A Critique of Block on Abortion and Child Abandonment

By Wisniewski, Jakub Bozydar | Libertarian Papers, January 2010 | Go to article overview

A Critique of Block on Abortion and Child Abandonment


Wisniewski, Jakub Bozydar, Libertarian Papers


According to Block's theory of "evictionism" (1977, 1978), a fetus can be aborted only if it is not killed as a result (provided that it is a genuine medical possibility). Block claims to derive such a conclusion from the libertarian axiom of non-aggression, which prohibits harming other human beings (even those not [yet] conscious of their humanity), but allows for forcible removal of trespassers from one's private property (in this case the woman's womb). Further, he denies that the voluntariness of the pregnancy obliges the woman to carry the fetus to term; such an obligation could stem only from there being an implicit contract between the two, and Block denies the existence of any such contract on the ground that one cannot consent (even implicitly) to any decision made before one came into being.

Thus, he contends that the only valid reason for obliging the mother to carry out the pregnancy could stem from the existence of a relevant positive right (e.g., fetus's right to life), which is a notion incompatible with libertarian ethics. And yet, curiously enough, as indicated in the first paragraph, he also asserts that lethally aborting the fetus counts as a murder only given the existence of non-lethal ways of performing abortion, but does not so count if no such methods are available. this in itself seems to me to undermine Block's proposal, since it appears to introduce an arbitrary complication into the principle of non-aggression--after all, if evicting a trespasser is a right of every human being, and one should not be thought of as responsible for what happens to the trespasser after he is evicted, then why should the moral evaluation of the act of eviction depend on what eviction options are available and on which of them is applied to the trespasser?

In any event, I shall not pursue this objection any further. Instead, I shall argue that even in those cases where there are no non-lethal eviction options available, aborting the fetus should count as murder. Why do i think so? Falling back on Block's "airplane ride" example (1977) will be convenient in this context. Obviously enough, Block agrees that inviting someone for an airplane ride and then, while 10,000 feet up in the air, asking that person to leave would be an example of a very wicked breach of contract. But now imagine a different, though related scenario, in which X gets Y drunk to the point of the latter's passing out and drags him onboard the plane, and then, as soon as Y regains consciousness, asks him to jump out. (1) There is no contract involved, and for the sake of the argument we can even suppose there is no implicit contract involved (we might assume that X and Y disclaim any reliance on standard hospitality customs).

Now, it seems to me that the conjunction of the premises that it is X who is responsible for bringing Y onto his property and that it is X who is responsible for then removing Y from his property, when it is known that the outside circumstances are lethal, implies that X is responsible for Y's death and hence is a murderer (X is the crucial and indispensable element of every link of the causal chain in question). To bring up some additional analogies--it appears obvious to me that pushing someone out of one's room into an area full of blazing flames, poisonous fumes, etc., would count as an instance of murder. But these types of situations are strictly parallel to the case of abortion (again, let us remember that we are talking about the scenarios in which there are no methods of removing the fetus from the womb without killing it). To the fetus, the outside world is a lethal place, and if it is the mother who is responsible for bringing it into the safe haven of the womb (analogous to the airplane from one of our previous examples) and it is the mother who now wants to expel it from that safe haven, it is also the mother who is taking upon herself the direct responsibility for the fetus's death (the mother is the crucial and indispensable element of every link of the causal chain in question). …

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