My Body, My Choice?: A Response to the Personal Autonomy Argument
“My body, my choice.” We have all come across this argument in one variation or another. It has become the most common retort offered by the average person arguing in favor of the legality of abortion. This appeal to bodily autonomy is rhetorically powerful. While it is true that philosophically sophisticated arguments exist in favor of abortion, the standard “my body, my choice” argument is little more than a rhetorical tool. It appears that many who employ this argument have not thought through its logical consequences. Furthermore, the standard pro-life response also seems to fail to address the underlying logic of this argument.
The strength of the “my body, my choice” argument lies in the appeal to personal autonomy. Frequently, I have heard pro-lifers respond that abortion concerns “someone else’s body,” not the woman’s body; and therefore, the argument fails. While it is true that the body of another human being is directly impacted during an abortion, this response does not actually address the “my body, my choice” argument.
This version of a bodily autonomy argument claims that a woman has the right to have an abortion because she has autonomy over her own body and all that is within her body. The argument does not claim that a fetus is merely part of a woman’s body prior to birth or that a fetus is not a person. Its sole assertion is that having bodily autonomy, a woman has the right to an abortion regardless of the nature of a fetus or its relationship to the mother.
Therefore, the common pro-life response does not actually address the argument. Whether or not an abortion harms the body of another human being is beside the point. As long as the fetus is within a woman’s body, the argument goes, her autonomy over her own body and all that is within it allows her the right to have an abortion.
The real problem with this version of the bodily autonomy argument is that it leads to absurd consequences. Many people who use this argument would likely realize that they do not agree with it if they took it to its logical conclusion. For example, most who support abortion agree that there ought to be at least some point during the pregnancy when abortion should no longer be an option. However, if the “my body, my choice” argument is true, abortion would have to be legal up until the very last moment before birth because the nature of the fetus is not relevant to the argument.
This is not to say that all who support abortion believe that it ought to be legal without exception. However, the “my body, my choice” argument offers simplistic reasoning without depth or nuance and inevitably leads to such drastic conclusions. Rather than using meaningless platitudes to score rhetorical points, those interested in the abortion debate should be willing to think through the logic of their own opinions and be willing to hear the responses of others who disagree.