Since I’ve frequently heard libertarians claim that one must be pro-choice if one is a libertarian, perhaps I should forgive this headline from Slate: “Paul Ryan: Liberatarian [sic] on the Market, the Opposite on Abortion.”
Leaving aside yet another instance of editorial sloppiness (what is a “liberatarian” anyway?), this headline clearly displays a lack of understanding of libertarian thought. Fortunately, this sin is probably not the writer’s fault but is likely on the editor’s head. The writer of the article underneath that problematic and misspelled headline, Emily Bazelon, seems close to getting it that one could be pro-choice in the market and pro-life on abortion.
But it is still sad to see another example of the “libertarians must be pro-choice” trope. My guess at why we see this so frequently includes the fact that so many libertarian elites (especially in DC) are pro-choice and because these same people tend to promote a version of libertarianism as a philosophy opposed to nearly all social constraints (perhaps another thing we can blame on Mill?).
Here is my earlier argument for why libertarianism qua political theory is properly ecumenical on abortion. And a little piece of that argument:
This [libertarians must be pro-chioce argument] represents either a serious misunderstanding of libertarianism or an overly broad conception of it that goes beyond politics. Libertarianism – in the “statist” way I define it – is not opposed to any law restricting what an individual can do. Properly understood, it is a thin political theory that sanctions only those laws that relate to the fundamental protection of an individual’s property rights, broadly understood (either because individuals have natural rights or because of a rule-utilitarian position that generates such rights).
Therefore, in the area of abortion, all hangs on the definition of when life begins, whether an unborn child/fetus has rights or when it gains them, and therefore when a life warrants protection by the state. As a limited theory of politics, libertarianism cannot answer these questions and thus really has little to say on its own about whether abortion should be legal or illegal. We as individual libertarians can only answer these questions by importing exogenous ethical or scientific theories.
Therefore, libertarianism is properly ecumenical on abortion.