The Old-School Liberal

“Freedom granted only when it is known beforehand that its effects will be beneficial is not freedom” — Friedrich Hayek

What is the state’s role in regard to abortion?

Posted by dagnygalt on December 1, 2007

3D Image of a fetusThe issue of abortion has blown up in recent elections and passionately divided the electorate between the two different “pros”—pro-life and pro-choice. The main conflict on the abortion issue is that few people fall in the middle and thus fewer are willing to compromise. Given the divisiveness of this issue, policy makers have almost always addressed the sanctity of two groups of rights: women’s rights, and human rights (supposing fetuses to be right-bearing humans). The classical liberal case for individual liberty mandates that individuals be free from the coercion of the state to pursue their own aims, insofar as these aims do not infringe upon the rights of others. Clearly, the issue of abortion comes down to whether fetuses ought to be considered to be right-bearing humans. If so, the state should prevent any person who tries to take the right to life away from an unborn child; if not, the state should allow a woman to do as she sees fit—since she is not hampering the rights of anyone protected under the Constitution. Unfortunately, the point at which an embryo becomes a human is a matter of much speculation, and depends largely on the religious faith of those making the decision. Accordingly, we are unlikely to convince people of our time about whether abortion is right or wrong. Similarly, at the time the Constitution was written, there was not a clear consensus on whether slaves should be part of the group of men that were “created equal,” and should therefore be treated equally under the law. That issue was decided years after the ratification of the constitution, when the moral framework of society had evolved sufficiently to recognize the transgression of enslaving human beings. In the case of abortion, until a similar moral consensus can be formed, we must confine ourselves to determining the interim role of the state concerning this difficult issue.

I would argue, that people who abhor abortion as murder should not be required, through taxation, to pay for someone else’s daughter to have an abortion. Those that do maintain the belief that it is a woman’s right to control the occurrences within her body through abortion must also recognize the rights of others to not have their resources allocated to what they view to be a morally reprehensible act. Therefore, even though the morality of abortion is a question not soon likely to be decided by a commonly held system of values, the state’s role of funding abortions ought to be more easily decided.

Lets get to the facts and you can decide for yourself. In 2003, women chose to have 1.29 million abortions, totaling 43 million legal abortions since 1973.1 In perspective, the abortion ratio (the proportion of abortions of total pregnancies) was 24%–yes indeed, this means that one-fourth of all pregnancies were terminated by women’s choice.2

Now that we understand the extent of abortions, we must look at their unit cost. On average, abortions cost $350-$500 dollars in early pregnancy and $650-$700 in later pregnancy.3 Others have reported $487 for a surgical abortion at 10 weeks gestation.4

To calculate that (1.3 million x $487), $621 million dollars is a lot of money.
Clearly the subject of who pays for abortion is not one of insignificant consequence. Today, more than one-third of US women are eligible for publicly funded abortions. This public funding has resulted in 630,000 abortions each year 5, which totals $307 million dollars each year. When we say “publicly funded,” this means that you paid for a fraction of this abortion through taxes. If you wonder about your daughter at home, 4.9 million sexually active teenagers also get publicly funded supported services (abortion is included in these services). 6

So alas, abortion is an expensive choice we are providing for many women and especially young women, at the expense of many who believe it is akin to murder. Governor Mitt Romney also agrees that this is too high a cost to American taxpayers and American liberty. Since we can’t agree on the ethics of abortion, we ought to at least be able reach a consensus that it is wrong for the state to force more than half of our nation’s tax payers to fund something they strongly oppose.

Another reason to agree with Romney’s opposition to public funding of abortion is that the Guttmacher Institute found that 20-35% of eligible women chose not to have an abortion when the funding was not available to them to have an abortion.7 Thus, the occurrence of abortion, which many believe to be an immoral act, can be significantly reduced without infringing upon the liberty of the women who make that choice. In fact, eliminating public funding of abortion would not only preserve the choice of women facing the decision of whether to abort, but also preserve the liberty of taxpayers to use their resources for endeavors that are not against their moral beliefs. Regardless of one’s perception of the morality of abortion, I agree with Mitt Romney that “we the people” should not be forced to pay for what many believe to be immoral.

1, Finer LB and Henshaw SK, Estimates of U.S. Abortion Incidence in 2001–2003, 2006, , accessed Nov. 29, 2006.
2, Finer LB and Henshaw SK, Estimates of U.S. Abortion Incidence in 2001–2003, 2006, , accessed Nov. 29, 2006.;

ortion/facts/economics.htm, accessed 15 May 2007.
4. Henshaw SK and Finer LB, The accessibility of abortion services in the United States, 2001, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2003, 35(1):16–24.
5. AGI, Fulfilling the Promise: Public Policy and U.S. Family Planning Clinics, New York: AGI, 2000.
6. AGI, Contraceptive needs and services, 2001–2002, , accessed Dec. 21, 2006.
7. Heather Boonstra and Adam Sonfield, “Rights Without Access: Revisiting Public Funding of Abortion for Poor Women,” The Guttmacher Report on Public Policy vol.3(2) (April 2000).


5 Responses to “What is the state’s role in regard to abortion?”

  1. Joy said

    I think two points here should be contested:

    One, taxpayers (even pro-choice taxpayers) have to pay for all kinds of government endeavors that they may find morally reprehensible. God only knows how much money could have been shaved off my taxes if I were never required to support the war in Iraq, which I have always been vehemently against. But I suppose that it shouldn’t go both ways, right?

    Two, the fact that 20-35% of eligible women chose not to have an abortion when the funding was not available to them PROVES that these funds are desperately needed. A couple hundred bucks is a drop in the bucket when it comes to prenatal care fees and the cost of giving birth. If these women can’t afford $350 to end a pregnancy they don’t want, they certainly can’t afford to birth a healthy child, much less take care of them afterward. I’m guessing that if you’re in a situation where you can’t get a couple hundred together within a few weeks for an emergency, you probably don’t have private health insurance. The average cost of having a hospital birth in the United States is $8,800.

  2. oskarlange said


    Thanks for your comments.

    I agree that it is frustrating to have to fund something to which you are strongly opposed (e.g. unjust wars, abortion, public radio, etc.). Our government does a lot of stupid things, but I don’t think the fact that it is common makes it acceptable. Also, it’s not clear to me that the people who want the war and the people who want abortions are mutually exclusive groups, so I’m not quite sure what you mean by “both ways.”

    Whether or not funds for abortion are desperately needed, I don’t think you’ve stated your case clearly enough. Frankly, the fact that 20-35% of eligible women chose not to have an abortion when the funding was not available says nothing unless you compare it to the percentage of women that chose not to have an abortion when the funding was available. Maybe you could elaborate a little bit. I’d also be interested in knowing your source also. 20-35% of eligible women choosing not to abort, suggests that 65-80% of eligible women choose to abort, which seems quite high to me, unless I’m misunderstanding what you mean by “eligible.” Even if there were a significant difference from a control group, I think it would take more to establish a “desperate need” for such funding. I don’t mean to belittle your argument, but rather invite you to further elaborate what you mean.

    Finally, though I am personally opposed to the Iraq war, there is a public good argument to justify the state’s role in providing national security for everyone– specifically, the non-excludable and non-rival nature of national security (see Public good). I see no similar economic justification for the state providing abortions for everyone who can’t afford it themselves, especially since every unwanted pregnancy (with the exception of rape) is a direct consequence of a choice made by an individual. When the state decides to pay for the consequences of a particular behavior, that behavior is encouraged, and the costs to the state increase. More importantly, personal responsibility is obviated, since the state (other taxpayers really) takes care of it. I think publicly funded abortion is significantly different from national security, to the extent to which we should probably discuss the issues separately, rather than argue by analogy.

    I am personally opposed to abortion, but have not completely decided whether the state should use its coercive powers to make it illegal. I think that eliminating the state’s proactive role in funding abortion seems to be a reasonable compromise, at least until we can come to some form of consensus on the larger issue.

  3. rhys said

    Currently, at least 37 states have fetal homicide laws. The states include: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. At least 15 states have fetal homicide laws that apply to the earliest stages of pregnancy (“any state of gestation,” “conception,” “fertilization” or post-fertilization).

    If these laws are not unConstitutional, then abortion must be illegal in these States according to the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

    US Constitution;14th Amendment;Section 1:
    “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

    Should not the criminals, which destroy the life of a fetus during the commission of a violent crime, be afforded the same protection from prosecution as abortionists? Should not abortionists be as liable to the people of a State for their crime of fetal homicide? The 14th Amendment to the Constitution requires that these two classes, violent offenders and abortionists, be afforded equal protection of the law. Unless there is some part of the Constitution that invalidates fetal homicide laws, then abortion must be illegal in the States with fetal homicide laws on the books.

  4. oskarlange said

    Good Point, Rhys! I had never thought of it that way… surely someone has proposed this argument before. What do pro-choicers say in response?

  5. Gary Halversen said

    Good discussion. I am against abortion because as a physician I feel that fetuses are alive and are murdered in abortion. That of course is an opinion. There are women who are not phased by having an abortion, however, I have seen many patients who have regrets for the remainder of their lives for having had an abortion. How do we teach responsibility for actions. How can we consider a fetus unwanted when people perform the act that creates a fetus knowing that is what the act is.

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