In recent years, antiabortion activists have stepped up their attacks on a woman’s right to abortion and have achieved a series of victories in their efforts to outlaw the procedure. This increasing assault poses a major threat not only to women’s right to abortion, but, more broadly, to individual rights as such. Rights form a logical unity, and to the extent that any are threatened, all are threatened. The antiabortionists’ war on a woman’s right to her body is ultimately a war on all our rights, including our rights to property, free trade, and freedom of speech. To demonstrate this, we will briefly survey the goals, methods, successes, and rationale of today’s antiabortion movement; we will then turn to the reasons women seek abortions, to the nature of rights and the positive case for a woman’s right to abortion, and finally to the reasons why any restriction on abortion rights necessarily clears the way for violations of other rights.1

The Antiabortion Movement

For the most part, today’s antiabortion movement opposes abortion across the board, seeking to ban all abortions from the moment of conception. The movement is split, however, over how best to achieve this goal.

One wing of the movement advocates an incremental approach. Recognizing that a total ban on abortion is not politically feasible at this time, the incrementalists seek to restrict the right to abortion by myriad regulations, such as mandating waiting periods and ultrasounds. By such means, they aim to make abortions increasingly difficult to obtain, thereby reducing the number of abortions as much as possible within the constraints imposed by Roe v. Wade. Referring to a state-level late-term abortion ban, Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann endorsed this approach, saying, “Sometimes there are steps that you take to get to the point where you want to be.”2 The Susan B. Anthony List (a prominent antiabortion activist group) is an effective advocate of this approach. In order to “keep up the momentum to achieve our ultimate goal of ending abortion in this country,” its “Pro-life Presidential Leadership Pledge” asks presidential candidates to “select only pro-life appointees for relevant Cabinet and Executive Branch positions,” to “advance and sign into law a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” and more. As of mid-November 2011, Republican presidential candidates Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, and Rick Perry had signed the pledge.3

This incrementalist approach has been remarkably successful, likely due to the fact that each proposed regulation is debated in isolation, not seen as part of an integrated strategy to enact a total ban of abortion. The Guttmacher Institute reports that a record number of restrictions on abortion were enacted in the first half of 2011, including mandatory waiting periods (5 states), limits on private insurance coverage (4 states), bans on abortion after twenty weeks (5 states), and restrictions on medication-induced abortion (6 states). In addition, the Ohio House passed a measure banning abortion after a fetus’s heartbeat can be detected, as early as six weeks.4 As of this writing, 13 states limit private or exchange insurance coverage for abortion, 24 states have waiting periods for women seeking abortion, and 39 states limit later-term abortions. In addition, 24 states now mandate counseling beyond the requirements of informed consent and specify information that must be given to women—information including questionable claims about the alleged ability of the fetus to feel pain (10 states), the supposed negative psychological consequences of abortion (7 states), and the alleged link between abortion and breast cancer (6 states).6 This wing seeks forthrightly to enact a total ban on abortion in America via state and, ultimately, federal constitutional amendments that would grant full legal rights to zygotes from the moment of fertilization. For example, Colorado Right To Life “commits to never compromise on God’s law . . . [and] understands there are no exceptions which would allow for the intentional killing of an innocent human life [i.e., an embryo or fetus].”7 . . .


Acknowledgment: The authors would like to thank Jennifer Armstrong for reviewing the citations.

1. For a full-length discussion of abortion rights, see Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh, “The ‘Personhood’ Movement is Anti-Life,” Coalition for Secular Government, August 31, 2010,

2. Craig Robinson, “Bachmann on Late Term Abortion,” Iowa Republican, October 17, 2011,“that’s-a-state-issue”/.

3. “Who Will Lead for Life in 2012?,” Susan B. Anthony List, (The names listed appeared on the web page as of November 17, 2011.)

4. “States Enact Record Number of Abortion Restrictions in First Half of 2011,” Guttmacher Institute, July 13, 2011,

5. “Counseling and Waiting Periods for Abortion,” Guttmacher Institute, October 1, 2011,

6. “Statement of Values,” Colorado Right to Life,

7. “Statement of Values,” Colorado Right to Life.

8. “Election Results: Amendment 48—Definition of Person,” Denver Post,; “Election Results: Amendment 62—Definition of Person,” Denver Post,

9. “Election Results: Initiative 26—Definition of Person,”,

10. “What If Roe Fell,” Center for Reproductive Rights, November 2007,

11. “About Us,” Personhood USA,

12. Pro-choice Gary Johnson is the notable exception. See Gary Johnson, “Issues: Civil Liberties,”

13. Kristen East, “GOP Hopefuls Discuss Abortion Policy in Des Moines,” Daily Iowan, October 24, 2011,; Alex Seitz-Wald, “Romney: I Would ‘Absolutely’ Support State Constitutional Amendment To Define Life As Beginning At Conception,” ThinkProgress, October 3, 2011,; Peggy Fikac, “Despite States’ Rights Stand, Perry Supports Federal Amendment ‘To Protect Innocent Life,’” Houston Chronicle, July 29, 2011, Romney’s support for “personhood” has been ambiguous; see Jason Salzman, “Media Should Report that Romney Once Supported Personhood, then Flipped, and then Possibly Flipped Again,”, November 18, 2011,

14. Shannon McCaffrey, “Cain Says He Opposes Abortion Without Exceptions,” AP News, October 30, 2011,

15. Ron Paul, “Issues: Abortion,” Elsewhere, Paul has indicated support for the morning-after pill in cases of rape or incest. See “Ron Paul: Cases of Rape, Incest Should Be Dealt With by Morning-After Pill, Not Abortion,” Washington Independent, April 28, 2011,

16. “2010 Election Candidate Questionnaire,” Northern Kentucky Right to Life, See also Ari Armstrong, “Rand Paul Wants Total Abortion Bans,” Free Colorado, May 26, 2010,

17. “Home,” Personhood USA,

18. “About Us,” Abort73,

19. “Marjorie Dannenfelser,” SBA List,

20. “Mississippi Personhood Amendment Ad Warns that Opponents Mock God,” God Discussion, October 22, 2011,

21. “Amendment 26: Why?,” Personhood Mississippi,

22. “Bachmann on Late Term Abortion,” Iowa Republican, October 12, 2011,

23. “Abortion a ‘God-given right’?,” Susan B. Anthony List Blog,

24. Frank Pavone, “The Bible’s Teaching Against Abortion,” Priests for Life,

25. “Pastors and Churches,” Personhood Colorado,

26. Lawrence Finer and Stanley Henshaw, “Abortion Incidence and Services in the United States in 2000,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, January/February 2003, table 1,

27. “Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States,” Guttmacher Institute, August 2011,

28. Kurt Barnhart, “Ectopic Pregnancy,” New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 361, no. 4, July 23, 2009, p. 379, See also “Ectopic Pregnancy,” A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia, February 21, 2010,

29. See the section on “Abortions to Protect a Woman’s Health” in Armstrong and Hsieh, “‘Personhood’ Movement is Anti-Life,” as well the noncommittal discussion of ectopic pregnancy in “Is Abortion Ever Justified?,”,

30. “Over Their Dead Bodies: Denial of Access to Emergency Obstetric Care and Therapeutic Abortion in Nicaragua,” Human Rights Watch, October 2007, p. 11,

31. David Grimes, “The Continuing Need for Late Abortions,” Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 280, no. 8, August 26, 1998, p. 749,

32. Ari Armstrong, “Anti-Abortion ‘Personhood’ Tries for Round Three,” Free Colorado, November 21, 2011,

33. Molly Ginty, “Late-Term Abortion Saved These Women’s Lives,” WeNews, October 28, 2004,

34. Amy Harmon, “Prenatal Test Puts Down Syndrome in Hard Focus,” New York Times, May 9, 2007,

35. Lawrence Finer et al., “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, vol. 37, no. 3, September 2005, pp. 113, 117,

36. Grimes, “Continuing Need for Late Abortions,” p. 748.

37. Finer et al., “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions,” p. 113.

38. Finer et al., “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions,” p. 113.

39. “State Facts About Abortion: Colorado,” Guttmacher Institute,

40. “Amendment 26: Why?,” Personhood Mississippi.

41. See, for example, “Amendment 26: Why?,” Personhood Mississippi; and “What is Personhood,” Personhood USA,

42. See Craig Biddle, “Ayn Rand’s Theory of Rights: The Moral Foundation of a Free Society,” The Objective Standard, vol. 6, no. 3,

43. Ayn Rand, “Man’s Rights,” Virtue of Selfishness,

44. See Leonard Peikoff, “Abortion Rights are Pro-Life,”

45. See the sections on “Bans of Common Birth Control Methods,” “Bans of Common Fertility Treatments,” and “Bans of Embryonic Stem-Cell Research” in Armstrong and Hsieh, “The ‘Personhood’ Movement is Anti-Life.”

46. See the sections on “Harsh Legal Penalties” and “Bans of Elective Abortions” in Armstrong and Hsieh, “‘Personhood’ Movement is Anti-Life.”.

47. Laura Zuckerman, “Woman Wins Court Order Against 1972 Idaho Abortion Law,” Reuters, September 23, 2011,

48. Kirsty Nancarrow and Melinda Howells, “Couple Not Guilty in Abortion Trial,” ABC, October 14, 2010, See also Michelle Dicinoski, “Australian Woman Prosecuted for Medical Abortion,” Women’s Media Center, September 16, 2010,

49. Alexi A. Wright and Ingrid T. Katz, “Roe versus Reality—Abortion and Women’s Health,” New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 355, no. 1, July 6, 2006,

50. See Paul Hsieh, “Turning Medicine into Political Football,” Denver Post, March 24, 2010,; Paul Hsieh, “Mandatory Health Insurance: Wrong for Massachusetts, Wrong for America,” The Objective Standard, vol. 3, no. 3, Fall 2008,

51. Jim Richards, “The Believer and Alcohol,” Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, August 30, 2006,

52. Russell Goldman, “Bachmann Signs Pledge for Ban on Porn and Same-Sex Marriage,” ABC News, July 8, 2011, See also Craig Biddle, “Religion Vs. Free Speech,” The Objective Standard, vol. 1, no. 2, Summer 2006,

53. See Diana Hsieh, “Christianity Versus Capitalism,” Skepticamp 2011, August 27, 2011,; Diana Hsieh, Philosophy in Action, February 27, 2011,; Leonard Peikoff, “Religion Versus America,” Ayn Rand Institute, November 11, 2002,

54. See Ray Bohlin, “Christian Environmentalism,” Probe Ministries, 1992,; Evangelical Environmental Network,

55. Rick Santorum, 2011 Western Conservative Summit,

56. Philip Pullella, “Vatican Calls for Global Authority on Economy, Raps ‘Idolatry of the Market,’” Reuters, October 24, 2011,

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