Protesting Abortion Clinics? Not So Fast, Libertarians

by | Sep 27, 2023

Protesting Abortion Clinics? Not So Fast, Libertarians

by | Sep 27, 2023

planned parenthood eugene oregon

EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 4, 2015: Anti-abortion protesters target pedestrian and vehicle passersby in front of Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon located in Eugene.

In the summer of 2022, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture on inflation. Funny enough, pro-abortion activists protested this wonderful talk (for whatever reason), standing on the sidewalk directly adjacent to the building, shouting at and harassing people as they entered the parking lot, and waving signs.

As I entered the building, I remarked, “If this were a libertarian society, they would be removed.” This is true; in a libertarian society, there is no right to protest or assemble. People must abide by the rules of the private property owners, which could preclude or include allowing people to assemble or protest. This applies to anti-abortion activists as well.

Anti-abortion conservatives may agree with the point about removing pro-abortion activists, but they fail to apply the same standard to themselves. A common activity that some pro-lifers engage in is standing in front of abortion clinics and “peacefully” persuading women not go through with an abortion.

On its face, this activity is not obviously rights-violating; they are not using force. However, in a libertarian society, these activists would not be able to exercise this ability. They would have to abide by the rules and orders of the private property owners, which in this case, would be to leave and go elsewhere. The current legal order should strive to emulate this.

The clinic being protested likely pays the taxes that fund whatever public infrastructure the protestors are using, whether it be roads or sidewalks. The taxes also go to the police that enforce laws and sometimes provide security. Then, according to private property, the clinic could be justified in calling the police and having the protestors removed, even if the sidewalk are so-called “public property.” However, there are more clear-cut private property violations that come to mind.

Recently, five “pro-life” activists were convicted for violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act by chaining themselves to the entrance of the Washington-Surgi Clinic in Washington, DC.

Not only did they chain themselves to the door, but some “invaded” the clinic. The Guardian reports:

“[The defendant] used a fake name to book an appointment at the clinic, then blocked people from entering the waiting room while other defendants chained themselves together inside the clinic, prosecutors alleged. One of the clinic’s nurses sprained her ankle after she was pushed by a protester, according to the indictment.”

Essentially, the “protestors” employed fraud, invasion, and violence to achieve their ends.

The lawyers argued that some of the defendants merely planned the event, so they cannot be said to have violated the FACE Act, which may be true, but regardless, private property rights were definitely violated.

This is not the first case of something like this happening. Another instance had Nashville area protestors occupy the hallway of an office building that housed an abortion clinic, refusing to leave. At a certain point, security guards implored the protestors to leave the premises.

Again, this is a private property violation, no matter how noble the protestors believe their goal to be.

Pro-life advocates may reply that they are saving lives; however, an abortion does not violate private property.

As Walter Block writes in Defending the Undefendable III:

“The evictionist compromise is that she may evict the pre-birth infant whenever she wishes, but may never kill it. That would be murder. Yes, the fetus will die if evicted in the first 6 months, but she will not be guilty of murder, only of expelling the baby from her body and allowing him to die, a completely distinct matter.”

Block in his original paper on the topic states:

“If this discussion is correct, we deduce that the pregnant woman may remove the fetus from her body in a manner that does the least harm to it possible. That is, she may evict but not kill it. True, one hundred years ago the only way to rid herself of the unborn human within her would have been to put it to death; one hundred years from now, it will presuma­bly be possible to transfer it to a test tube or a host mother without dis­turbing it in the slightest.”

Evicting the fetus is not murder. It is removing an unwanted visitor from one’s womb. This is entirely consistent with private property and, therefore, permissible. If it requires the killing or death of the fetus, so-be-it. Block argues that the fetus must be removed with the least harm possible, and today that would mean removing the fetus without killing it. But that is not obviously true. It may be consistent with one’s common sense of proportionality, but why should a private property owner be obligated to remove a trespasser in the least harmful manner? That seems arbitrary and imposes an unnecessary cost on the property owner. (This is definitely a question that needs to be explored further, but it demands further attention in a different article.)

Ultimately, abortion is not murder, so anti-abortion activists are not justified in attempting to prevent them. They might save a life, but it would be at the expense of the mother’s and clinic’s property rights.

While the abortion clinics are not guilty of murder, they are not out of the doghouse yet. They are guilty of pushing for federal enforcement of the FACE Act.

According to The Guardian, “Abortion providers have long said that they would like to see the justice department pursue more Face Act prosecutions, especially since some forms of violence and harassment against clinics are now on the rise.”

Abortion providers want the federal government to subsidize their security with taxpayer dollars. That is entirely contrary to libertarian ethics. Libertarians and conservatives are usually joined together in the elimination of government funding of abortion providers, but both are blind to indirect funding in the form of federal protections.

Abortion providers want the U.S. taxpayer, regardless of what they think about abortion, to protect them in their highly controversial activities. Libertarians should say no to this.

Regarding the federal crime of blocking entry to abortion clinics, it should not be a crime at all. It should be tort. The abortion clinics should be free to bring suit against those that violate their rights, but they should not be subsidized with taxpayer money. In the current state, these anti-abortion activists will see jail time instead of compensating the abortion providers for the damages they caused. In a libertarian society, crime will not be prosecuted simply for the sake of it, but out of the interests of the injured parties.

As it stands now, the FACE Act should be repealed and the crime of obstructing entry into clinics should fall into tort law.

In the end, these activists, despite their seemingly good intentions, violated private property. Consequently, libertarians should not have their side. However, by calling for stronger enforcement of the FACE Act, abortion providers commit a wrong as well. Libertarians should be squarely against violating the private property of abortion providers as well as for the repeal of any law that lends aid to the clinics.

About Benjamin Seevers

Benjamin Seevers is an economics PhD student at West Virginia University and holds a BA in economics from Grove City College. He was a 2023 Mises Summer Fellow. His research interests include private governance, public policy, and libertarian ethics. He blogs at Seevers Insights.

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