[Guest Blogger Simon takes a particular interest in the philosophical aspects of the abortion debate. Here he considers the important role of bodily integrity.]
When studying the philosophy of abortion, it is often very hard to find new perspectives. Many arguments run along the usual lines of bodily autonomy, personhood, the moral value of autonomy and human life, etc. So I was surprised not long ago to have something pointed out to me that led me to alter my stance.
Much is made of bodily autonomy and the Violinist analogy, arguing that even if an innocent human has a right to life that doesn’t automatically override someone’s bodily autonomy. Granted, the case is weakened because the violinist argument applies more to rape victims, but even if we except consensual sex from the thought experiment, we run into a broader problem.
A few months back I posted on an abortion thread raising the bodily autonomy question and David Boonin’s Toxic Waste analogy. I suggested that Boonin’s analogy is consistent in principle with existing moral precepts: even if another moral being is inside us we can still owe bodily compensation for causing existential harm to another moral entity.
Another participant on the thread pointed out that nowhere in law do we allow bodily compensation by the offender for the victim. This is quite true; one not need have read the Merchant of Venice to appreciate the problems involved with bodily compensation. Since this is the case how can we ask women to give the foetus bodily compensation when our society does not legally require this in any other situation?
Of course not having a precedent is not, in itself, a reason to introduce a new law, but it does raise a point that doesn’t seem to have been addressed in any detail. And this is not just a simple matter of introducing a new law that focuses just on abortion and women, because when we think of legal matters we must make a general case for the principle. If you didn’t make this a general principle under the law, the result would be giving prenatal persons more rights than post partum persons: offenders would be forced to abrogate bodily autonomy to save prenatal life, yet post partum people cannot demand as much. Conversely you are giving pregnant women who consented to sex fewer rights than the rest of the population.
Such a principle would need to be applied in any case wherein an offender causes severe or existential harm to the victim and the only compensation is the temporarily use of the offender’s body, or if applicable (without leading to death), use of the offender’s organs or blood. For example, if a drunk driver caused a victim to need an organ transplant and no other organ was available, the law would abrogate the drunk driver’s bodily autonomy and allow the removal of the organ.
Unless this becomes a new legal principle, you don’t have the legal or moral basis to force a pregnant woman who consented to sex to compensate the foetus for putting it in existential peril. The most you could do would be to offer the woman a choice between jail time or the fetus’s use of her body.