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The LP’s “Women’s Rights and Abortion” Plank: A 1994 Update

The LP’s “Women’s Rights and Abortion” Plank: A 1994 Update — and Maryland and Pennsylvania Libertarian Party Resolutions: An Addendum to “Abortion Choice — In Harmony or in Conflict with the Rest of the Libertarian Party Platform”

The Libertarian Party’s treatment of abortion in its 1992 platform is discussed in detail in an LFL flyer, “Abortion Choice — In Harmony or in Conflict with the Rest of the Libertarian Party Platform.” The LP has since revised the platform, passing amendments at the national LP convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, August 30 – September 5, 1993.

This update comments on revisions to the “Women’s Rights and Abortion” plank. Also included are resolutions passed in 1994 by two state Libertarian parties — expressing differences with the national party’s support for legal abortion.

The 1994 Women’s Rights and Abortion Plank

The 1994 plank repeats the 1992 plank, but with additional points. Here is the plank in full. The additions are in boldface.

We hold that individual rights should not be denied or abridged on the basis of sex. We call for repeal of all laws discriminating against women, such as protective labor laws and marriage or divorce laws which deny the full rights of men and women. We oppose all laws likely to impose restrictions on free choice and private property or to widen tyranny through reverse discrimination.

Recognizing that each person must be the sole and absolute owner of his or her own body, we support the right of women to make a personal choice regarding the termination of pregnancy or regarding voluntary surrogacy arrangements. We oppose the undermining of the right via laws requiring consent of the pregnant woman’s parents, waiting periods, or compulsory provision of indoctrination on medical risks or fetal development. In addition, we oppose all restrictions on the sale of menstruation-inducing contragestive pills, such as RU 486, which block fertilized eggs from attaching themselves to the womb. However, we also oppose all tax funding for abortions. It is particularly harsh to force someone who believes that abortion is murder to pay for another’s abortion. We also condemn state-mandated abortions.”

We oppose the fetal protection doctrine under which the state could require prenatal testing, require Caesarian births, require fetal surgery, require force feeding of the mother, jail pregnant substance abusers, bar home births, and bar pregnant women from working in unhealthy places and which would hold a woman legally liable — because of her diet or personal behavior — for having a damaged or deformed child. Under this doctrine, women could also be held liable for not aborting a damaged or deformed fetus.

Since the convention in Utah, at least two state LPs — Pennsylvania and Maryland — have passed resolutions bearing on the Women’s Rights and Abortion plank.

The Pennsylvania LP — voting to take no position

The Pennsylvania LP’s resolution was passed 20-11 at the party’s March 11-13, 1994, convention. Submitted by J. Hugh Odhner a former Pennsylvania State Chair, it reads:

BE IT RESOLVED that the Libertarian party of Pennsylvania takes no position on the abortion issue. The party hereby affirms that while it does not take a position on the issue, it supports the right and freedom of all individuals and candidates to hold their own views on the issue, provided that they do not represent their own viewpoints as being the party’s position.

Ohdner gave his reasoning in a paper presenting the resolution for consideration:

All Libertarians hold in common the conviction that the initiation of the use of force against another human being is wrong and immoral. Libertarians believe that all human beings have an inherent right to Life, Liberty, and Property, as long as they do not deprive others of those same rights.

The abortion issue is not an issue of choice (for all mature free persons have the ability to choose) but an issue of defining when human life begins. Determining when human life begins is a scientific, philosophical, spiritual, and religious issue. It is not a mere political issue.

The purpose of this resolution is to allow all Libertarians to hold their own views on the abortion issue without committing them or the party as a whole to any one position. It allows Libertarians to concentrate on what they believe in common by defusing a divisive issue which is keeping many potential Libertarians from supporting or joining the party.

The Maryland LP — voting to dissent

The Maryland resolution was prompted by the third paragraph of the Women’s Rights and Abortion plank, which says, “We oppose the fetal protection doctrine under which the state … would hold a woman legally liable — because of her diet or personal behavior — for having a damaged or deformed child.”

The Maryland resolution says:

That the MDLP express its dissent from the National Platform’s position on the liability of pregnant women and calls for replacing the last paragraph of the plank on ‘Women’s Rights and Abortion’ with the following sentence:

It is the right and obligation of the parents, not the state, to decide the desirability or appropriateness of prenatal testing, Caesarian births, fetal surgery, and/or home birth.

This resolution was suggested and written by I. Dean Ahmad, a former chair of the Maryland LP. He was the chair of the 1993 Platform Committee, which wrote the revised plank. The Central Committee of the Maryland LP passed the resolution unanimously at its May 7, 1994 meeting.

Some comments from LFL

LFL’s flyer “Abortion Choice — In Harmony or in Conflict…” argues that the platform’s support for abortion choice conflicts with the rest of the platform. Revisions in the 1994 Women’s Rights and Abortion give further examples of how abortion choice conflicts with basic libertarian principles.

The Maryland resolution took note of one of these conflicts. Under libertarianism’s non-aggression principle, we are personally accountable for our own actions, if we harm innocent people without their consent. It does not violate the rights of mothers or fathers to hold them legally liable for injuring their born children. The Maryland resolution recognizes that having inflicted the injury prenatally is no excuse.

Adding “surrogate pregnancy” raised still another conflict. Before getting into that one, let’s look at some other errors of a different kind.

“Fertilized eggs”?

The plank’s addition of “menstruation-inducing contragestive pills, such as RU 486, which block fertilized eggs from attaching themselves to the womb” is consistent with the platform’s unconditional support for abortion choice. However, there are problems with its wording.

One problem is the plank’s misstatement of simple biology. Implantation happens at about the seventh day after conception. By that day, what’s there is a multi-cellular embryo. What RU 486 blocks from attaching to the womb is not a “fertilized egg” but an embryo.

Technically, the biological term for “egg” is “ovum.” A sperm and an ovum each contain only one cell. When a sperm fertilizes an ovum, neither exists any longer; what now exists is a one-celled zygote. Human zygotes are human beings (in biological terms, members of the species Homo sapiens) on Day One of life. Cell division commences soon after fertilization and proceeds rapidly. Thus, what attaches around the seventh day is a multi-cellular embryo, not a “fertilized egg” or a one-celled zygote.


Another problem is that so-called “contragestives” are in fact abortifacients, which kill by chemical rather than surgical means. Abortifacients should not be confused with contraceptives, which prevent fertilization. There is a radical distinction between not creating a life and taking a life already in existence. The contragestive label is misleading; it serves to blur this distinction.

Moreover, abortifacients can terminate pregnancy well after implantation. RU 486 is utilized through the fifth week after conception (the seventh week, if counting from the last menstrual period). In causing the lining of the womb and blood to flow out of a mother’s body, abortifacients also dislodge the implanted embryo and evict him or her.

The problems of “surrogacy”

There are also problems raised by the plank’s support for “voluntary surrogacy arrangements” — which includes the case of one woman carrying another woman’s child to term.

Some see such surrogacy as merely assistance in child support. Viewed this way, surrogacy seems like just another voluntary agreement among consenting adults, just another variation on the theme of self-ownership. But it’s not so simple.

The first paragraph of Women’s Rights and Abortion says, “We oppose all laws likely to impose restrictions on free choice….” But how does this carte blanche fit with surrogacy contracts that require the surrogate mother to obtain an abortion, or forbid her from doing so?

Surrogate pregnancy involves a contractual arrangement between the woman acting as surrogate and the biological parents of the child she is carrying. Contracts impose restrictions on our will, by definition.

The plank sees abortion choice as an extension of absolute ownership of one’s own body; no person, man, woman, or child may interfere if a pregnant woman wants to abort. But what does “absolute” mean in the context of contract? Whether one is willing or not, having obligations to fulfill generally require the use of one’s own body, mentally and physically.

Although she holds the child in her possession, the surrogate is a trustee, not an owner, of the child. What if she kills the child by abortion without the parents’ permission? Not only will she fail to transfer possession of the child in the required manner, she has destroyed what “belongs” to the parents. The platform affirms legal enforcement of contracts. Does this mean that the parents have the right to force her to deliver their child and not destroy what is theirs? Or what if she refuses to abort upon their request, even if this is in the contract?

When the party added surrogacy to the same plank that sees ownership of one’s body as an absolute, it raised — but did not answer — these questions.

Of course, such silence only matches the Libertarian Party’s silence on the question of fetal personhood and whether parents owe their children support and protection from harm. (See “Abortion Choice…”, p. 3 and other LFL articles).

The crux of the matter

Even given consent by the adults making the contract, a contract that violates the rights of an unconsenting individual is no contract either under libertarian principles or under principles of law. The embryo or a fetus is not a consenting party. Moreover, as LFL argues, a prenatal child is not the property of others, no matter who they are; the child has the right to her own body in her own name.

Prenatal surrogacy also raises the question of the ends justifying the means. To develop the technology for such surrogacy, human zygotes and embryos are being used as laboratory rats. One source for them are adults who seek help for fertility problems and then find themselves with extra zygotes and embryos. Some of these extras are donated to other would-be parents; others are put into concentration cans (cold-storage tanks) and left to die there; still others are used for scientific purposes, or discarded like trash. Scientists are now advocating tax funding for research on embryos created for experimental purposes only.

The party platform ignores a biological fact now visible to the naked eye in the laboratory: that neither the human zygote or embryo is a part of the woman’s body. Their ability to survive in laboratories miles from their mothers conclusively proves that woman and prenatal child are two individuals. These tiny human beings are demonstrating, albeit mutely, that harming them cannot be justified as “a woman’s right to control her own body.”

The revisions to Women’s Rights and Abortion serve to raise again the crux of the matter: the humanity and rights of human offspring before birth. The “Children’s Rights” plank in the LP’s platform currently says, “Children are human beings and, as such, have all the rights of human beings.” LFL would amend this to say, “Children are human beings [[from conception]] and, as such, [[we owe them what we owe every human being: non-aggression]].”

When will the Libertarian Party come to grips with prenatal humanity, the crux of the matter?

LFL does so in depth in other articles in the library on our web site.

(If other states have planks or resolutions that vary from the national platform’s plank on abortion, LFL would appreciate information about them.)

Doris Gordon (1929-2014)
Doris Gordon, founder and longtime coordinator of Libertarians for Life, died on July 7 at Holy Cross Hospital, Silver Spring, Md., after a struggle with meningitis and other health problems. She was 85. Surviving her are daughter Julie Gordon, son Monte Gordon, and five grandchildren. She lost her husband, Nathan Gordon, in 1987. A Bronx native, Mrs. Gordon graduated from Hunter College and taught elementary-school students in New York City before moving to Maryland. She became active in the libertarian movement, and eventually quite active against abortion. She stressed the concept of parental obligation. “By causing children to be,” she wrote, “parents also cause them to need support; it’s a package deal.”