Abortion Funding ≠ Abortion Rights

Critics of the GOP's efforts to restrict Federal funding of abortion and related services confuse the concept of the right to have an abortion with the idea that someone has a claim on taxpayer dollars.

The Cato Institute’s Roger Pilon makes an important point regarding the ongoing debate about the House GOP’s efforts to restrict funding for abortion and related services:

Opponents of the push to deny federal funding to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers will try to inflame the debate by characterizing the push as an attack on the Supreme Court’s discovery of a right to abortion. But the issue goes much deeper and is perfectly generalizable: it’s a push to get government out of one more controversial area of life.

Most modern liberals fail to grasp — or ignore — a fundamental principle of political theory, namely, that the more we do collectively, the more liberty is restricted and passions are inflamed. That’s why classical liberals asked government to provide only “public goods” like national defense, law enforcement, and clean air. Abortions are private goods (for some). Under current law, women are free to seek them from willing providers. And others are free to assist those who cannot afford an abortion. But no one should be compelled to provide or pay for another’s abortion. It’s a matter, quite simply, of freedom.

This sentiment pretty much encapsulates my own position on this issue. Although I find the practice of abortion distasteful and would prefer that we lived in a world where contraception was more widely used, I’m generally pro-choice when it comes to the early months of pregnancy. For the most part, that’s because I find the idea of punishing a woman for what is obviously a painful emotional decision to be troublesome and, when it comes right down to it, the moral weight in my mind comes down on the side of an actual living human being rather than an embryo or early term fetus. At some point. though. pregnancy reaches a stage where termination for reasons other than a threat to the life or health of the mother would seem to be inappropriate, especially if it’s a stage where viability outside the womb is at least a possibility. Even then, I’m not sure that criminal prosecution is appropriate except in perhaps the most extreme cases. When it comes to public funding, though, I’m generally opposed to the idea. This also happens to be the general political and legal consensus we’ve reached in this country on the issue, and it’s the reason why there hasn’t been any significant moves on the abortion issue from either side in some years.

The argument being made by many on the left that denying funding for these procedures is somehow an attack on women’s rights, though. is simply false. First of all, nobody has a right to taxpayer dollars to begin with. Second, nothing that Republicans in Congress are doing would change the legal status of abortion in the United States. Yes, there are moves being made in some place that are clearly aimed at restricting abortion rights far beyond the limits that the Supreme Court has allowed in Roe v. Wade, and it’s progeny, but that strikes me as an entirely separate issue from the question of whether or not someone is entitled to federal dollars for what is, in the end, an elective medical procedure. Notwithstanding what I said above about my own opinions on abortion, it’s clear to me that no such entitlement exists.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. mantis says:

    Planned Parenthood cannot, by law, use federal money for abortions. Federal money cannot be used for abortions anywhere, really.

    What Pence and others on the right really aim to accomplish with measure like those he’s proposing is make sure contraception, testing for STDs, family planning, and cancer screening are less available, especially to poor people. That’s how they roll.

  2. Steven Plunk says:

    There have always been those who make the claim if you don’t fund it you’re against it. Arts, education, abortion, or whatever else comes to mind. It works both ways as others might claim you’re against defense if you don’t fund it properly. That’s why we’re broke and getting broker by the day.

  3. EddieInCA says:

    You can pay a one time fee for the abortion, or you can pay for 18 years worth of food stamps, welfare, emergency room care, criminal activity, incarceration, and, more likely than not, another generation of unwed, single mothers.

  4. steve says:

    How do you feel about the laws that prohibit private insurers from paying for abortion in some states? I thought thought that most libertarians acknowledged a role for government providing care for the disabled and needy. What would be the libertarian argument favoring not paying for an early abortion for a disabled person who does not have the means to pay if you are already paying for their medical needs?


  5. Herb says:

    How much does the US spend on abortion funding and is this an issue that really warrants such perennial attention?

    “The argument being made by many on the left that denying funding for these procedures is somehow an attack on women’s rights, though. is simply false.”

    Show me a lefty making this argument. Sounds like a strawman to me.

    PS. Liberals are also tired of being told by libertarians what we “fail to grasp.”

  6. Brummagem Joe says:

    BTW Doug remember those 4% GDP growth forecasts in Obama’s budget that you said were “nonsensical”?

    “Top Fed officials now expect the output of goods and services to grow by 3.4 percent to 3.9 percent this year, up from the previous forecast, released in November, of 3 percent to 3.6 percent

    Perhaps not?

  7. Dodd says:

    It’s not confusion, Doug. It’s an entirely purposeful attempt to blur the distinction.

  8. sam says:

    “Most modern liberals fail to grasp — or ignore — a fundamental principle of political theory, namely, that the more we do collectively, the more liberty is restricted…”

    Fundamental, unprovable axiom of libertarianism. — I take that back: Fundamental, provably false “axiom” of libertarianism.

  9. Meghan says:

    The debate is not about abortion funding–that’s already illegal via the Hyde Amendment and we all know that.

    The issue is that by cutting Title X funding–for NON-ABORTION activities, such as STI screening, cancer screening, contraception, and other routine medical care–Republicans are threatening to deprive many women of critical health care. Planned Parenthood and its like provide essential services to women that many would not have access to otherwise.

    Stop conflating women’s health with abortion only. Abortion is but a fragment of the larger issue at hand.

  10. Dodd says:

    Money, she is fungible.