When it comes to the question of life, the traditional libertarian position is irreconcilable with the values of many pro-life advocates. In general, libertarians are pro-choice but anti–death penalty. That is, they are okay with terminating the life of the unborn but have some moral opposition to terminating the lives of killers.
Though a simplification, this sums up the complex nature of the libertarian position. Is spite of the apparent incoherence on this issue, the Libertarian party is more unified than the other major parties this year, which speaks volumes about this election cycle.
As the Republican national convention wrapped up in the expected fashion — Donald Trump’s pontificating for well over an hour with scant facts, an overabundance of self-aggrandizement, and plenty of pointing at bogeymen — many Republicans searched in vain for a sign that the Trump campaign would begin expressing conservative values. In that moment, those on the right who want to vote but who cannot bring themselves to vote for either Trump or for Hillary were left to contemplate the alternatives.
It’s an odd position for such voters. For the first time in recent memory, a great many traditionally Republican voters don’t trust the party’s nominee — and, by extension, the GOP itself — on key conservative issues such as trade or religious liberty. And many are particularly concerned about Trump’s position on abortion. Unusually, pro-life voters are faced with an ugly reality: In 2016, there is no clear pro-life candidate.
Already, I can hear the sputtering defense of Trump supporters: “But, but, but: Trump says he’s pro-life now!” Indeed, he does. And yet he has praised Planned Parenthood as recently as this year, several times, including during a debate in Texas; he also said this year that women should face “some sort of punishment” if abortion were to become illegal, demonstrating that he does not understand this issue at all. And in 1999, he told Tim Russert he would not support a ban on partial-birth abortion. For these reasons, many will hold fast to their Never Trump vows.
So what should these voters do? Should disaffected pro-life voters write in Ted Cruz as the last conservative standing from the primaries, or should they throw caution to the wind and cast a protest vote for someone such as Tom Selleck or Peyton Manning?
Or should they vote for Gary Johnson?
The vast majority of Republicans are pro-life, so it might seem a bit unfair to accuse the Republican party of being untrustworthy on abortion issues. Nevertheless, the Republican party has not been as useful to pro-lifers as it might have been. In the run-up to the 2014 midterms, the GOP promised that if voters delivered both houses of Congress into Republican hands, lawmakers would put a federal 20-weeks’-gestation abortion ban on President Obama’s desk in 2015. That effort fizzled out in the Senate last September in a 54–42 show vote the Republican leadership offered up to appease conservatives.
The vote was an expected but disappointing result after the months of weekly videos, released earlier in the year from the Center for Medical Progress, that illustrated the gore of mangled body parts from the aftermath of abortions, as well as Planned Parenthood’s illegal selling of these parts for profit to medical-research facilities. In addition, attempts by pro-life members of Congress to cut off the federal dollars Planned Parenthood receives, ostensibly for women’s “health care,” have met with defeat.
This last issue, the allocation of federal dollars, is the primary reason Gary Johnson is the candidate who is friendliest to the pro-life movement this election. It is possible that Republicans could lose seats in both the House and the Senate in 2016 and that neither a Trump nor a Clinton presidency would offer any hope of enacting strong pro-life legislation. In that case, the best we could hope for would be a president who opposed spending federal tax dollars on abortion. This would be a consolation prize, to be sure, but if there’s one thing conservatives need to learn to appreciate again, it’s the incremental win.
There’s only one way that conservative and libertarian ideas about abortion will get any attention this year: The Libertarian candidate must earn a place on the debate stage with Clinton and Trump.
While the 20-week abortion ban failed at the federal level, states have had far more success in passing late-term abortion restrictions and fetal-pain laws. The most recent legislation in Utah, for instance, requires abortion providers to administer anesthesia to the baby before performing the final procedure. The U.S. Supreme Court struck a painful blow in June with a 5–3 decision in the case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, overturning a Texas law that required abortion clinics to meet certain health and safety standards. State governments, however, have been far more responsive to new developments in viability and fetal pain. Gary Johnson and the Libertarian party are generally pro-choice, framing abortion as an individual-liberty issue, but they staunchly support states’ rights as enshrined in the Tenth Amendment. Thus, it is highly unlikely that a Johnson administration would interfere with states’ efforts to restrict abortion within their borders.
Abortion is not the only issue that should prompt conservatives to vote for Gary Johnson. Neither Trump nor Clinton is a champion of small government, liberty, and the U.S. Constitution. Both appear clueless when it comes to the ideas set forth by our Founders that make us a country of free individuals — the very ideas and values on which conservatives and libertarians agree. We agree that it’s vital to learn from our past, and we trust that we’ll get the best outcomes when the government gets out of the way.
There’s only one way that conservative and libertarian ideas about abortion, small government, trade, immigration, and free markets will get any attention this year: The Libertarian candidate must earn a place on the debate stage with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. According to the current debate rules, a candidate must be polling at a minimum average of 15 percent nationally to participate in the debates. If enough disaffected Republicans and Democrats back Gary Johnson, Americans will be reminded that there are other options besides the two unfit major-party candidates voters are stuck with this year.
At this juncture, we are seemingly left with only two choices for president, both of whom have abysmal records on abortion. It’s a choice between bad and worse. But as pro-life conservatives, we can vote for a third-party candidate who would do less damage to the pro-life movement thanTrump or Hillary most certainly would wreak — and Gary Johnson is the logical choice.