The Women’s March movement published a series of familiar chants online, and included was the popular pro-choice slogan, “My body, my choice!” The group is a prominent defender of abortion rights, having barred pro-life groups from their official list of partners, but what do they, and other abortion advocates, typically mean by this phrase? Unfortunately, even the most well-meaning of pro-life people often misunderstand bodily autonomy claims, preventing us from changing the other side’s mind.
A familiar pro-life meme on the internet reads, “For the logic-impaired: Not your body. Not your choice. Abortion is murder.” This meme is hardly persuasive. If pro-life advocates want to be effective in their outreach, they must understand the pro-choice position on bodily autonomy.
It’s easy for pro-lifers to assume when an abortion-advocate says “my body,” she’s claiming the unborn are part of the mother’s body, like a kidney or some other organ. This confusion may stem from the fact that some people in favor of abortion have defended their views with a scientifically ignorant stance, and as pro-lifers, we’re compelled to be protective of the innocent lives being killed daily by the thousands. Replying, “I don’t care about your body. I care about the child inside it” misrepresents the bodily rights claim.
The “my body, my choice” slogan is concerned with the parts of a woman’s body affected by her pregnancy. Because the unborn child resides within her, and the human fetus’s state of dependency causes the woman’s body to undergo physical changes, a pro-choice person will argue abortion is justifiable. This is not the same thing as saying pregnant women and preborn babies are biologically conjoined. Failing to understand this can prevent pro-lifers from making a convincing response to this position.
Some arguments for abortion assume the unborn are inhuman, but the central claim of the bodily rights position is pregnant women should not be forced to sustain the life of another human being. Professor Judith Jarvis Thomson concedes to the humanity of the preborn in her infamous violinist essay, but contends just as the musician cannot demand use of your body if you wish to withhold support, pregnant women may do the same by detaching themselves from their child.
This right to refuse assertion euphemistically equates abortion with the act of withholding care, ignoring the deliberate action required to end the child’s life. But let’s assume women are entitled to “unplug” from their offspring. If bodily autonomy is absolute, abortion-choice advocates must defend any reproductive decision a woman makes. After all, how can there be exceptions to a fundamental right?
Yet, most pro-choice people do not defend abortion in all cases. A 2018 Gallup Poll found only 13% of Americans think third trimester abortions should be legal. 77% of respondents in a 2012 Lozier Institute poll favored outlawing sex-selective abortions. If bodily autonomy justifies first trimester abortions, why is this not applicable to later ones? The fetus still resides inside her body.
If a woman’s reproductive decisions are no one’s business, then pro-choicers have put themselves in the difficult position of having to defend sex-selective abortions. For bodily autonomy to be absolute, they cannot pick and choose what abortions are permissable when the basis of their argument is that women should have the freedom of choice.
Consider the reaction to Yale Art student Aliza Shvarts’s 2008 senior art project. Shvarts hoped to display the fetal remains from the multiple abortions she had supposedly induced after impregnating herself through artificial insemination. The university insisted the project was a hoax, but Shvarts continued to claim otherwise. A pro-choice classmate criticized Shvarts for her “abuse of the right to abortion,” and a NARAL Pro-Choice America spokesman called the concept “offensive.”
How can this be, when their viewpoint is we should trust women to make decisions about their bodies?
What about isotretinoin (accutane)? Often used for acne therapy, this drug causes severe birth defects in developing fetuses. The government requires a woman of childbearing age to use two forms of contraception, and have two negative pregnancy tests before she can begin to take it. Doesn’t this interfere with her bodily autonomy? The accutane won’t harm her, and it has a benefit she needs, but a woman has no recognized right to it because of its effect on her unborn child.
Why is it seen as reasonable to impose restrictions that protect children from being born deformed, but unreasonable to prevent them from being killed through abortion?
Once pro-lifers understand the nature of bodily rights arguments, we can graciously engage. Sometimes it’s not about winning the debate.
Instead of refuting every pro-choice claim, consider asking clarifying questions so the other person has to think carefully about their statements. You may just end up being the pebble in their shoe that ultimately changes their mind on abortion.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.