Friday, March 9, 2012

Bodily Integrity

In my opinion, bodily integrity—the idea that no person has the right to use another person’s body against their will--is the strongest pro-choice argument.

Consider the court case McFall v Shimp: McFall suffered from a life-threatening bone marrow disease and his cousin, Shimp, was a compatible bone marrow donor.  Shimp refused to donate bone marrow. McFall requested Shimp be compelled to donate. The Court considered Shimp’s refusal “morally indefensible,” but still ruled in Shimp’s favor, explaining, 
“For a society which respects the rights of one individual, to sink its teeth into the jugular vein or neck of one of its members and suck from it sustenance for another member, is revolting to our hard-wrought concepts of jurisprudence. Forcible extraction of living body tissue causes revulsion to the judicial mind.” 
Judith Jarvis Thomson tackles the issues of bodily integrity and moral obligations in her essay, “A Defense of Abortion.”  Thomson asks us to imagine a famous violinist with a fatal kidney ailment.  One day a bunch of music lovers kidnap you and hook your kidneys up to the violinist’s circulatory system.  In nine months the violinist will have recovered, but if you disconnect yourself prematurely the violinist will die.  Thomson asks, “Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation?”

I’ve often seen car crashes used as another analogy.  When you drive (have sex), you know there’s a possibility you could crash into someone (conceive).  Even when you drive very cautiously (use contraception), there is still a chance of a car accident.  Should you be in a car crash in which the victim’s life is at stake, the law does not compel you to donate blood or organs to save the victim. While it would be admirable for you to donate, you are not required to do so.

These analogies attempt to illustrate not only the importance of bodily integrity, but that bodily integrity is so essential it cannot be usurped by even the morally and physically complex circumstances of pregnancy.  Yet in the context of abortion each of the above examples fails to account for one or more of the following important factors:

1)   Roughly 99% of abortions are performed for pregnancies in which sex was consensual. Two people willingly participated in an action that carried the risk of making another life dependent on the woman’s body.  This is distinct from being kidnapped and forcibly attached to someone. How would Thomson’s thought experiment change if you caused the violinist’s kidney ailment, connected your kidneys to his circulatory system, and then wanted to unplug?

2)   Once pregnant, the woman is already donating her body to the fetus.  It is not a question of whether she can be compelled to donate, but whether she can rescind the donation.  This may seem a meaningless distinction until we reconsider Shimp v. McFall.  How would the Court react if Shimp had already donated bone marrow to McFall and now wanted to have it back?

3)   Unintended pregnancies occur at a far greater rate than comparable bodily donation situations. About 1-9% of women who use birth control pills and 2-18% of couples who use condoms experience unplanned pregnancies. Even the most effective form of female sterilization has a 0.3% chance of an unplanned pregnancy.  For those of us who drive daily, that’s the equivalent of causing at least one life-threatening car crash every year.

4)   For most of the pregnancy, the expectant mother is the only person who can keep the fetus alive.  Imagine if our country had no infrastructure of blood banks and organ donors.  Imagine that, during your annual life-threatening car crash, you were the only person who could save the life of whomever you’d hit.  I doubt our laws would be unaffected by such frequent, extreme situations.

And none of this even touches on the particular circumstances of parental responsibility.

I know analogies are not meant to exactly mirror the circumstances they represent, and yet here I’ve spent a blog post nitpicking analogies.  But that’s sort of the point, isn’t it?  While bodily integrity is an important right, the frequency, physical circumstances, and moral implications of pregnancy are so unique that even in deciding Roe v.Wade, the Court specifically avoided using bodily integrity as a basis for its reasoning: 
“…appellant and some amici argue that the woman's right is absolute and that she is entitled to terminate her pregnancy at whatever time, in whatever way, and for whatever reason she alone chooses. With this we do not agree. … In fact, it is not clear to us that the claim asserted by some amici that one has an unlimited right to do with one's body as one pleases bears a close relationship to the right of privacy previously articulated in the Court's decisions. The Court has refused to recognize an unlimited right of this kind in the past.”
I empathize with people who find abortion troubling but find an incursion on bodily rights at least as troubling.  Bodily integrity should not be debated trivially.  However, given the millions of times a year people willingly take the risk that someone’s life will depend exclusively on their bodies, and given the hundreds of thousands of times a year that risk becomes a reality, these circumstances are anything but trivial.


Catherine said...

Bodily integrity is probably a myth. If we become ill we hand over our bodies to the illness and to our doctors to make us well. We give consent yes but we don't have any say when doctors decide to stop treatment. They decide no more should be done. We can object and get a second opinion but usually the first opinion is upheld. Our body yes but we are not always in control.

Jameson Graber said...

Thank you for this very sensitive treatment of what is probably the key moral/legal issue when it comes to abortion. I don't think pro-lifers face the issue head on nearly enough. As a result, we hear all kinds of strange pro-choice arguments which seem to imply that an embryo could magically appear one day against a woman's will.

Incidentally, I actually tend to favor an exception to the pro-life position in cases of rape, since in that case, the bodily integrity argument seems to work. Maybe you could comment on that.

Anonymous said...

I'll take on the rape exception.
I'm a rape survivor. I would never, under any circumstances, consider abortion. In fact, I have never known another rape survivor who hasn't worked hard to make people understand their pro-life position, since the majority of the public have bought into the lie that rape victims would naturally want an abortion. The majority of us are pro-life due in large part to our now very intimate knowledge of the fragility of life. Often, meaning in the majority of rape situations (77%), the assailant is known to the victim through a previous relationship of some level.

Some rape survivors who have become pregnant ultimately choose abortion. They are told, repeatedly, that this is the best option for them, so they consent. This leaves them with a whole new quandry. A very bad thing happened to them and as a result, they are left with the responsibility of another person's life. They then "choose" to end that life and must live with the knowledge that they have been responsible for a far greater evil.
Whereas they were violated in an extremely intimate way, they lived. Once they have chosen abortion, they've ended the life of an innocent, and there is no taking that back. A rapist may apologize or attempt to make amends to their victims, but there is no making amends to a person you killed.

Let's make a rape case analogy:
You're a woman, you're married to an abusive man. You have a child together. He goes to jail for abusing it legal to kill the child? What is killing the child going to solve? How can it be justified to murder the child, simply because the actions of the child's father are reprehensible? What fault lies with the child?

Because the majority of rapes are perpetrated by non-strangers, and most of those are people with whom the victims had an intimate relationship, the analogy holds.

Our society would never tolerate a woman who, when her abuser went to jail for his crimes against her, then murdered her children because they were a result of their union.

Abortion laws are totally arbitrary. When we allow our society to be regulated by emotions, we have spiraled into a place with little or no consistency, and no one is safe. I think our founding fathers understood well the danger of allowing society to flit & fly from here to there, based on emotional impact. That, I believe, is why the assurance of our most basic human rights includes our life, liberty & pursuit of happiness, and ANY action violating those basic freedoms are defined by our declaration of independence as a punishable offense.

A child conceived by rape has committed no crime, and therefore retains his/her protected right to their life, liberty and pursuit of their happiness. When a woman & her abortion provider participate in killing that person, they actively strip them of their rights. That's illegal. Well, it was before we all stood by and allowed emotion to rule our justice system.

Jameson Graber said...

You make a good moral case for not having an abortion in the event of rape, but I still don't think it means pro-lifers have to demand that abortion be illegal in those cases. I'm not suggesting abortion in the case of rape is a good idea. I'm just saying there's a case to be made for its legality on the grounds of bodily integrity. This is not arbitrary. It is not based on dehumanizing the unborn, but simply on upholding the right to your own body.

The analogy you describe is tricky in its own right, but even so, it's not perfectly analogous to abortion, because a child that has been born is no longer directly attached to the woman's body. I think this is a fair distinction, especially since pregnancy can bring a lot of medical risks (including the possibility of death). I wouldn't blame a woman in the situation you describe for giving up her child for adoption. She shouldn't be forced to care for a child conceived due to rape. But adoption is only a possibility after birth. The question is whether a woman should be legally forced against her will to allow an unborn child to live in her body, when she is in fact not responsible for the child's conception. I don't consider it outside the scope of pro-life beliefs to think that the answer is no.

B-Rana said...

Anonymous - you have made a wonderful and intelligent case. And I thank you for your compassion and strength.

And Jameson - there is said to be an exception for rape on legal grounds that the woman did not consent to sex. But studies have shown that 70% of women who conceive in rape do not abort. 1% of the 1.2 million abortions a years are for reasons of rape - that is 12,000 that's he 30%, so approximately 36,000 children that are born are conceived in rape. Women who are raped are not choosing abortion by and large. As a society, as Anon points out, we need to stop telling these women they need abortion - they are blatantly telling us otherwise, they need our support. Those 36,000 people a year will grow up thinking that there is something fundamentally wrong with them and that they would be better dead/killed and that we do not value them.

Anon also points out that abortion in rape cases does nothing to stop rape. It doesn't help stop rape, it doesn't prevent rape, it doesn't undo rape. Abortion does send the message that some humans are less valuable and can be used or disposed of as seen fit - much like rape does. And it seems that we stop focusing on the crime and the rapist and are concentrated on the child. I have known several women who conceived in rape and the often said that carrying the child made them feel like even though they have had a horrible wrong done to them that they were able to make a good out of it. They took control and they helped someone else and have said that it made them heal in a sense.

We may not be able to legislate it and if the Constitution confines us to that - then as a society we need to step forward and help these women regardless and we can. They need our help now as it is.

M said...

I favor exceptions for rape for the same reason. Morally I would still hope that a woman would choose life, but legally I don't think she should be prevented from abortion because then her bodily integrity truly is denied. I've tried to discuss this with other pro-lifers with very mixed results.

Jameson Graber said...

All of that's true, but I think you get different results depending on which question you're asking. One question is what's best for a woman who gets raped. Another question is what should be legal for her to do.

I suppose it's not worth arguing about, but I do hope groups like SecularProLife are willing to allow the rape exception as part of a legitimately pro-life stance.

happy said...

I agree.
I think that abortion in the case of rape is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, at the cost of someone's life. The victim isn't going to be pregnant forever. The child conceived has no intent to harm the woman, nor is there present any intent but the biological intent to survive. So, the child shouldn't be killed or considered an offense to woman's rights by simply existing. Part of our duty as American citizens is to protect not only our rights, but the rights of others. If the child has no intent to harm the mother, there is no crime that the child should suffer for, and is indeed qualified to have their rights upheld.

Several studies of rape victims have shown them to be majority pro-life.
(I might state here also that it must be extremely offensive to those rape victims to be spoken for without consultation and in opposition to their own will, but that is not my point.) Perhaps, it is because they have a sharpened sense of fault and malicious intent, and feel that they can better judge how to be respectful of rights without giving up their own.

They may view the pregnancy as a temporary infraction or annoyance even, but it is most certainly not an attempt by the child to violate her rights .

Anonymous said...

Hey mouth breathers:
The plural of anecdotes is not "data".

Posting more "pro-life rape victim" stories in this comments section will not make your pro-life "rape-babies are a blessing from god" fantasy into a reality.

Anonymous said...

Also, i've never seen a bigger group of nutballs who think that women should be relegated to the status of state-owned baby incubators. You people are terrible.

M said...

I found this stat and though of you, Jameson:

59% of self-described "pro-lifers" believe abortion should be legal when the woman was raped.

Anonymous said...

'Autonomy' is a feminist constuct. Real rights don't cancel out the rights of others. Without the right to life, all other rights are irrelevant. Which 'body part' would a simple DNA test prove an unborn child to be? Destroying the bodily integrity of another will not preserve your own, it will only make you a murderer. Feminists love to overlook moral agency in favor of propaganda, and this is one of their oldest and most overused.

Simon said...

I wonder what their reasoning is? If its due to emotional distress then they are inconsistent. If its due to bodily autonomy then they are right.

On the other hand if you have Pro-Lifers say no she has to have the child. But then ask them if presented with situations where they could save a life if they donate an organ, many refuse to do so even when the underlying principle is the same.

Kelley said...

Laws DO require a parent to care for his/her child though. This is not different. I am not required to feed, clothe, or educate a stranger, but I AM required to dot hose things for my CHILD. A parent must be required to do things for his/her child they are not forced to do for strangers. It is no different in the womb.

nicky said...

Aborting a baby is the same thing as kicking a born baby out of the mothers property in the middle of the night when it is freezing and the baby will no doubt die. It's the woman's property so naturally she can do what she wants to and the baby is "trespassing". If she doesn't want that baby on the property she should be able to kick it out-that very second and shouldn't have to wait until it's safe to do so-even if it means certain death.
That is what abortion is. Forcibly setting someone up in a helpless and dependent situation...blaming the whole situation on the victim....a choice to have sex while not wanting a baby (the natural and scientifically proven outcome) is a strait up choice to kill someone. People who do that act of sex might as well just be saying "I choose to kill a baby."
And for those who think that the woman can harm someone just because it is in her body-(now i don't want to be too graphic right now) By this standard she should be able to harm a mans privates while they are copulating and he is in there.
Also: Since babies do not have a choice about where they are put up until they can crawl, and the mother and father engaged in the physical act of placing a baby in the womb and attaching the baby to the womans insides....who put who where? Who set up this no-win (for the baby) situation? The capable and thinking adults who made the physical effort to create and place a human in the woman? Or the baby who is worthless and can physically do nearly nothing? If this situation were somehow worked out outside the womb with a baby and woman who brings it into her house (her property). The woman sets the baby up to a feeding tube and breathing system which cannot be removed for 9 months or a small bomb will go off killing the baby. Then the mother decides she wants the baby out of the house-because it's trespassing and using her electricity for the breathing machine. Who would we citizens blame if the bomb went off killing the baby by the mothers forced removal? The baby for trespassing? The baby for using the mothers' electricity?
I am not a Christian or religious in anyway. I don't need a book to tell me killing is wrong. I am a libertarian and believe in personal freedoms-but personal freedom does not include the killing of another person. said...

I couldn't have said it better myself.

franky said...

This is a very important piece and the exception for rape is indeed valid.
I often try to force the "compromise" by saying abortion is *still* not necessary but removing the fetus and "trying" to save its life. It vindicates the mothers bodily autonomy while vindicate the innocent human beings right to life (even if until 20 weeks or so its not likely to be vindicated for very long).
This would hopefully have the affect of forcing medical science to quicken its incubation techniques in trying to preserve the premature babies. Artificial wombs are certainly not far off either.
It would also heighten the ackowledgement that it is life and while the legal requirment might not be there it might also help encourage people to look past the crimes of the childs father and see it for who it is... an innocent human being.

As for the exception itself

Rebecca Kiessling (conceived in rape) has some interesting legal arguments to counter this "exception".
In particular Safe haven laws.

Added to that I also like to cite men who were raped but *forced* to pay child support because the courts decided that the welfare of the child that he conceived was more important than preserving his rights which were admittedly violated.

Admittedly they are still not so strong, as bodily autonomy is still another ball park and as you acknowledge pregnancy is unique and without a decent analogy.

I do wish more prolifers could see this side though and engage with it.
this is one of the few areas where abortion is tricky because of the psychological trauma on top of the actual rape. (although it is also debatable whether abortion helps the mental state).

It is sad that we, as a society, cant see past this stigma.
In many parts of Bosnia and kosovo children were killed as soon as they were born or are now ostracised by their communities because of War Rape.

While i understand the difference between legally permissible and the moral aspect... For me allowing abortion in this situation colludes in this stigma. Somehow agrees that those conceived in rape are less worthy of life (again see rebecca's website).

Unknown said...

I like your well thought out and impartial arguments.

CroCoppitz said...

Nice red herring! You really gave that strawman the ol' what for'!

First of all, you won't find very many people here who would push that ANYONE is a "blessing from God" as this is a secular pro-life page.

Secondly, who's trying to make women into "state-owned baby incubators"? Do you see any of us trying to force women to conceive children?

There's a reason you're so angry. Take a moment to think about it. :)

CroCoppitz said...

As someone who is TRULY pro-life, I have to wonder how someone can put temporary comfort above life. Pregnancy is temporary. Death is permanent.

I feel that people who concede the abortion of an innocent child's life because his father was a scumbag should not be considered "pro-life", but "anti-abortion with an asterisk".

Paul Backus said...

Could your argument also be applied to capital punishment? That seems to be an emotional decision, and one which does not allow the perpetrator a chance to atone.

I'm not assuming you believe one way or the other on the issue, just thinking out loud.

PS- the founders had no idea that abortion would ever come to be, and had no way to ever know.

Coyote said...

Your point #1 is very good. I disagree with your point #2. If my property ends up with someone else--for instance, if I accidentally throw a very expensive baseball over my fence and into my neighbor's lawn, I should still have a right to demand and get my baseball back. Same with my organs.

The rates of unwanted pregnancy vs. other bodily use cases is irrelevant to this debate. Therefore your point #3 isn't very good. As for point #4, I don't see the relevance of doing the only donor if your willing actions did not cause anything bad to happen to the other individual.

Coyote said...

In regards to Thomson's Violinist scenario, I'm a bit confused on how she can claim that an undue burden is still an undue burden regardless of magnitude and yet support forcing people to be Minimally Decent Samaritans and force small undue burdens on them.

Christina Bouchard said...

I'm 7 months pregnant, so my awareness of just how much a mother's body is violated is pretty sharp. Rapists who impregnate their victim should be tried for much more than rape -- how about all the other things they have forced on her? Doctor's bills, physical sickness, missing work, inability to sleep, aches and pains all over, banned activities.... and after being held accountable for all their crimes, life in prison still seems too soft.

I oppose rape because it violently violates another person's VERY BODY!

come to think of it ... that's the same reason I oppose abortion.

If we are comparing the unborn's right to life and the woman's right to bodily autonomy, we must ask:

Which is the more fundamental right?

In this situation, both woman and fetus can simultaneously have the right to life.

Mother and Fetus cannot simultaneously have bodily autonomy, the mother's claim to her body would violate the fetus' claim to his. Is that a good way to promote human equality?

Lilly Cheng said...

If a woman chooses to carry through with the pregnancy and take on the responsibility of raising a child, she is basically putting herself in a parental "contract", where she gives her time, body and resources to raising the child. Usually, a woman finds out that she is pregnant a few weeks into the pregnancy. The pregnancy is impossible to miss before the deadline for abortion, so there's plenty of time for a woman to choose if she wants to take on this responsibility. Raising a child is a giant responsibility and should be treated as the #1 responsibility in a parent's life. If a pregnant girl knows she isn't ready for the responsibility, it's wiser for her to terminate.

I was actually linked to this from Men's Rights Reddit addressing the issue of a father's choice to opt "out" of providing child support. The reasoning behind the fact that the mother can abort while the father can't force her to abort OR opt out of child support, is just based on the fact that the mother feels the effects of the pregnancy and "suffers" from it a lot more. They did make some good points, so I suppose the father should be able to have a say in opting out, if taxes increase and there is more funding for single, unprepared mothers.

A fertilized egg, zygote, embryo, fetus, even infant, doesn't have consciousness. A fertilized egg within the abortion window is only as significant as its parents deem. The mother definitely has more rights than an unborn mass of flesh. One is never obligated to give up any part of their body for someone else, and this applies to every case described above as well.

In a perfect world, only people who are prepared for parenthood and wish to have a child would become pregnant. We don't live in that world, and just like how banning contraceptives doesn't prevent premarital sex but only results in unprotected sex, pregnancies and diseases, banning legal and safe abortions doesn't mean people won't try to DIY.

Value "pro-life"? Then, instead of lobbying against abortions, look into ways to make funding available for every pregnant, single, unprepared, abortion-seeking mother to have enough money and resources to comfortably get through the pregnancy and raise the child.

dyl said...

“There is a concept called body autonomy. Its generally considered a human right. Bodily autonomy means a person has control over who or what uses their body, for what, and for how long. Its why you can’t be forced to donate blood, tissue, or organs. Even if you are dead. Even if you’d save or improve 20 lives. It’s why someone can’t touch you, have sex with you, or use your body in any way without your continuous consent.
A fetus is using someone’s body parts. Therefore under bodily autonomy, it is there by permission, not by right. It needs a persons continuous consent. If they deny and withdraw their consent, the pregnant person has the right to remove them from that moment. A fetus is equal in this regard because if I need someone else’s body parts to live, they can also legally deny me their use.

By saying a fetus has a right to someone’s body parts until it’s born, despite the pregnant person’s wishes, you are doing two things.

1. Granting a fetus more rights to other people’s bodies than any born person.
2. Awarding a pregnant person less rights to their body than a corpse.”

— Hannah Goff

Alden Smith said...

I don't like Roe v Wade but the way they didnt which a very heavy handed decision gave us the traction over time to help in place standards and restriction over it.

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GeorgiaPeach23 said...

Yes. The argument about consent being withdrawn misses the point. The support already given can't be withdrawn, but future support can be. Abortion doesn't erase the first n weeks of pregnancy, it prevents the further 40-n weeks.

Kayla L. said...

There is a concept called body autonomy. Its generally considered a
human right. Bodily autonomy means a person has control over who or what
uses their body, for what, and for how long. Its why you can’t be
forced to donate blood, tissue, or organs. Even if you are dead. Even if
you’d save or improve 20 lives. It’s why someone can’t touch you, have
sex with you, or use your body in any way without your continuous

A fetus is using someone’s body parts. Therefore under bodily autonomy,
it is there by permission, not by right. It needs a persons continuous
consent. If they deny and withdraw their consent, the pregnant person
has the right to remove them from that moment. A fetus is equal in this
regard because if I need someone else’s body parts to live, they can
also legally deny me their use.

By saying a fetus has a right to someone’s body parts until it’s born,
despite the pregnant person’s wishes, you are doing two things.

1. Granting a fetus more rights to other people’s bodies than any born person.

2. Awarding a pregnant person less rights to their body than a corpse.

Jesse Wilson said...

Number two is a poor analogy because the pregnancy is a process of donation not a binary input. 3 is OK, 1 and 4 are the best.