Bodily Autonomy vs. Women’s Reality

Here’s one of the problems (by no means the only one) that I have with the bodily autonomy argument for abortion.

Abortion advocates often compare the decision to continue an existing pregnancy to the decision to donate an organ. I don’t think it’s a great analogy (for reasons touched upon here), but for purposes of this blog post, I’ll go along with it. They then argue that since we don’t force people to donate their organs, we shouldn’t force people not to have abortions.

Let’s suppose that my mom desperately needed a kidney transplant. And I would do anything for my mom, so I ask the doctors to check if I’m a match. Sure enough, I am, but there’s a problem: my health insurance won’t pay for the procedure. I don’t have any money to cover it out-of-pocket, and to make matters worse, if I take the time off from work for the surgery, I’ll be fired. The doctors tell me, wrongly, that there are no charities in our community that might help us meet those financial needs. So I don’t donate my kidney, and my mother dies.

Would that be an exercise of my bodily autonomy? How might I react if someone congratulated me for exercising my right to choose, or assured me that I made the choice that was right and practical for me at the time? How might I react if I heard someone going around asking for positive stories of organ donation refusal?

We know why women have abortions, and it isn’t to vindicate their bodily autonomy. It’s because they lack money (and, we might fairly infer, are not aware of resources in their communities that might help them address that issue).* According to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion, when women having abortions were surveyed about their reasons, 73% said that they were seeking an abortion because they “could not afford a baby now.” Other common reasons were closely related; for instance, a similar percentage of respondents (who could select more than one reason) said that a baby would “interfere with [her] education, work, or ability to care for dependents,” which likely reflects concerns about being unable to afford to take time off or arrange child care. In the Guttmacher researchers’ words, “the reasons tended to overlap between the domains of unplanned pregnancy, financial instability, unemployment, single motherhood and current parenting responsibilities.”

Pro-choice feminists’ laser focus on bodily autonomy in the face of these statistics completely misses the mark. Not one woman in the survey suggested that she was having an abortion because of subjective feelings that her body was being “invaded” by an outsider. (If one had, Guttmacher would have had every incentive to report it.) Instead, women were pushed by external factors outside of their control. In that context, the “autonomy” advocated by the abortion industry rings very hollow indeed.**

To quote Frederica Mathewes-Green, former president of Feminists for Life: “No woman wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg.”

*One woman in the Guttmacher study expressed that she realized that welfare was an option, but dismissed that possibility as “tak[ing] somebody’s money” and “sitting on my welfare,” reflecting common stigmas attached to people who receive public assistance.
**And don’t even get me started on the vitriol they spew at pro-life pregnancy centers.

69 thoughts on “Bodily Autonomy vs. Women’s Reality”

  1. The women I know who would rather kill themselves than be forced to give birth would disagree that it's only about money.

  2. To play devil's advocate here, while I think that when bodily autonomy is used to advocate for abortion it's … ironic to say the least, I think the reason for pro-choicers' focus on bodily autonomy vs. nonpersonhood arguments is that it is more related to other pro-woman concerns, and I think that's probably actually a good thing in the long run. There's nothing particularly feminist about saying "I'm pro-woman, therefore I believe some human beings aren't people and don't deserve human rights". Whereas cries for bodily autonomy–as sad as it is that people use it to advocate for fatal violations of human beings' bodily rights–are related to the very real lack of respect for the bodily autonomy of women and people assigned female, from street harassment to rape.

    Although as I write this I get the sense that I'm missing the point, as you're not really talking about bodily autonomy arguments vs. nonpersonhood arguments, you're talking about bodily autonomy arguments vs. arguments
    based on the circumstances surrounding pregnancies. Which people do make (e.g. "what if the child would starve to death?"), but which don't stand up as arguments for abortion unless paired with nonpersonhood arguments, but then again neither do most 'bumper sticker arguments' about bodily autonomy.

    It seems that the real 'problem' with circumstances-based arguments is that they would produce a wake-up call of "Why are pro-choicers and pro-lifers fighting each other instead of fighting for pregnant people to get less stigma and more support?"

  3. Have you heard of the concept of "symbolic beliefs"? "Either the kid or me gets it" sounds a lot like one of them.

    Regardless, I'm sure there are people for whom no amount of support would make a difference. But they're not the typical case, and to argue as if they are is unproductive.

  4. Still, I don't think this objection successfully disarms the bodily argument. If pregnancy really is like kidney donation, and you refused to donate to your mother solely because you hate her and want her to die so you can collect the inheritance, you still wouldn't have to do it. You'd be a horrible person, but you'd still be within your rights.

  5. "Either the kid or me gets it" sounds a lot like one of them.

    For some uterus owners, the thought of a forced pregnancy sounds like torture. Escape from torture and suffering = suicide.

    A friend of mine would claw xir uterus out, and failing that, jump off a bridge, if xie could not obtain an abortion.

    But they're not the typical case, and to argue as if they are is unproductive.

    Millions of people choose to be childfree. And millions also choose to limit their family size – and not just for financial reasons.

    Tell me, do women of means obtain abortions?

  6. I was referring to Ted Shulman. That creeeeeeeepy guy who posed as an abortionist and stalked/threatened various pro-life bloggers before being found with cyanide on his possession. Unlike Shulman, most pro-choicers that argue from bodily rights don't actually believe the unborn have the right to life.

  7. most pro-choicers that argue from bodily rights don't actually believe the unborn have the right to life.

    It's irrelevant whether or not prenates have the right to life.

  8. Your idea that women have abortions because of money is not always true. Myself I would have an abortion because I am exactly like dudebro's friend. An abortion for me would be about avoiding the misery that a pregnancy would cause to my life. It would have nothing to do with money.

  9. Try this:

    A person with Huntington's disease thinks the world would be better off if no future children are born with Huntington's disease, so ey wants everyone who has Huntington's to have a tubal or vasectomy. Bodily autonomy has nothing to do with this person's reasons for wanting a sterilization, but is the reason why ey has the right to sterilize emself and does not have the right to sterilize anyone else with Huntington's.

    The bodily autonomy argument for abortion rights is not, "Lots of pregnant people want abortions to defend their bodily integrity, and this is a valid reason that must be respected". The bodily autonomy argument is, "Lots of pregnant people want abortions for various reasons of their own, and because they have bodily autonomy, it is immoral for anyone else to force them to remain pregnant. No one else has the right to judge their reasons." In other words, it's not about what the pregnant people are doing. It's about what outside parties who want to compel them to remain pregnant against their will are doing.

  10. Hysterectomies are contraindicated for birth control purposes. Gynos typically only remove ovaries and/or uterii in cases of disease or disorder. Tubal ligation is the go-to method for permanent birth control.

    Unfortunately, many gynos will not perform voluntary sterilization for women who are nulliparous and only if a woman has an 'acceptable number' of children. 'Acceptable,' of course, being whatever number the individual gyno decrees.

    Those who have chosen to be childfree should face no reproductive prejudice in obtaining completely voluntary sterilization.

  11. The article makes the huge presumption that all women WANT to have babies, and choose abortion just due to some practicality that makes it difficult at the moment.

    What about those who DON'T want to have babies, period? Forcing them to give birth is tantamount to forcing you to donate your kidney to some stranger without your consent (or to someone you hate against your will).

  12. If financial difficulties are the primary reason why women choose abortion, then I would like to know:

    1) why contraception is so popular? surely most middle class families can afford 6 kids?

    2) why don't women of means and the super rich have 10+ kids?

  13. The baby isn't some stranger you are forced to meet and donate too. The perborn child is someone you put into the position of existing in the first place, to people who did not want them.

    I get what people are trying to say with the organ donating example, but the example should state "should I be forced to give a kidney to my son/daughter after I chose to ripe theirs out?" That is a much closer analogy. Pro choices seem to love to leave out the fact they are directly responsible (we all are) for putting their child in a position where their life is endanger.

    Obviously the current situation is that abortion and refusing to donate organs is legal, but if you actually make the analogy realistic, I think the moral views change, at least for some.

    Will note that the consent to sex/consenting to possible create life doesn't apply in rape. A raped woman obviously was not responsible for helping to create life. But I hold the rapist responsible and for other reasons pertaining to that specific situation I still take a pro life stance and have ideas on how things should be to try and make the situation as manageable as possible for both victims (woman and child) and their families.

  14. Financial reasons can play a part however I think that there are usually multiple reasons so ti's not just financial. And for sure some people just didn't want a kid , or didn't want them THEN so they may use financial strains or any other reason as an excuse. Like any survey, they are only accurate if everyone tells the truth on them. They can be a good indicator of views, but shouldn't be treated as 100% fact.

  15. It is not at all analogous to say "should I be forced to give a kidney to my son/daughter after I chose to rip theirs out?"

    -Your son/daughter is someone to whom you made a VOLUNTARY commitment. Such a commitment carries weight, & should be tantamount to a legal contract. An unwanted fetus has no such commitment behind them. You never volunteered to care for that invader.

    -Ripping an organ out of any person is an intentional DIRECT act of violation, directed specifically towards the victim. An unintended pregnancy is NOT a direct violation of any exiting person, merely an accidental unintended side effect.

    -By ripping out an organ, you cause TANGIBLE losses to the victim; Damage to their existing body and established life. A zef didn't have a body or established life independent of your body, therefore it is impossible to cause them a tangible loss.

  16. I would have to agree that seems to be more the actual issue regarding bodily autonomy, though I have heard the parasite/invader bs too. However this view neglects to consider other factors , such as personal responsibility, consenting to risk, the biological nature of sex and how it is unable to willingly choose not to create a child because the parents do not wants to, as well as the conflict of rights (albeit not recongized as law yet ) that comes into play once the new human comes along.

    It also refuses to look at the big picture. When human lives are being taken it is everyone's business because public approval or not dictates our collective societal view on it. This is why equating it to legalizing murder also makes sense.

    Abortion also has to do with our view on human rights. So really it is anything but merely a personal decision. That is why I think that the debate will go on for many years. Some people want equal rights for all human beings, and others do not. Some view the right to life as trumping all other rights (at least temporarily such as with the perborn) and some do not. Some value bodily autonomy above life which doesn't make sense to me but they are free to think that way. The issue is when someone's views actually affect/hurt other people and cause violence.

  17. Actually it is completely relevant which is why the abortion debate exists. Por choicers believe preborn offspring do not have the right to life not matter what, and pro life people believe the right to live trumps bodily autonomy (at least for 9 months when it actually is an issue)*

    *save for those pro lifers that hold the rape exception, however it is debatable on whether they could be considered actually pro life then , at least to others/groups who also identify as such.

  18. I advoate for support all the time on pro lfie pages (pro choicers visit them too) , have encouraged people to google pro life pregnancy centers , told them about food and health care assistance programs (to combate the "starving children' argument)..etc. But when I mention these things I feel as if I'm getting dumb looks from the pro choicers behind the computer screens.

    I can only recall on pro choicer who actually said they supported assistance programs for woman who wanted to keep their children..all the other so called pro choicers I talked to simply advocated abortion only, not the choice of wanting to help woman who wanted to choose life to do. So much for supporting choice huh? Yet the excuses of no support are still said even though they KNOW that isn't true. A simple google would show that , besides posts from pregnancy center counselors and pro choice pages providing links to help in different areas.

  19. Thanks for citing the cons of hysterectomies. I've heard tubal ligation can fail so I thought a complete hysterectomy would make sense for those that do not want parenthood. I do not want to advocate it though if it is very dangerous.

    However it is still done when needed, so what about the possibility of it if tubal ligation fails? It sounds like it is contradictory compared to other bc and tubal ligation but often times things that are not tried first are tried later if it's the last resort. I just wonder if it would be considered an acceptable risk in a doctor's eyes if that were the case?

  20. Some value bodily autonomy above life which doesn't make sense to me but they are free to think that way.

    It's not just "some people". Valuing bodily autonomy above life is written into the law of the US (and of many other countries). Post-mortem organ donation is optional; that's valuing the bodily autonomy of the dead above the lives of the people waiting for transplants. Living donations of kidneys, liver lobes, or bone marrow are all optional, and that is valuing the bodily autonomy of the donors above the lives of the people who need their donations. Legalizing abortion in the case of rape is just consistently applying this principle to pregnant people and their embryos or fetuses.

    This ties into your second paragraph: people dying while waiting for transplants is everyone's business in the same way that abortion is, and in that case bodily rights still imply that it is the donor alone who may decide whether the recipient will receive a donation.

    (The "responsibility argument" for why having had consensual sex does or does not abrogate a person's rights to her body is very complicated. My argument is that having consensual sex and conceiving a z/e/f by accident does not harm that z/e/f, and so the pregnant person does not owe the z/e/f the use of her body.)

  21. Some points that need to be made here:

    1. Rights are not legitimated by the reasons we exercise them. Rather, they exist regardless of whatever purpose we use them.

    Suppose I were to publish an expose about Kelsey Hazzard, and no libel is involved. Now suppose someone asks me why I published the expose, and my answer was, "Because I hope to make a lot of money from it." I didn't explicitly mention freedom of the press. Does that mean I don't have it? Or that publishing the expose isn't exercising my freedom of the press?

    So to answer your question, the answer is yes, you have exercised your right to bodily autonomy by not donating to your mother. I would sympathize with you because it was a choice you made out of necessity rather than desire, but I probably would assure you that you made the best decision you could under the circumstances (as I would with a woman did not really want to get an abortion).

    2. The Guttmacher survey allows respondents to check everything that applies. And a number of reasons cited are related to bodily autonomy, including: not ready for a(nother) child/timing is wrong, have completed my
    childbearing, don’t want to be a single mother, don’t feel mature enough
    to raise a(nother) child/feel too young, would interfere with education
    or career plans, physical problem with my health, don’t want people to
    know I had sex or got pregnant, would have to find a new place to live,
    and husband or partner is abusive to me or my children. Additionally, citing pregnancy as a result of rape or incest is about reasserting control over their bodies. Somewhere between a third and a half of the possible responses are directly or indirectly related to bodily autonomy. It would be reasonable to suppose that some, many, or all 73% of the respondents citing financial concerns *also* chose one or more of these reasons. You tell those women that bodily autonomy has nothing to do with abortion, and see how far you get.

    3. May I remind you that it is "pro-lifers" themselves who are fueling the fire when it comes to women having abortion for economic reasons? It is the "pro-life" party that consistently wants to cut or eliminate the social support systems (which are already inadequate) that would help women who lack the means to raise a child. It is no coincidence that the rate of poor women seeking abortions went up after "welfare reform," even though the overall number of abortions have come down.

    Moreover, "pro-lifers" also do everything they can to perpetuate the stigma attached to people who receive public assistance. Does Romney's comment about 47% of the nation being "takers" ring any bells? How about Limbaugh's comments about Obama's reelection being fueled by people looking for a Santa Claus?

    And then "pro-lifers" wonder why pro-choicers accuse them of simply wanting to control women and their sex lives.

  22. "Valuing bodily autonomy above life is written into the law of the US " – nope.. lots of laws restrict what we can or cannot do with our bodies.. Prostitution, drug use, selling your organs and post-viability abortion restrictions are a few examples of where people cannot do with "their bodies" what they want. Your right to do with your body what you want should end where another human beings body begins.

  23. I see the protester didn't draw an unborn child in the picture of her uterus. Typical pro-abort, refusing to acknowledge the existence of the unborn child. If she did draw the picture, she'd have to erase the word 'MINE'… Sure she's too selfish to do that.

  24. Anti-drug, anti-prostitution, and anti-organ-sale laws all say "you may not do this thing to your body", not "you must sit still while someone else [such as your fetus] does something to your body". And they are all justified by "because it is bad for the person whose freedom we are restricting," not some third party. These three examples have precisely nothing to do with your proposed criterion of "Your right to do with your body what you want should end where another human beings body begins."

    (Post-viability abortion restrictions are also not a violation of bodily autonomy provided the pregnant person has the option to induce labor instead, so they don't count either.)

  25. I'm pretty sure that no self-respecting doctor would induce at 25 weeks if a woman wanted an abortion but didn't meet the states criteria for abortion (e.g. health reasons).
    I could see how anti-drug laws are just as much for society as the person doing the drugs – i.e. keep society safe from someone high on an illegal drug.

  26. I hear tell some states have made inducing early labor illegal for non-medical reasons. And for those that don't, insurance usually won't cover inducing labor for non-medial reasons. How many doctors would do it if it weren't for legal and practical barriers? That is a harder question to answer.

    In any case, there is no reason to make drugs illegal to keep society safe from those who are high. All we have to do is look to how we regulate the most dangerous, though legal drug in the world–alcohol.

  27. The "donating a kidney to mom" story is cute. But donors are never charged for medical expenses, so it wouldn't matter is the donor's insurance covered to or not. The expense would be on the kidney recipient.

  28. .all the other so called pro choicers I talked to simply advocated abortion only,

    I smell bovine excrement, since that position is just as anti-choice as yours.

  29. so what about the possibility of it if tubal ligation fails?

    It does indeed happen. In that case, any medical decisions (most failures result in ectopic pregnancy) should be between the woman and her doctor. End of report.

  30. It shouldn't be hers to do with it anything she wants…

    And, if she did draw a picture of an unborn child in her uterus, she'd likely be evil enough to draw a picture of a knife on his or her neck.

  31. It's HER uterus. Why can't she do whatever she wants with it? Simply because you opine that she shouldn't doesn't make it true.

  32. Nobody advocates abortion, with the possible exception of doctors who find a pregnancy or complication thereof is is life or health threatening to the woman. In which case they damn well better advocate for abortion, in my book.

    Check it out: you will not see people lined up outside of OB/Gyn's offices trying to counsel women to end their pregnancies. Ever.

  33. You seriously have to stop imagining that women reject the extremely strong biological imperative to reproduce for trivial reasons. (Otherwise there wouldn't be more than seven billion human beings on this planet.)

    Like most anti-choice folks, you're so far down the rabbit hole you've completely forgotten that women give life to developing embryos, and dead women don't.

    In the case of a woman suffering from depression and contemplating
    suicide when faced with an unwanted pregnancy, it's not "me or the
    kid." It's "me AND the kid vs. me or the kid." Either way, there isn't going to be a kid. (Abortion isn't the only way to end a pregnancy, you see.)

    One supposes you think it should be the kid, or both of them dead and gone. Anything to prevent a mere woman from making her own health care decisions, I guess. But make no mistake: deciding not to go through with a pregnancy in the face of clinical depression is a health care decision. I've had clinical depression off and on my whole life, and it's the reason I have no children; my OB/Gyn strongly advised against it. She's seen suicides during pregnancy, and from post-partum depression. (Can you imagine, she actually considered my health and well being, as if I were a valuable human being?)

    The only reason it would be "unproductive" to discuss such cases, which are much more typical than you like to think, is so you don't have to explicitly say you don't care if women die.

    As for "symbolic beliefs" here's one: a girl or woman who selects "not ready to have a child" as a reason for an abortion could well be symbolizing "would rather slice my wrists." Capiche?

  34. Of course it's sound. Or can I have you abducted and take a kidney from your body if I'd die without it? I promise it will only be a minor inconvenience.

  35. If it's her child when it's born, she cannot kill him or her. She shouldn't be able to kill a human being before he or she is born either.

  36. Because killing an unborn child has the same result as killing a newborn – a human being is denied a chance at a full and productive life.

  37. An unborn child should not be killed simply because a woman cannot afford to raise a child. There are better options than killing.

  38. Most pro-lifers would say no, but hold that such a situation is disanalogous to pregnancy and/or abortion in ways that would render the bodily rights argument unsound.

  39. So temporary use of your body and organs would be acceptable then? As long as nothing is taken permanently? Like, if someone were to suck sugar and iron from your blood, calcium from you bones, depress your immune system, and dump toxic wastes into your liver and kidney to process for 10 months, that'd be ok yeah? since its only TEMPORARY

    Oh and large object shoved up your nether regions causing great, pain, and only for 6-72 hours, tha'td be fine, right, because it's temporary?

  40. Dis-analogous, how? We're taking them at their word: they think an embryo is an individual body. Well, no one else with an individual body can use my body without my consent, not even to live.

    They're simply arguing from their conclusion (as per usual). Since a woman controlling the functioning of HER OWN body might end a pregnancy (pregnancy being a function of her body), hey presto, women don't have the right to control the functioning of their own bodies! Why not? Because if they did control their own bodies, then the body of what THEY call "someone else" can't live.

    Well, someone else who got in a sky diving accident and ripped open his femoral artery won't live without blood donations, either. Doesn't mean you can take my blood out of me against my will, does it?
    We can't help it that they want it both ways, that they argue the developing embryo or fetus is an individual when it comes to some "rights" but not an individual when it comes to needing someone else's body to survive. Which is it?


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