Economic Reflections on Abortion – Econlib

Indiana’s adoption of a law restricting abortion in the context of overturning Roe v. Wade provides an opportunity to review some of the economic, or economically motivated, arguments on both sides of the debate. (“Indiana Passes Abortion Ban, Marks First State Restriction Since Roe v. Wade Overturned,” The Wall Street JournalAugust 6, 2022)

Because normative economics values ​​all individuals equally, economists—or at least a large number of them, including this blogger—oppose murder, regardless of the balance of benefits, if the killer gains more utility than his victim loses (if such a comparison has any meaning). have). Therefore, the question of whether the fetus is a human being and, if so, whether the abortion is murder or justifiable homicide has some significance.

The defense of “reproductive rights” is dubious. If rights mean anything concrete, then reproductive rights must include the freedom to reproduce if one wishes, is physically able, can have a partner (or a surrogate), and other such conditions. The paradigmatic violation of reproductive freedom in modern times was the eugenics policy promoted (mainly) by progressives in the early 20th century. Under American eugenic state laws, in force between 1907 and 1980, 65,000 women were forcibly sterilized. (See Paul Lombardo, Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell [John Hopkins University Press, 2008]; and Thomas Leonard, Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and the American Economy in the Progressive Era [Princeton University Press, 2016].) Reproductive rights do not imply the right to kill the person being reproduced, just as marital rights do not imply the right to kill your spouse.

A man’s life, even the potential, is not worth something? Is a fetus less human than an elderly person suffering from a stroke or Alzheimer’s? These questions point to the importance of affirming the value of human life.

For those who invoke the welfare of future generations when it serves their own political ends, we can ask what future individuals think about the possibility of abortion. If one imagines that future individuals are invited into our social contract (admittedly a great stretch of the imagination), how likely are many of them to agree to the “reproductive rights” envisioned by unconditional supporters of abortion? A time inconsistency problem lurks here: future individuals who now agree to very permissive abortion norms may never actually be born and thus have no voice in any social contract. The slogan “Power to the dead!” Does not hold water.

That being said, the “my body, my choice” principle is enticing to anyone who takes the ideological implications of economics seriously. So does the “ban our bodies” slogan that some Indiana House Democrats have — it applies equally to the other sex. Economists naturally assume that a person owns his own body. In the current discussion, however, the above slogans seem to apply only to abortion. Do they not apply as clearly, if not more clearly, to peaceful and contractual work, such as an adult choosing to work for less than the state-mandated minimum wage in order to use his body to earn a living? Wouldn’t they apply if he wanted to wear a gun on his body to protect that body against violent aggression? And so declared.

However, a consistent argument for “my body, my choice” cannot be summarily dismissed. It was used in the classic defense of abortion by the philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson, published in 1971. Philosophy and Public Affairs And simply titled “Defense of Abortion.” Jarvis Thomson argued Even if we accept that the fetus is a human being, there is no defensible philosophical argument to prevent her (or his—yes, the fetus can be a girl!) mother from separating her from her body. If it leads to the death of the fetus, abortion would be justifiable homicide as self-defense, not murder.

Thomson’s demonstration is a simple libertarian my-body-is-my-choice argument that applies to any non-voluntary obligation to help others. He emphasizes the difference between, on the one hand, a morally good action (keeping the child you have conceived even though it implies great costs) and, on the other hand, one voluntarily contracted because of one’s right to help. and thus can be imposed by force. (For this post, I re-read Thomson’s argument decades later; it may have changed my views on abortion.)

In the famous article, Thomson wrote:

I’m just arguing that having the right to life does not guarantee having the right to use or allow the use of another person’s body – even if one’s own life requires it. So the right to life will not serve abortion opponents in quite the simple and obvious way they seem to think. …

If a group of parents does not try to prevent pregnancy, aborts, and then when the child is born takes it home with them instead of putting it out for adoption, they have accepted the responsibility. It is, they have given the right to it, and they cannot now Withdraw support from it at the cost of his life as they now find it difficult to provide for it. If they have taken all reasonable precautions against having a child, they have no special responsibility because of their biological relationship to the child that will come into being.

Note that Thomson does not think that his argument morally or legally supports all abortions:

Although I argue that abortion is not permissible, I do not argue that it is always permissible. … a credit to my account [is] Precisely that it doesn’t give a simple yes or a simple no. …

Although I argue for the permission of abortion in some cases, I do not argue for the right to secure the death of the unborn child. … I agree that the child’s death wish is not something that one can fulfill, if it is possible to separate the child from the living.

I don’t think he explains satisfactorily when disapproval is only moral and when it should be backed up by a legal sanction. And did he underestimate the level of responsibility a mother (and a father too) has in a man’s concept?

Except for the ban on abortion of fetuses with serious but non-lethal genetic abnormalities and some arbitrary features of its application, Indiana law may not differ so radically from the Thomson guidelines—at least if WSJDespite the story’s title, its description is accurate:

The ban, which comes into effect on September 15, has some exceptions Abortion will be permitted in cases of rape and adultery, 10-weeks before fertilization; To protect the life and physical health of the mother; And if a fetus is diagnosed with a lethal anomaly.

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