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Paul and Abortion

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Ramesh Ponnuru makes an interesting point about Ron Paul: “What strikes me is what a throwback Paul is among libertarians. Hard money and anti-interventionism move him, but he seems utterly uninterested in the lifestyle questions that have taken up so much of Reason for the past decade.” Indeed, he’s not merely indifferent to all such questions but in fact is a proponent of using state coercion to force women to carry pregnancies of term. Gillespie and Welch try to get around this by using the classic federalism dodge, asserting that Paul “nonetheless believes that federal bans violate the more basic principle of delegating powers to the states.”

As Ponnuru also notes, however, this won’t wash because he voted for the federal “partial birth” abortion ban. Moreover, from a libertarian perspective the “partial birth” ban is, if anything, less defensible than voting for a total ban. Libertarians could in theory justify a ban because most would see the protection of human life as a legitimate use of state power (although in practice criminalization does very little to actually protect fetal life, and Paul’s libertarian positions on other issues would almost certainly increase abortion rates by a massive extent.) The ban Paul voted for, conversely, does nothing to protect fetal life, but simply tries to force doctors to perform abortions using less safe methods in some cases. Even on its face, therefore, such legislation is about regulating female sexuality and punishing women for making choices the state doesn’t approve of, which is as inconsistent with any coherent set of libertarian principles as it is with “states’ rights.” Paul is more consistent than most Republican-affiliated “libertarians” — he’s not willing to make up ridiculous arguments in favor of the Iraq War, for example — but his libertarianism doesn’t seem to apply to these kinds of issues of individual freedom.

The lesson here is the obvious one: like libertarians, people willing to forego strongly-held substantive preferences in the name of federalism “are as rare as pieces of the True Cross.” And when almost anybody tells you that by advocating the overturn of Roe they want to “send the issue back to the states,” they’re almost certainly lying.

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