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Extremism in Defense of Autonomy

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

When confronted with opposition to abortion, many feminists reflexively assert that it is “(Their) body” and, therefore, “(their) choice.” Notice that I have used the term “assert” instead of “argue.” In order for an assertion to become an argument it must be accompanied by evidence. There simply is no evidence to support the position that the unborn is merely an extension of the woman’s body.


There are two ways to respond to this unsupported assertion. One is to simply quote from embryology textbooks, which uniformly conclude that the unborn is a distinct, living, and whole human being from the point of conception. Another is to share images of what the unborn child looks like at the earliest stages when surgical abortion is performed, which is around seven weeks after conception. By choosing this latter option, one can simply count the clearly discernible fingers on the “blob of tissue” and see that more than one body is involved. Pregnant women don’t have four hands and twenty fingers.

Using scientific evidence to point out that it is not merely her body and her choice will usually force the pro-abortion choice advocate to modify her position with something like the following: “Ok, there is another body involved but it’s still my choice.” In other words, “I don’t care about the other body. My bodily rights still prevail!”

Philosophically speaking, this is a hard position to defend. In effect, using a bodily autonomy argument to defend abortion is tantamount to saying that one can advance bodily autonomy through the act of dismembering bodies. At some point, this kind of thinking produces more than mere cognitive dissonance. It leads to a crisis in our conception (sorry) of human equality.

It should go without saying that you can use this justification for abortion only if a woman’s right to bodily autonomy is absolute. The absurdity of such absolutist claims should be obvious. If they are not, please consider a thought experiment originally offered by pro-abortion choice blogger Paul W. (paraphrased and modified slightly by yours truly).


First off, imagine that a woman enjoys being pregnant. And don’t laugh. I have a good friend who has had eight children with his wife. Whenever I see her and she is pregnant she is beaming. When she is not pregnant she will tell you that she wished she were pregnant. In fact, she is never happier than when she is pregnant.

Now, just imagine that a new form of technology comes into existence, which allows a woman to remain pregnant as long as she wants. In other words, it stops the baby within her from developing past a certain point. All she has to do is to take a pill or get some sort of injection and the baby will stop growing and remain within her womb forever.

Further, also imagine that a woman gets pregnant at the age of 20, takes advantage of the new technology, remains pregnant, and lives until the age of 90. For 70 years, there is a tiny dwarf living inside of her who is fully aware of whom he is and who wants to escape to live a normal life. But, alas, he cannot. She has boldly proclaimed, “It is my body and my choice! Nobody passes through my vagina without my permission!” So her dwarf baby remains inside her womb trapped in involuntary servitude in rigid adherence to the principle of bodily autonomy.

The thought experiment proffered by Paul W. may well produce the objection that it doesn’t apply to abortion, as the fetus is neither aware of its surroundings nor desirous of escape. But the solution to that is pretty simple. Just as one injection could stop the baby from growing, a second injection could knock it out as soon as it starts developing self-awareness. There would be no violation of human rights as long as the little human didn’t know what was happening. In a sense, the bodily autonomy zealot could just borrow a page from the playbook of the rapist who sedates his victims in advance.


The bodily autonomy justification for abortion is indeed barbaric. But, unfortunately, it is often made to sound defensible by a much more famous thought experiment. That well-known hypothetical will be the subject of a future column.

… To be continued.

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