Examining the mantra "my body, my choice" in the abortion debate

by Luke Wayne
03/08/19

In discussions about the ethics and legality of prenatal infanticide, it is very common for abortion advocates to try and shut down all debate with the mantra "my body, my choice" or, if the abortion advocate is a man, "it's the woman's body, so it's her choice." Clearly, the individuals who trot out this objection think that they are saying something profound and persuasive. But when we examine the slogan, it turns out to be empty and errant on multiple levels.

The core assumption behind this mantra is that a person has complete autonomy regarding anything they choose to do with their own body. If I am doing something involving my own body, they reason, then there can't be any moral or legal restrictions upon my choices. This, however, is patently false! Consider a few different examples:

The Opioid Crisis

At the time of this writing, American culture is dealing with what people on all sides of the social and political spectrum label an "opioid crisis." The issue is the widespread abuse of narcotic pain relievers and other opioid drugs. The death toll has been significant, and there is not only public recognition of a moral crisis on our hands, but there are regular calls for governmental action and legal restrictions to stop the crisis. The Center for Disease Control has reassured the public emphatically that "CDC is committed to fighting the opioid overdose epidemic."1 The stance of the culture at large is clear: the crisis of opioid overdose is wrong, and we need to do something about it. But what could possibly be wrong about widespread, lethal opioid overdose if there can be no moral or legal boundaries on what people do regarding their own bodies? Their bodies, their choice, right? If the slogan is true, then there is no debate here. No room for discussion. No public crisis. This is an issue that should be left between the opioid addict and the doctor prescribing them the opioids. Everyone else should just shut up about it.

One might be tempted to push back that this is totally different than abortion. After all, people are dying! But an innocent human being dies in every single successful abortion procedure ever performed. Death is often a symptom of opioid overdose, but death is the actual aim of abortion! If opioid overdose is a crisis because lives are at stake, then prenatal infanticide is even more of a crisis! Tragically, an average of 130 Americans die every day due to opioid overdose.2 This is a high death toll and one that indeed deserves great public concern. How much more, then, ought the public to be concerned about the staggering 2,413 children in the U.S. dying in abortion procedures each day!3

Unnecessary Destructive Medical Procedures

Imagine a perfectly healthy person walks into a hospital and demands that a doctor remove their eyes, one of their lungs, one of their kidneys, and half of their liver. Nothing is wrong with any of these organs; the person just doesn't want them anymore. They further insist that the organs must not be preserved alive and given to some other needy patient. They must be thrown away and destroyed. The patient is adamant that the unwanted organs must die. The patient doesn't want them and insists that they be removed, but also insists that no one else who does want them should be able to have them either. The doctors at the hospital understandably object. Removing healthy organs just because someone doesn't want them isn't healthcare, after all. Indeed, it's the opposite of healthcare, and it would be unethical for doctors to mutilate a person's body in this way, even if that person requested it of them and paid them to do it.

One might again respond that such an example is different than legal prenatal infanticide. And this is true, but the differences only strengthen the case against prenatal infanticide. The process of conception and reproduction is just as natural as the bodily processes of our eyes or lungs, and the pregnant woman is thus just as healthy and functional as the woman described above. Yet, there is a crucial difference. The child that is growing in the womb of the pregnant woman has a distinct life of its own. If I remove and destroy a healthy kidney just because I don't want it, it is a frightful act of self-mutilation and is certainly wrong, but at least doing so did not kill another living person. But an abortion procedure doesn't remove some part of the woman's own body and uselessly destroy it. It destroys the body of her child. Though her own body is involved, that does not grant her the right to make this kind of choice.

Bodily Dependence

Some will argue that the woman has the right to kill the child because the child is dependant on the woman's body to survive. This argument too, however, is simply not correct. A nursing infant is also dependant on the body of his or her mother. Does that grant the mother a special right, while the child is nursing, to start ripping or cutting off parts from the child's body until it is dead and then throw the pieces into the nearest dumpster? Of course not! What about conjoined twins? Can one simply murder the other because their bodies are connected? Clearly, no they cannot. Among humans, there are quite natural states of bodily dependence, and these do not grant one party the right to kill the other. Your body does not make this your choice.

Not Her Body

As was touched on in some of the paragraphs above, it is also important to remember that we are not actually talking about the woman's own body. When someone throws out the mantra "my body, my choice" they are, at best, completely missing the point. From the moment of conception, the child is a distinct organism. It is never part of the woman's body. It has a body of its own, and that body is the one that is destroyed in the abortion procedure. If "my body, my choice" were true, it would mean that the child should be given the choice since, at the end of the day, the child's body is the only one likely to be permanently harmed by this decision.

Thus, we see that a person does not have complete, unlimited bodily autonomy, and even if they did, the child has their own body and would thus deserve that same autonomy. When it comes to prenatal infanticide, the slogan is empty. "My body, my choice" provides no justification for taking the life of an innocent child.

 

 

 

 

  • 1. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html (accessed 3/8/2019)
  • 2. ibid
  • 3. Number is an average based on an estimated 881,000 abortions performed in a year divided by 365 days. Data from https://abort73.com/abortion_facts/us_abortion_statistics/ (accessed 3/8/2019)