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.