Two Bad Pro-Life Responses to Bodily Rights Arguments

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes.

There are some good pro-life responses to bodily rights arguments for abortion. These two rejoinders don’t belong on that list.

JoshBrahm-BodilyRightsSpeech-300x218 (1)I am convinced that most pro-abortion-choice advocates who go beyond basic rhetoric and slogans are partially grounding their position in some form of bodily autonomy arguments. If you’re somewhat new to arguments for abortion rights that admit for sake of argument that the unborn is a fully valuable person, please listen to this speech I gave at UCLA last month explaining them as well as offering some refutations.

Let me offer a brief summary of bodily rights arguments before getting to the faulty pro-life responses. Most pro-choice arguments either assume that the unborn are not valuable human beings, (“What about poverty?” “What if she will lose her scholarship?”) or they argue that the unborn are not valuable human beings. (“It’s not viable yet.” “It’s not sentient yet.” “It can’t feel pain yet.”) But there’s a third category of pro-choice arguments that admit (at least for the sake of argument) that the unborn are valuable human beings, yet the mother should still have the right to kill them because of her bodily autonomy. Her view is that if it’s in her body, she has the right to kill it, or at least take whatever measures necessary to refuse to have her body used as life support.

I’ve spoken on bodily rights arguments a lot, especially after helping write the De Facto Guardian paper. During Q&A, someone will often ask about a potential pro-life response that I didn’t include in the speech.

Here’s one I’ve heard several times in that context, and I’ve seen pro-lifers use it in blog posts as well:

“No woman has an abortion because she’s trying to protect her right to bodily autonomy.”

According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute’s 2005 survey of more than 1,200 abortion patients, these were the most common reasons that women chose abortion:


I agree that the women who took this survey didn’t report that their natural right to bodily integrity was the primary reason they chose abortion, but that’s irrelevant.

First of all, the Guttmacher survey didn’t have an option for “I want to maintain control over my body.”

Secondly, even if that’s not at all a part of a woman’s decision-making process, that doesn’t mean that bodily autonomy arguments fail to justify abortion being legal. If bodily rights arguments succeed, then it doesn’t really matter why a woman decides to have an abortion, because it’s justified. This is especially true if the “Sovereign Zone” argument is correct. In that case, taking Thalidomide to intentionally deform or hiring an abortionist to torture a baby to death would be justified, as Timothy Brahm shows in this brilliant piece.

In other words, there can be a difference between why abortion is morally justified and why a particular woman would decide to choose abortion.

Here’s another bad pro-life response. It is usually exclaimed by someone when they hear Judith Jarvis Thomson’s violinist story or “people-seeds” analogy for the first time:

“Well, that’s just weird!”

judith-216x300Thought experiments like Thomson’s violinist are meant to test our intuitions and help us determine things like whether or not a certain action is morally justifiable. Thought experiments about pregnancy will almost always be weird. Why? Because pregnancy is weird! There’s nothing else in our universe that’s like pregnancy, so you end up with these bizarre stories about people being hooked up to different body parts.

It’s not just pro-choice thought experiments that are weird either. There are pro-life thought experiments that are weirder than the violinist story, and they are very helpful. You don’t want to ban all bizarre thought experiments from your conversations because frankly, you should probably be using them sometimes.

If you want to hear some of the thought experiments I’m referring to that will help you respond persuasively to bodily rights arguments, download this speech I gave at UCLA and then post any questions you have in the comments below!

The post Two Bad Pro-Life Responses to Bodily Rights Arguments originally appeared at Subscribe to our email list with the form below and get a FREE gift. Click here to learn more about our pro-life apologetics course, “Equipped for Life: A Fresh Approach to Conversations About Abortion.”

Question: Do you have any faulty pro-life responses to bodily rights arguments to add to the list? Post them below!


Josh Brahm is the President of Equal Rights Institute, an organization that trains pro-life advocates to think clearly, reason honestly and argue persuasively.

Josh has worked in the pro-life movement since he was 18. A sought-after speaker, Josh has spoken for more than 23,000 people in six countries and in 22 of the 50 states.

Josh’s primary passion is helping pro-life people to be more persuasive when they communicate with pro-choice people. That means ditching faulty rhetoric and tactics and embracing arguments that hold up under philosophical scrutiny.

He has publicly debated leaders from Planned Parenthood, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), Georgians for Choice, and one of the leading abortion facilities in Atlanta.

Josh also wants to bring relational apologetics to the pro-life movement. “Some pro-choice people will not change their mind after one conversation on a college campus. Some of them will only change their mind after dozens of conversations with a person they trust in the context of friendship.”

Josh is formerly the host of a globally-heard podcast turned radio/TV show, Life Report. He now hosts the Equipped for Life Podcast. He’s also written dozens of articles for and the ERI blog.

He directed the first 40 Days for Life campaign in Fresno, resulting in up to 60 lives saved.

Josh has been happily married to his wife, Hannah, for 15 years. They have three sons, Noah, William, and Eli. They live in Charlotte, North Carolina.

David Bereit, the National Director of 40 Days for Life, sums up Josh’s expertise this way: “Josh Brahm is one of the brightest, most articulate, and innovative people in the pro-life movement. His cutting-edge work is helping people think more clearly, communicate more effectively, and — most importantly — be better ambassadors for Christ. I wholeheartedly endorse Josh’s work, and I encourage you to join me in following Josh and getting involved in his work today!”

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