I will have to admit, I have begun to reconsider what it means to respect the bodily integrity of individual women. During a recent outreach at UCLA and Cerritos college, two students told me that I should respect the autonomy that women have over their bodies.
Now, setting aside that the unborn entity in question is not a part of her mother's physical body (if she was, then any pregnant woman would have four hands, two heads, and two genetic codes, which is absurd) but is a separate body that is growing inside her, and dependent upon her. This does not mean that they are one and the same human being, but two humans beings connected in the most intimate way possible.
Now, many I have talked to have espoused the view that because the woman is carrying the child within her body, and because the child is completely dependent on her mother's body for her immediate needs, her mother therefore has say over what happens within her body. Complete bodily autonomy for women is inalienable on this view. This is what pro-life speaker Trent Horn calls the "Sovereign Zone" view.
Now, if I were to embrace this view, and thus defend a woman's right to her bodily "sovereign zone", then that means that the following must also be fought for and legalized along with abortion:
1. Thalidomide A drug that was originally used as an anti-nausea treatment for women experiencing morning sickness, it was banned in the early 1960s for the effect that it had on developing children in utero. The drug would cause either the limbs of the child to fail to develop or the limbs would fail to grow to their full length, leaving only a hand where a full arm should be. (Langman's Medical Embryology, Thirteenth Edition, page xiii)
Keeping in mind the view that a woman has full rights to what happens within her body, even if there is another human body present inside of her, to be consistent one would have to argue that the drug should be legalized as an appropriate treatment for morning sickness. This would mean that if a woman took the drug knowing full well the effects it could have on her unborn child, and caused her child to be born without arms or legs, she would bear no fault. Some have responded that this couldn't happen because she broke the law; and yet, abortion also used to be against the law. Why aren't advocates of bodily autonomy fighting for a woman to have complete control over her body in this regard, and working to overturn this law?
2. Abortions for Frivolous Reasons If a woman "Has the right to do whatever she wants with her body", then would it be wrong to kill her unborn child for any reason she wants to? In his book Abortion Practice, abortionist Dr. Warren Hern recounts a time where a woman came to his office seeking an abortion, as she was pregnant with a boy and wanted a girl child instead. Doctor Hern, ironically, expresses his misgivings about abortion in this case but he goes along with it anyway (Abortion Practice, page 85).
Dennis Prager also brings up an important point in this regard. Suppose in the near future we are able to determine through genetic testing the sexual orientation that a child will be born with. A woman finds out her son or daughter will grow up to be gay later in life. Using the "my body; my choice" reasoning, she gets an abortion so she won't be a parent to a gay son or daughter. Horrifying as this is, would we think she did something wrong in this regard? If we do think that this is wrong, then what about abortions for children who will be born with disabilities? Wouldn't that be wrong as well?
3. Abortions For Profit Two years ago the infamous Planned Parenthood videos were released by the Center for Medical Progress, which purported to show the organization illegally selling the bodily remains of aborted humans for profit. While many media pundits, political analysts, and Planned Parenthood themselves denied the accusation, it does raise an important question: Can a woman sell the bodily remains of her abortion for profit? Suppose a woman of child-bearing age, hearing that there is a market for fetal body parts and tissues, decides to become pregnant, then carries her child to term, and gets an abortion so that she may sell the body parts on the market. This may not even be legal, but why won't the advocates of bodily rights advocate for this kind of behavior, in the name of "Her body, her choice"? Why don't they fight to have this "right", and enshrine it in law?
4. Infant Starvation Philosopher Trent Horn also gives another category for bodily rights arguments that he calls the "right to refuse", where the advocate of bodily autonomy will argue that a woman has a right to refuse to sustain the life of her child in utero. During a conversation at UCLA recently, a student I talked to likened unwanted pregnancy to being forced to donate one's kidney in order to sustain another person's life.
However, in using this scenario, one has to remember that a kidney is only designed to filter the blood of the organism it belongs to. As Trent Horn notes, the uterus is an organ that is not designed to support the life of a woman, as a woman may go through her entire life without ever becoming pregnant, but is specifically designed to support the life of her very young son or daughter.
In applying this reasoning to the issue of bodily rights, suppose a woman gives birth to an infant who needs to survive on her mother's breast milk. Suppose further that baby formula is not readily available due to a health and safety recall, and it will take too long to put the child in a shelter or up for adoption. Since the mother is now the sole provider of the welfare for her child, even though this relationship is only temporary, can she exercise her "right to refuse support" for her child on the grounds that her child has no right to her mother's breast milk, even though her child will starve to death as a result? Is it a mother's moral and legal right to be able to "disconnect" for the sole purpose of starving her child to death? I think we would all agree that doing such a thing is monstrous.
In conclusion, it seems that an unwavering support for bodily rights for women can actually prove too much and be used to justify some very horrifying behaviors. Now, some will argue for bodily rights by giving reference to scenarios that are emotionally vexing, like poverty or hardship, but at best, this would entail that the right to abortion is extremely limited to the most extreme circumstances. And then one must ask why, even in these circumstances, is it fully permissible and morally acceptable to kill an innocent human being whose existence may cause hardship?
It is high time we stop playing games with human rights in order to justify the behavior that we want to ensure is accepted by society. We've been down that road before throughout human history, and it has never ended well. Instead, if we are going to defend bodily rights, no matter what that entails, we had better be ready to accept the consequences of that decision.