Is it true that a woman’s body is her own business, and should not be a political issue? Should a woman be granted right to decide whatever happens in and to her body?
This blog post explored the Bodily Autonomy Argument offered for abortion. Whether you are for or against abortion, it is my intention to persuade you that this argument is a failure by offering three just-so-stories counterexamples, to show how unconvincing it is to any reasonable and morally unblind person.
I used a narrow definition of abortion in the post, viz., a deliberate act of removing a developing embryo or fetus (Latin: “little one”), without justified reason1 from the womb in a period before it is capable of independent survival.
The argument from woman autonomy commonly unfold as follows:
1. A woman has the right to decide what she can and can’t do in and to her body.
2. The fetus exists in a woman’s body.
3. A woman has the right to decide whether the fetus remains in her body.
4. Therefore a pregnant woman has the right to abort the fetus.
Most of critiques found in literature gunned against this argument tend to show that a fetus is not an extension of the woman’s body. Christopher Hitchens, for example, contended:
As a materialist, I think it has been demonstrated that an embryo is a separate body and entity, and not merely (as some really did used to argue) a growth on or in the female body. There used to be feminists who would say that it was more like an appendix or even—this was seriously maintained—a tumor. That nonsense seems to have stopped (Hitchens 2009, 378)
But let assume that a fetus is part of the woman’s body. Would it follow that a pregnant woman ought to have a right to choose what happen in and to her body? Is true that: “Abortion is a personal choice because you are talking about what a woman does with her body.”(Jordan 1992:8-9)? Consider these three counterexamples:
Special Case 1: Chopping the Fetus
Jane decided to chop off the legs of the fetus, at week 7 but still she wants to keep it. Since she has the right to choose what happen in and to her body, Dr. John, with help of modern technology, performed the operation and chop Jane’s fetus legs off. In week 10, Jane decided to chop the hands of the fetus off and John performed what is reasoned to be Jane’s personal choice and right. In her final trimester, Jane asked John to perform prostaglandin.
Special Case 2: Poison the Fetus
Linda discovered that she was pregnant. Since she has the right to choose what happen in and to her body, Linda chose to continue living her ordinary lifestyle of smoking marijuana and consuming alcohol, knowing that she does increase the probability of her fetus having fetal alcohol syndrome. It is after all her private and personal own business. She decide what happen in her body. After 9 months Linda gave birth to an intellectual disabled baby with facial, fingers, arms and legs defects.
Special Case 3: Feed No Child
Rose gave birth in a desert where she and a newly little one (fetus) are the only survivors of a plan crash. It is only by drinking breast’s milk the little one can survive. Since Rose believe that she has the right to choose what happen to her body, she chose not to feed it. She chose to preserve her energy and nutrients needed for her own body. Two days later the little one died from hunger.
In these three special cases counterexamples, knowing that there is no morally sane woman who would even dare think of doing what my hypothetical Jane, Linda and Rose did, the argument used to justify their actions is the same. Jane, Linda and Rose contended that it was their own bodies and they have the right to choose for themselves what was to be done in and to their bodies.
As spectators, are our moral sentiments toward Jane, Linda and Rose’s actions of approval and praise? I deem that only morally blind person would find my hypothetical ladies’ actions praiseworthy and ought to be approved on the ground that it was their own private business, since they have the right to decide whatever happens in and to their bodies.
If that is the case, these counterexamples show that it is not true that a woman’s body is her own business, and should not be a political issue. From these three just-so-stories counterexamples I concluded that the Bodily Autonomy argument for abortion is a failure since if true, then absurdly Jane, Linda and Rose’s actions would be morally justified.
Jordan, Barbara (1992) “New Democratic Order?” World Magazine, November 7th. 8-9.
Hitchens, Christopher (2009), God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything Hachette Book Group. Kindle Edition.
 I grant therapeutic abortion, abortion done to save the mother’s life, as a justified reasons