NB: I am fervently pro-choice. I want abortion to be safe and legal, I want laws to that effect in all 50 states and federally, and I would absolutely support a constitutional amendment explicitly recognizing the right of bodily autonomy. Read on at your own risk.
A few nights ago I wound up inadvertently pissing a lot of my friends off by ruminating a bit on how technology might render any law prohibiting abortion irrelevant. Admittedly I was pretty short in my posting and a bit flippant in my tone, and so I was basically accused of wanting to bring back coat hangers. They were also pissed when I drew equivalencies between the right to bear arms and the right to an abortion.
However, after spending considerable time reading and writing about the leaked Supreme Court decision, I think the ideas are worth expanding on, and writing about more seriously. So…
One of the biggest ongoing debates in the libertarian movement has always been how do we get from here-a very statist and imperfect world-to there, a world of individual liberty and free, autonomous individuals voluntarily interacting with each other. Usually the ideas fall into three main camps: working through the political system (aka the Libertarian Party, or co-opting one of the majors), armed revolt or waiting for things to collapse on their own (what I tend to call the “nihilist libertarian” school of thought), and building competing institutions, such as private education, private security or arbitration firms, alternative currency etc. Related to this debate is how much defiance of bad law is morally acceptable and practical-civil disobedience in the now, not just in the 1950s and 60s. History does seem to show that laws that are unenforceable eventually change. Laws that are resisted change as well. Prohibition is the classic example, but so too the Jim Crow laws that mandated segregation. The draft during the Vietnam era. Laws prohibiting pornography, or dissemination of birth control information. All of these eventually fell because people refused to comply with them, often actively resisted them, and eventually the law had no choice but to catch up.
What about today? Let’s start with guns. There were homebrew guns long before 3d printers (Philip Luty wrote one of the other famous banned books, for example), but 3d printing technology has definitely accelerated the process. In 2013, the Liberator .380 was a single shot pistol that fell apart after 8-10 shots. Less than 10 years later the FGC-9 has survived hundreds and even thousands of rounds, and NaviGoBoom’s Amigo Grande has pushed 3d printed weapons into rifle calibers. Despite the best efforts of gun grabbers, technology may soon render any firearm law irrelevant and push firearms construction and ownership well outside the reach of the state. The right to bear arms may well wind up guaranteed by entrepreneurs and hackers rather than laws, even if both is ideal.
What about abortion though? What’s the connection with guns? The first is a simple question of natural rights. For those of us that are pro-choice (and I understand that not everyone is), the right to abortion is about bodily autonomy. Even if you’re pro-life I don’t think the idea of bodily autonomy as a natural right should be in question, contra Alito and company. You either own yourself or you don’t-and the right of self defense, the right to bear arms is how you guarantee the right of bodily autonomy. Much as with the other natural rights, it is the insurance policy, and the last check and balance.
While armed protests, like jury and state nullification, absolutely have a mixed record in history, they have been used to be positive ends. The penny auctions of the 1930s and the armed aspects of the civil rights movement, along with the Black Panthers immediately come to mind. The fact that the Portland protests, which while they didn’t have guns, but did feature a lot more fighting back, were able to keep the cops bottled up and effectively useless for weeks. Why not have armed supporters standing, Black Panther style, outside of abortion clinics to guard patients and staff? Lefties, if you believe in bodily autonomy then it’s worth defending-not just with words, but with force. And if the Supreme Court gets guns as right as they got abortion wrong, which is likely, then suddenly that’s going to be much more possible.
There’s also another possible connection. In addition to being a small scale pundit, I’m also a geek, and as such I think a lot about the future, and what could come to pass. 3D printed guns represent a decentralization of technology, as well as a resulting decentralization of power. Similar efforts have been underway for a long time, in computing (such as Linux and just assembling one’s own system), in farming, especially the urban farming movement, and even in other industries as people rediscover old skills and the joy or necessity of making one’s own stuff.
Medical technology has also been starting to decentralize over the past 20ish years as well.
Obviously since things are much more complicated the pace has been a lot slower. But you’ve seen groups like the 4 Thieves Vinegar Collective emerge. Genome@home and Folding@home have used distributed computing to help with genetics research. 3D printing has made some inroads in prosthetics and other medical devices. Which leads to the question that, admittedly sans enough surrounding context, greatly bothered many of my friends: we’ve had abortion recipes going back to the ancient Greeks (and Ben Franklin!). Even before Roe v. Wade abortion was widely available, whether legally or illegally, especially if you had money. Given this fact and technological trends, I wonder if enterprising young biohackers will figure out and publish how to make medical grade recipes, or how to 3d print an easy and safe abortion device that will make any laws moot. Can the medical equivalent of Defense Distributed or the gatalog be made? And if so, why not envision a world where abortion becomes a truly private decision, not because of the return of the coat hanger, but because what can be done at home is just as safe and effective as any Planned Parenthood visit?
Let me once again be 100% clear: a world that requires armed protestors at abortion clinics, or diy solutions that hide from the state is NOT my first choice. Women and trans folk with uteri already face a difficult enough decision when considering an abortion, they sure as hell shouldn’t have the state bearing down on them as well Abortion should be safe and legal as a function of respecting bodily autonomy, and I believe that we should continue fighting through the political process to make sure that continues. BUT…a world where the edicts of the state didn’t matter because the private citizenry had found a way around them, more or less guaranteeing access for anyone that needed the service…it’s a poor second choice, but it does seem to be the next best thing. And history has shown that people, over time, are often remarkably good about getting around bad ideas, especially bad ideas turned into bad laws.