The issue of abortion is one of those hotly debated topics that are only solved, one way or another, by massive social movements. I hold no delusion of being able to solve this issue in one blog entry, even if I wanted to. However, what I can do is point out in what way abortion is relevant to Market Anarchy, and how the issue would develop in a Market Anarchy.
First, let me mention the ways in which abortion is not relevant: as a political issue. People in a Market Anarchy would be free to organize themselves in any way desired, and that includes policies on the issue of abortion. Some people would want to live in places or be protected by agencies which permit abortion, others would choose to ban abortion. As long as everyone is free to choose the way he wants to live, and does not coerce anyone else into adopting a similar policy, Market Anarchy permits all options to exist.
Because of this, we should see the issue of abortion becoming somewhat less important than it is today. In statist systems, abortion policies are decided through social warfare, with two major factions (pro and anti) battling to see their values enforced on society before the other faction does the same. This is called social warfare. The end result of this process is general anger and resentment towards our fellows, and a great waste of time and resources devoted to activism and politics. Dissolving the State and putting policy on the market, on the other hand, creates a “fence” of responsibility that makes “good neighbours.”
From the point of view of the Market Anarchist, most debates and shouting matches about abortion are about policy preferences, not about fundamental principles. All policy preferences are to be left to the individual, and simply not relevant to Market Anarchist theory.
However, there is a sense in which the abortion issue is relevant. The anti-abortion supporter may argue that abortion takes away a foetus’ rights, and thus breaks the fundamental principle of Market Anarchy: that every individual has the right to live the way he intends to, and that prior to any contract he should not be subject to initiated coercion. A foetus loses such rights by being killed, and a foetus obviously cannot enter into a contract to permit its own abortion (which we would then call suicide, not abortion). Since in Market Anarchy rights are more fundamental than preference, one may not choose to permit abortion: abortion is the antithesis of freedom, at least if the argument is correct.
First, we have to concede that, if the argument is correct, then the conclusion is also correct. If the permissibility of abortion implies a coercive attack on some individuals’ rights, then it cannot co-exist with Market Anarchy.
There are two ways to argue against this position, one simpler and one more fundamental (although the depth of the counter does not make it more conclusive). The simple counter is that a foetus is not capable of “living the way it wants,” and that thus the argument is wholly irrelevant. No one is being prevented from doing anything.
To this, the anti-abortion proponent may retort that the foetus would grow up to be a person who has those rights. However, not only is this not necessarily true (some foetuses do grow up to be brain damaged), but it is irrelevant. Whether this premise is correct or not, we are not arguing about killing a grown person, we are arguing about killing a foetus. Using this as an argument is like saying that one should abort foetuses because they might grow up to become criminals.
The more complex approach starts from the concept of rights itself. What is a right? Concretely, it means that one is justified in using force in order to protect something, or delegate that use of force to judiciary bodies (not including the State, which is only a judiciary body in the loosest possible sense of the word). When I say “I have the right to my own body,” I mean no more no less than “if anyone tries to kill me or prevent me from doing things coercively, I am justified in trying to stop him by force.”
How can this apply to a foetus? Obviously a foetus cannot defend itself, neither can it delegate such a defense (for one thing, it is unable to communicate). Therefore a foetus cannot make use of its rights, and cannot be differentiated from something that does not have rights.
One may argue at this point that a bystander is justified in assisting someone who is being attacked. But either way one cannot use this as proof that the woman getting an abortion is not justified, for the issue of whether abortion is an “attack” or not is very much the issue.
It is important to note that I am not arguing that permitting abortion should be considered a superior preference (although that is also my position), or that abortion is moral per se. This discussion concerns whether abortion is compatible with the basic principles of Market Anarchy, not whether abortion is immoral according to this or that code of conduct (such as “inflicting pain is bad,” a principle which few people actually subscribe to). If one cannot prove that abortion is an initiation of coercion against a person endowed with rights, then abortion must remain a matter of preference.
This is not to say that the issue of bystander support is unimportant. Obviously babies also do not have rights in the concrete sense: they are the pure responsibility of, in our current system, the biological parents. But even while recognizing this, we readily acknowledge that one may defend a baby from murder.
So what is the difference? We generally acknowledge that when a baby is born, it becomes a person, it possesses personhood, if only by virtue of its biological independence and the modicum of communication it can now inflict on others. The same can be said of some pets, such as cats: but society as a whole has more interests in maintaining the life of a baby than it does the life of a cat. This is not to say that I approve of such utilitarian arguments, but we must recognize the facts of the matter.