It Is Wrong to Make People Worse Off: Bodily Autonomy, Abortion, and Forced Organ Donation

It’s a dark and stormy night when your plane touches down in Analogyland. You, a pro-life apologist, have been invited to give a speech about bodily autonomy and abortion at a local convention center. You get into your rental car and begin to drive to your hotel. The storm worsens. A local violinist named Hector clutches his bright yellow raincoat tightly around him while he takes his dog out for a bathroom break. Out of nowhere, a drunk driver speeds towards you, out of control. He first careens into Hector and then veers into you, sending your car flying into a telephone pole.

You wake up in a hospital bed with minor damage. The doctor informs you that the drunk driver died on impact, and both of Hector’s kidneys were destroyed in the car accident. Fortunately, you and Hector just happen to have the same rare blood type such that you can save Hector’s life. So, the doctor plans to remove one of your kidneys and give it to Hector, restoring him to health.

You begin to protest: Hector has no right to one of your kidneys! You weren’t even the one who hit him! The doctor informs you that, here in Analogyland, the law guarantees the right to life. But, they can keep Hector alive on dialysis temporarily to let you appeal your case to the high court. You think about your anti-abortion speech and arguments about bodily autonomy, aware that your conviction that a right to bodily autonomy cannot ground a right to an abortion and your assertion that Hector has no right to your kidney seem inconsistent. When your day in court comes, what will you say to convince the judge that you should not have to give Hector one of your kidneys but also doesn’t even seem to imply that abortion is permissible because you have a right to refuse to use your body to help another person?

Estimated reading time: 14 minutes

“Reproductive Freedom”: Another Pro-Choice Non-Argument

Recently, some pro-choice people and organizations have moved away from focusing on bodily autonomy as grounding a right to an abortion and instead frame the issue as one of “reproductive freedom.” This might sound like a rhetorically powerful move—who could be against freedom? However, it is a self-defeating strategy that comes at the cost of the pro-choice movement’s best slogan: “my body, my choice.” 

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

“My Body, My Choice”:  Abortion, Covid Mandates, and Common Ground

Covid vaccine protest

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

In our discussions as pro-life advocates about abortion, we often run into bodily autonomy arguments. These maintain that, because people have a right to control what happens to or in their bodies, or—at the very least—have the right to refuse to allow someone else to use their bodies, abortion must be permitted. These positions are usually oversimplified as the assertion “my body, my choice.”

ERI has already substantially discussed bodily autonomy arguments within the Equipped for Life Course, as well as in several blog posts and videos. As such, this article will not focus on understanding and responding to bodily autonomy arguments generally. Instead, before campus outreach begins again, I want to prepare you to navigate the discussion about bodily autonomy in light of the controversies about COVID-19 masks and vaccine mandates. While often framed as an instance of inconsistency among pro-choice or pro-life individuals, the differing positions about mask/vaccine mandates actually highlights an important point of common ground and clarification in our discussions of bodily autonomy.

If someone brings up mask/vaccine mandates in your conversations, you should first take a beat to remind yourself to practice charitable interpretation. Remember why the different positions on mask/vaccine mandates might seem at odds with someone’s position on abortion. Then, respond by highlighting the common ground that the mask/vaccine mandates reveal about most people’s positions on the limits of bodily autonomy and transition the discussion back to abortion. I will discuss each of these steps more fully below.

Parthood, Personhood, and Bodily Rights

In a series of papers—”Lady Parts,” “Were You a Part of Your Mother,” and “Nine Months”—Elselijn Kingma develops and defends the parthood view of pregnancy: that human fetuses are literally a part of the gestating woman’s body.

If your mouth is slack and your eyes are squinting, yes, that was my first reaction, too.

If you have moved on from straight-up confusion to worrying about the implications for the abortion debate, that was my second reaction.

But let me invite you to move through reactions one and two and into reaction three: this claim is super interesting, plausible, and makes the case against abortion stronger.

Baby feet in persons hands

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Arguments about Pro-Life “Hypocrisy” Prove Nothing about Abortion

Masked face holding another mask, hypocrisy

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

Charges of “pro-life hypocrisy” abound on the internet. Unfortunately, they also exist in professional philosophy journals in the form of “inconsistency arguments.” These take the following form:

         P1: Were pro-life people consistent, they would X.

         P2: Pro-life people fail to X.

         C: Therefore, pro-life people are inconsistent.

Accompanying such arguments is an implicit understanding or explicit assertion that if the pro-life person does not change her beliefs or behaviors in order to be consistent, then her continued inconsistency counts as hypocrisy.