objections and add some thoughts of my own.
The main objection is the idea that the unborn baby is not a trespasser, but was invited into the Mother’s womb by the woman and therefore she must be forced to carry it to term. The argument is that by agreeing to have sex, the Mother took on the potential responsibility of a baby being created.
In the case of a voluntary sex act, this is a strong objection. Libertarians don’t concede that positive obligations exist (no one has the right to force you to take care of them, for example), but they do concede that implied agreements can exist. For example, if I take you up in my hot air balloon, I don’t have the right to kick you off while we’re in midair. By taking you up in the balloon, it’s implied that I’m going to safely bring you back down! In the abortion/evictionism debate, the act of sex is claimed to be an implied agreement with the child if a child is created.
There are two problems with this line of thinking. The most obvious problem is that some pregnancies aren’t agreed to! Rape is the main example used, but that’s only a small fraction of potential abortion/eviction cases. There are also cases of birth control failure. There are cases where one of the parties was told by a doctor that they were infertile, but clearly the doctor was wrong! There are also cases where the man agreed not to release his seed into the women but did so anyway. In all of these cases, measures were taken to prevent a pregnancy or the woman simply had no choice. How can the woman be forced to carry the unborn child to term in these cases where she clearly took appropriate measures to prevent a pregnancy or had no choice in the matter?
While it’s true that the unborn child is an innocent bystander in all these cases, that doesn’t mean it has the right to the woman’s body. Imagine a scenario where you woke up one day and you find that someone surgically attached an innocent person to your body. In this highly unlikely scenario, you’d have every right to remove this innocent person. You wouldn’t have the right to kill the person, but no one could say that you should be forced to live with this arrangement, even if it could be proven that surgically removing this innocent person would lead to their death and keeping them surgically attached would mean they could survive. In this tragic scenario, the innocent person attached to your body can’t force you to keep them since they have no claim to your body.
The second problem with the implied agreement argument is that the child didn’t even exist when this implied agreement was supposedly made. For there to be an implied agreement between two or more parties, those parties have to exist! When the voluntary sex act took place, the future child doesn’t exist and therefore can’t be apart of any implied agreement between it and the Mother.
One could still argue that someone engaging in the act of sex clearly knows that a child could be created. Therefore they should be held accountable by being forced to carry the baby to term if one is created. As a believer in the importance of personal responsibility, this argument is hard to combat. On a base level, I agree with it. I think people who act irresponsible should deal with the results of their actions. But just because I think this way doesn’t mean I have the right to violate the person or property of someone when they act irresponsibly.
Take for example if I saw someone leave their car for several hours parked in a bad neighborhood, with the engine running, and the door wide open. This is an incredibly irresponsible thing to do. This is almost guaranteeing that someone will steal the car. If I decided to take the car, does the owner still have a claim to it? After all, I could claim that the person leaving the car was being irresponsible and should live with the outcome. They knew something like this could happen! This would be a ludicrous argument though. The car is still not my property and it still belongs to the owner, even if they were being irresponsible with it. We can all agree it was irresponsible for the person to leave it running for hours unattended, and we might not have any sympathy if it gets stolen, but that doesn’t negate the owners right to the car. In the same way if a women is being irresponsible with her sex life. At the end of the day, she is still the owner of her body with the right to decide if someone should live in it or not.
The only situation where it would be legitimate to punish a woman who gets an eviction is if there were an agreement between the man and woman prior to the pregnancy. One example would be if the woman was hired to be a surrogate. She agreed to rent her womb and body out to the person who paid her and thus would be breaking a contract by getting an eviction.
Another example would be if there were some sort of prior agreement between the couple. They may have agreed that if she were to get pregnant, they must both consent if there was going to be a removal of an unborn child. In this situation, the woman would have to get the man to sign off on the removal per their prior agreement. If the man refused to sign off, but she got the unborn child removed anyway, she could be liable for whatever damages were laid out in the contract.
Guardianship Of The Removed Child
So an unwanted fetus is removed, can they simply ignore it and let it die? If not, who is the guardian responsible for caring for the child? This is perhaps the most important issue to be worked out for evictionism to be legitimate. What I say is that whoever performs the eviction is taking over guardianship of the child. Since the Mother gave up this right, the person agreeing to do the eviction is also agreeing to take on that responsibility.
Therefore, it is the evictionist who must do everything in their power to make sure that not only does the fetus survive the procedure, but that it is taken care of once it is safely out. “But if libertarians don’t believe in positive obligations, how can the guardian be forced to care for the child?” you ask?
This is the same debate around the question of “Is it legitimate for a parent to neglect their child to the point of injury or death?” It is not legitimate, because when the parent voluntarily took on the guardianship of a child, they have made an implied agreement to not only care for the child, but to make sure that they find someone else to care for the child if they decide to discontinue their guardianship role.
A parent can decide to stop being a guardian, but they can’t just simply let the child die. By doing this, and not making an effort to drop the child off at an orphanage or with another suitable guardian, they are precluding others from taking on the guardianship of the child. In essence, a parent can stop being a guardian of a child if they choose, but they can’t stop others from taking over guardianship of the child. Therefore, they must seek out a new suitable guardian before they are legitimately able to stop caring for the child.
To wrap up this train of thought, anyone agreeing to perform an eviction procedure is also agreeing to become the guardian of the child until they can find another suitable guardian. An evictionist who removed a child and let it die would be just as much of a criminal as any parent who neglected their child to the point of death.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of this theory is that in the not too distant future, all unborn children will be able to survive outside the womb. Technology will soon allow for even the earliest fetuses to survive and develop normally without a human womb. Once this is the case, both sides of the abortion issue will have no choice but to accept the evictionism argument. If you’re pro-choice, how can you possibly advocate for the ability of a Mother to kill her fetus if it can just as easily be removed, saved, and survive? If you’re pro-life, how can you argue that you have the right to force the Mother to carry her baby to term when she can just as easily and safely let an artificial womb incubate the baby? If the evictionism theory is the only theory that respects the rights of all parties involved in the future, than we have to begrudgingly admit that it is legitimate today. Our rights don’t change with the times. They are the same whether we lived 100 years ago or live 100 years from now.
Originally published on Mike’s website here. Check out his blog levelheadedlibertarian.com for more!
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