The pro-abortion side has moved progressively away from the personhood debate, aware that the science is profoundly against them, and has now planted its flag firmly on the ground of "bodily autonomy." It is not uncommon these days to hear an abortion supporter basically concede that the "fetus" is a living person, but still defend abortion on the basis that "a woman can do what she wants with her body." This is supposed to be some kind of philosophically unassailable and logically bulletproof argument. It is supposed to end the discussion.
It doesn't. Not even close, actually.
It is almost shocking how quickly "complete bodily autonomy" falls apart when you spend more than 8 seconds thinking about it. By my count, it can be debunked about five different ways. I already debunked it in my book, but I thought it may be worthwhile to make the point in this forum.
So, here are the five major holes in the bodily autonomy claim:
1) First we must cover the most obvious base: it's not your body.
Call the baby whatever you want to call him — fetus, clump of cells, zygote — but you cannot call him your body. Whatever he is, he certainly is an entirely separate and distinct entity. His body is the body at issue here.
2) Abortion is not merely the act of detaching yourself from a baby. It is not a simple unplugging. Abortion is the direct, purposeful, active killing of a human life.
The pro-abort will get around point one by arguing that the baby is dependent upon the mother's body for survival. The mother must have the right to withdraw her body, detach it, from the parasitic organism which has mysteriously fastened itself to her. Here they will probably trot out some version of Judith Jarvis Thomson's famous thought experiment, arguing that forcing a woman to remain pregnant is like forcing a person to remain attached by tubes and wires to a stranger in a hospital bed.
But here's the problem: we're not talking about removing tubes and wires. We're talking about the active murder of a person. You see, even if I agreed with the bodily autonomy argument, and I conceded that a woman ought to have the right to exercise her autonomy even in the midst of a pregnancy (I do not concede this point, and will explain why in a moment), I still would not support abortion. Once again, pro-abortion arguments are so bad that even if they were right, they'd still be wrong.
If a woman wishes to withdraw support from her unborn child and reclaim her autonomy, it would only be necessary to remove the child from her womb. Abortion is a form of removing the child, but it adds an extra step when it violently kills the child before removing him. This step is not necessary and is not justified by autonomy. Autonomy only gets you so far as taking the child out of the woman's body. To crush the child's skull ahead of time, or rip him apart limb from limb, is a rather significant leap beyond autonomy.
Babies can survive outside the womb at 22 weeks, and the bar is getting lower and lower by the year. If a woman decides to be autonomous at that stage, she will need to have the baby surgically extracted from her womb one way or another. Why does autonomy necessitate extracting the child piece be piece rather than as a whole? Why must effort be taken to stop the child's heart before separating him from his mother? Why must he die?
If we are really granting "autonomy" to pregnant women, it would mean giving them the right to have their babies removed from their bodies at whatever point they prefer. In many cases, the removal would probably result in the child's death. In many cases it would not. But in no case whatsoever would it be necessary to directly kill the child on purpose. The killing of the child has nothing to do with autonomy. It's just murder, plain and simple.
3) Bodily autonomy arguments completely disregard the relationship of the people involved.
The glaring hole in the "attached to a stranger in a hospital bed" analogy is that your child is not a stranger. Abortion presupposes that a mother has no special responsibility to her child whatsoever. But nobody actually believes that. Every sane person on the planet — pro-aborts included — well understand that your status as "parent," and the child's status as "son or daughter," come with a certain significance and certain duties that do not exist between you and a random guy on the street.
We require by law that parents make all sorts of sacrifices for their children. Parents must feed their children, clothe them, shelter them, educate them. All of this represents an enormous strain on a parent's mind, body, soul, and bank account. Their very lives must now be lived in service to these little people. They alone have this peculiar responsibility to their children, and they will go to prison if they do not make the effort to fulfill it. If they discover that they are unable or unwilling to provide for their child, they must find someone who will. They cannot kill their children, no matter how stressed and overwhelmed they may feel, and they cannot just leave their kids on the side of the road somewhere.
The pro-life argument is common sense. We contend that this principle — the principle that a mother has a special and unique responsibility to her child — ought to be extended into the womb. This is exceedingly logical because the child is still the same person in the womb, the mother is the same person, and the biological relationship is the same. No fundamental change takes place upon birth. Birth is a continuation of that biological relationship, not a beginning.
Pro-aborts pretend that the relationship, and the attached responsibilities, begin nine months after conception. They are wrong both morally and scientifically.
4) Pregnancy is natural.
Pro-aborts will say that pregnancy, when it occurs "without consent," is a violation of the mother's rights. Who, then, is violating her? I suppose the guilty party must be the baby, and the penalty for his crime is death.
Yet the baby is simply following the natural order of things. He is in his natural environment. He is doing the only thing he can do. He is not the one who decided that humans must come into the world this way. Nature (or God, as I call Him), has decided this. So, if pregnancy can be a violation of woman's autonomy, we must say that nature is really the violator.
You might argue that cancer is also "natural," in a sense. But cancer is a corruption of nature. It is nature gone wrong. Pregnancy is nature gone exactly right. It is nature doing precisely what nature is designed to do, and must do, and has done billions of times throughout history.
If bodily autonomy is a right, then it must be a natural right, as only natural rights are real rights. But how can your natural rights be infringed upon by the natural order? How can nature decide that all children must be born through women, and also decide that this very process is an infringement on the integrity and freedom of women?
It would seem that the right to abortion cannot come from nature for the simple reason that pregnancy comes from nature. So, where does it come from? The government? Well, then you cannot complain when the government restricts or prohibits abortion. To complain about the law is to appeal to something higher than the law. But that higher thing — call it nature or God — is the very thing that decided you should be pregnant. You have nowhere to turn. Wherever you look, murder is still murder.
5) Bodily autonomy does not exist.
It really boils down to this. We are not autonomous creatures. We are not sovereign. To argue that man is autonomous and sovereign is to argue that he has no responsibilities to his fellow man at all. It is to argue that he should not be subject to law, morality, or social order. And to justify the destruction of innocent life on the basis of autonomy is to say that man's autonomy can be exercised even to the point of harming others. In other words, true and complete autonomy is anarchy.
This is where the pro-abort begins to equivocate. He says that this "complete autonomy" only gives us total and destructive authority over those who are dependent upon us for survival. Well, that is not complete autonomy at all, is it? You have already forfeited complete autonomy and now you are arguing for partial autonomy, which is not autonomy.
And this autonomy still gives us power far beyond abortion. My born children are entirely dependent upon me for survival. Can I kill them? Welfare recipients are at least partially dependent upon me for survival. What travesties may I inflict on them?
Ah, but you don't mean that sort of autonomy. No, you mean an autonomy that forces me to care for born children, and even forces me to care for complete strangers, yet empowers me (or my wife, anyway) to kill our kids in the womb. So now you are arguing for partial, partial, partial, conditional, temporary, gender-exclusive autonomy.
In other words, you are not arguing for autonomy at all.
You are just arguing for murder.