We hear a lot about bodily rights during the abortion debate. Moving beyond the abortion debate to
society in general, I think it’s clear that bodily rights are
fundamental. It seems most other pro-lifers think it’s clear too. You’ll
be hard-pressed to find a pro-lifer that says they’d be fine with laws
forcing drivers to donate blood to people they hit with their cars, or
even requiring parents to donate kidneys to their sick children.
abortion, it seems to me a lot of pro-lifers tend to avoid the bodily
rights argument. They brush off the “my body my choice” assertion as a
cop out, a cover up for less noble justifications. I’ve seen many
pro-lifers respond to the bodily rights argument with disgust or
bewilderment, claiming it’s a bunch of mental gymnastics, a twisted,
desperate attempt to justify a horrible act. After denouncing bodily
rights as a red herring, they see no reason to consider or discuss it.
between pregnancy and allegedly analogous situations. Still, in my
experience it seems too many pro-lifers haven’t seriously
considered–and in some cases refuse to consider–how much bodily
rights do play into the abortion debate. Sometimes I’m surprised by
this, because the issue of bodily rights weighs heavily
in my consideration of my abortion stance.
I wonder if pro-lifers
dismiss the bodily rights argument partly because it’s not usually why
women get abortions in the first place. While bodily autonomy is a commonly cited reason for keeping abortion legal, it’s not a commonly cited reason for actually getting an abortion.
According to Guttmacher:
reasons most frequently cited were that having a child would interfere
with a woman’s education, work, or ability to care for dependents (74%);
that she could not afford a baby now (73%); and that she did not want
to be a single mother or was having relationship problems (48%).
Not mentioned is a concern for bodily health, or a frustration or fear over sharing her body with another.
The Guttmacher report elaborates:
In a 1985 study of 500 women in Kansas, unreadiness to parent was the reason most often
for having an abortion, followed by lack of financial resources and
absence of a partner. In 1987, a survey of 1,900 women at large abortion
providers across the country
found that women’s most common
reasons for having an abortion were that having a baby would interfere
with school, work or other responsibilities, and that they could not
afford a child.
Again, the main reasons women choose abortion have nothing to do with their bodily autonomy.
Still, that doesn’t mean bodily autonomy is irrelevant to
these women. Guttmacher found that 12% of women cite concerns over
their health as cause for an abortion, including “from chronic or
debilitating conditions such as cancer and cystic fibrosis to
pregnancy-specific concerns such as gestational diabetes and morning
is there such a divergence between the reasons people insist abortion
should be a right and the reasons women actually get abortions? Does the
difference matter? Are there parallel differences between the reasons
people protect other rights vs the reasons people exercise those rights?