THE BLOG
06/01/2016 12:13 pm ET Updated Jun 02, 2017

An Open Letter to Senator Rand Paul

Dear Senator Paul,

I was surprised to receive a letter from you recently, soliciting funding for a group wishing to make abortion illegal. Because I take your libertarian position seriously, I write to explain why I see a contradiction.

In the U.S. we have quite a history of trying to legislate morality. We tried alcohol prohibition, but found it led to a huge underground market for rum-runners and speakeasies. To favor repeal of prohibition isn't a position in favor of alcoholism, which is a serious disease. I don't know of reliable data relating alcohol consumption before and after prohibition was introduced and then repealed, but casual observation suggests that it wasn't changed much by the legal changes.

Gambling was also illegal in most places (except Las Vegas and then Atlantic City). There was also a thriving underground numbers racket, dominated in most places by the mafia. We now have government provided numbers games. Again, I don't know of data about the total amount of gambling as these changes occurred, but the demand for illegal gambling services seems to have diminished, except perhaps for gambling on sports. Favoring legalization does not mean that one thinks gambling addiction isn't a problem. But it is better handled medically and by bankruptcy courts than by knee-capping.

The war on drugs is another example. We have created a huge underground market for illicit drugs of all sorts. Clearly what we've been doing hasn't worked. To address drug addiction medically instead of criminally isn't to endorse it, but rather to recognize that we can better marshal our resources if we focus, medically, on the demand for drugs, rather than try, unsuccessfully, to reduce the supply.

Abortion was illegal before Roe v. Wade. That's not to say that there weren't abortions; there certainly were. For pregnant women too poor to fly to a jurisdiction permitting abortion, this meant back alleys and rusty coat-hangers. Once again, where there's a demand for an illegal commodity or service, the underground will supply it. There's nothing to be gained in going back to these bad old days. To support a public policy of continued legalized abortion is not to endorse abortion. One can oppose it on ethical, moral, and/or religious grounds, just as one can oppose alcoholism, and gambling or drug addiction, without supporting making them illegal.

I think there are sound libertarian reasons to support continuing to have abortion be legal and available.