Matt Walsh and Bodily Autonomy Arguments

If pro-life advocates want to help pro-choice people change their minds about abortion, then they must understand arguments about bodily autonomy and how to respond to them in a persuasive way. In his recent video, How To Destroy The “Best” Reproductive Rights Argument, Matt Walsh draws attention to these types of arguments, explains that they are critical to the modern pro-choice position, and then lists his five problems with how bodily autonomy arguments attempt to justify abortion.

At Equal Rights Institute our staff has collectively had thousands and thousands of conversations with lay pro-choice people on college campuses in the United States, and these experiences have helped us understand what typical pro-choice people actually mean by when they make easily misunderstood statements. While Walsh is right to respond to bodily rights arguments directly and he makes some good responses, he also gives responses that are based on the same understandable mistakes that most pro-life people make.

Screenshot from Matt Walsh YouTube video response to bodily autonomy arguments

Image source: YouTube

Bodily Autonomy Misconceptions

Pro-choice arguments from bodily autonomy are extremely confusing for many pro-life advocates because there is a profound cultural gap between pro-life and pro-choice people. We don’t just disagree about premises in our arguments; our whole mindset on the issue is radically different. Pro-life people are naturally inclined to focus the conversation on the baby while pro-choice people focus their attention to the woman. Sometimes this causes pro-life people to misunderstand pro-choice arguments and assume that everything comes down to the personhood of the unborn. Walsh correctly explains that this is a problem because that is not the only piece of the debate. He wants pro-life advocates to understand that there is another way to defend the pro-choice position in the abortion debate, and he wants us to understand how to refute it. He explains that personhood, while critical to understanding the immorality of abortion, is not what is driving many abortion conversations when we talk with pro-choice people. When pro-choice people bring up bodily autonomy, they are not attempting to refute the pro-life personhood argument.

Walsh goes on to describe an argument that personhood begins when the mother decides. In other words, the argument claims that because a woman has bodily autonomy she should be allowed to decide if and when her unborn child should be considered a valuable person. He goes on to explain the metaphysical absurdity of an argument like this because it claims that the mother has some “supernatural ability to grant and resend humanity to or from her child.” This argument is so bizarre and fringe that it does not play a role in ordinary bodily rights conversations. The vast majority of pro-choice people do not actual use arguments like this one. While our staff has seen this type of reasoning on very rare occasions, it is confusing and unhelpful to pro-life people to tell them that it is a major part of the bodily rights debate. I fear it will cause them to expect to find it and wrongfully interpret other, more reasonable pro-choice statements as being indicative of the weird, fringe argument.

Pro-lifers, this is a strawman. Click here to understand why.

In his first of five points, Walsh responds to the pro-choice slogan “My Body, My Choice” by saying, “It’s not your body, your body is not the body at issue here. The issue is the child’s body, not yours.” This incredibly common pro-life response to bodily rights arguments is based on a critical misunderstanding of what most pro-choice people mean when they use that slogan. They are not saying that the child’s body is the same as the woman’s body, nor are they saying that the human fetus is somehow biologically part of the woman’s body. They are saying that the human fetus’ body affects and is inside what is indisputably the woman’s body. By “my body,” they are referring to cells with the mother’s DNA, not cells with the human fetus’ DNA. This misunderstanding often causes well meaning pro-life people to unintentionally strawman pro-choice people. Read this article for a more thorough explanation of this common problem.

Fellow Pro-Lifers: Please Stop Sharing This Straw Man Meme

“My body, my choice” is possibly the most common slogan in defense of abortion right now and an embarrassing number of pro-life people completely misunderstand it. Consider the following popular meme:

meme

Hilarious right? Aren’t pro-choice people stupid? Aren’t they logic-impaired?

No. Please stop.

To what is “my body” referring in the “my body, my choice” slogan? Pro-life people far too often incorrectly assume that it is the body of the unborn. If that was the case, then yes, it would be a dumb thing to say. Let’s call this the Scientifically Ignorant View. That is almost never what pro-choice people mean. They mean the parts of the woman’s body that are affected by pregnancy, such as her uterus, vagina, ovaries, etc. Those are indisputably her body parts and pregnancy affects them.

The pro-life mind is naturally inclined to be focused on the unborn, and understandably so. They are being killed daily by the thousands. Almost nothing justifies killing a human person. But to most pro-choice people, even if the unborn is a human person, women have the right to kill the unborn if they are inside her body. This is the Bodily Rights View. Shouting that the unborn is a human being does nothing to respond to the Bodily Rights View. Absolutely nothing.

Pro-Lifers Aren’t “Forcing” Women to Stay Pregnant

Image: Man forcing a woman to do something.

Pro-choice advocates constantly describe the intentions of pro-lifers with the word “force.” “Pro-lifers want to force women to stay pregnant, force them to have babies, force them to go through pregnancy, force them to be a parent.” All of these statements are common, and all of them are false.

The word force implies a threat. It implies violence. It implies aggression. It’s a tragic irony given that the aggression, violence, and threatening behavior doesn’t come from pro-lifers, it comes from doctors killing babies.

The pro-life position is simple: you don’t get to kill people, very young embryos are people, so you don’t get to kill embryos. It’s very straightforward.

It is true that by saying “don’t kill the embryo,” other things naturally follow from that, such as “go through pregnancy, give birth, and either raise the child or give him to someone else who will.” But that isn’t the same as forcing someone to do these things.

If it sounds to you like I’m just playing semantical games, consider the following case:

How to Turn the Tables on Four Pro-Choice Arguments

Imagine you and a good friend decide to play a game of chess. As you sit down, your friend takes your queen off the board and puts it back in the box with no explanation. You say, “Uh, what are you doing?” Your friend replies, completely unironically, “Only I’m allowed to have a queen. You’re playing white, I’m playing black, so you get to go first. It basically evens out.” Inexplicably, he genuinely believes that giving his side of the board an extremely unfair advantage is actually fair, and he has managed to rationalize to himself that it’s fair.

Turn the Tables

How would you convince him that it gives the black side too much advantage? I’d just rotate the board 180 degrees and tell him, “Okay, if you think it’s really fair to both sides that whoever gets to go first doesn’t get a queen, I’ll just play black now. Your move.”

I think of this as forced empathy. In the analogy, your friend isn’t doing a good job of fairly evaluating the relative advantages of going first and having a queen. By turning the tables, you force him to get into your shoes and respond to his own arguments. You could tell him, “Hey, I know it might seem tough to not have a queen, but you get to go first, you get all the initiative, so just make good use of it and you’ll overcome the problem of not having a queen.”

Forcing someone to argue against their own unfair arguments is the most efficient way to help someone to realize that their arguments are actually unfair.

Many, many pro-choice arguments are actually unfair arguments. They’re cheating. They’re giving the pro-choice person an unfair advantage in the conversation. The problem is that oftentimes they don’t know they’re cheating. These arguments are often driven by unfair rhetoric that the pro-choice person has actually bought into.

People become emotionally attached to rhetoric. They hear a vacuous phrase and it just clicks. It feels so right to them. In order for them to change their minds, they need more than just a counter-argument. They need to understand that their rhetoric is empty. The best way to do this is to rotate the table 180 degrees and make them get into your shoes.

Here are four examples of unfair pro-choice rhetoric, and the ways I turn the tables.