A Young Woman’s Bodily Autonomy Gets Violated: How Pro-Choice Feminists Should React to the story of Alexis Avila

(Disclaimer)

 Lest anyone think I’ve lost my mind posting this on a pro-life website, it is meant to be satire. I was too annoyed by the blatant hypocrisy of the American court system in condemning this woman for almost killing her kid when if she’d just had a doctor do it a few weeks earlier, she would have gotten away scott-free. Such stupidity deserves to be lampooned.)

I want to begin by saying how important abortion rights are. They save relationships. My boyfriend was ready to leave me seven different times for getting pregnant. Every abortion made him change his mind.

So, I was shocked, just shocked, when I read an NBC News Story about Alexis Avila. Avila is a brave, 18 year old woman, who lived her truth by abandoning her newborn baby in the dumpster back in 2022. Rather than celebrate her for making the choice that was right for her, the local court charged her with attempted first-degree murder and sentenced Avila to 16 years in prison.1 And in a very anti-women statement, the prosecutor, Fifth Judicial District Attorney Dianna Luce, called it “an especially heinous crime” in a statement.”2 Some right wing misogynist must have really gotten into her head to make Miss Luce say such an ignorant thing.   

People, we don’t live in 1972 anymore.3 Wake up! This is the sort of backward thinking that got Roe V. Wade overturned in the first place. Think about it! How did we justify abortion in the first place? Once we couldn’t win the battle on scientific grounds by claiming the unborn are not human, we switched to personhood!4 We insisted it’s not enough to be simply biologically human. A human also needs to be a person to be a member of the moral community. We then disqualified the unborn from being persons by making the criteria for personhood things they don’t have like consciousness or rationality.5 Rationality is especially important because we’ve also shown that a person is only morally worthy of consideration when they have desires about how their life should go. Unborn children do not have rationality so they are not worthy of moral consideration, as David Boonin has so deftly shown.6 But guess what Miss Luce? Newborn babies don’t have those traits either.7 So why the flip should we consider them persons? Do you realize the dangerous precedent this could set? People are gonna start wondering: if we can treat newborns as persons when they don’t have these traits, why can’t we consider the unborn to be persons as well? Do we want to appear like we’re incapable of being logically consistent with our thinking? Or even worse, do we want it to appear that we’re willing to just grasp at straws just so we can justify killing our babies?

Now I’ve heard the objections from some liberals. They might cite Mary Anne Warren’s point to me that “most of us value the lives of infants, and would greatly prefer to pay taxes to support foster care and state institutions for disabled children, rather than allow them to be killed or abandoned.8 To all of you, all I can say is that if you don’t like infanticide, then don’t have your doctor kill your baby! Don’t stand in the way of a woman who was probably scared, and obviously wasn’t ready to be a mother. Maybe it was the only way she could avoid ending up in poverty? Maybe it would have stood in her way of going to school? You don’t know. So, it’s not your place to judge her. If we can trust a woman to know that letting her baby die in the womb is the right choice for her, we should trust her to know that letting him die outside the womb is the right choice for her! Check your privilege.

You holier than thou types might also want to point out that she could have simply found someone to adopt her baby. As Warren also argues 

Many people wait years for the opportunity to adopt a child, and some are unable to do so, even though there is every reason to believe that they would be good parents. The needless destruction of a viable infant not only deprives a sentient human being of life, but also deprives other persons of a source of great satisfaction, perhaps severely impoverishing their lives.9

Don’t you know though that there are people who would be more than happy to adopt an unborn child too? The destruction of non viable infants is probably depriving them of great satisfaction and impoverishing their lives as well. Are we trying to make the pro-life side’s arguments for them now?10 And this still does not change the fact that the newborn baby does not meet our criteria for a person. So, it is irrelevant whether other people want a baby. There is nothing wrong with letting him die or killing him because he does not have a right to life!

Finally, you might say that once the baby is born, he is no longer a threat to her health and life. So, there is no reason for her to have abandoned him in a trash can.11 But babies do not stop being a burden once they are born. In some ways babies can be more of a hindrance. Here are just a couple of examples. When you’re pregnant, you take the baby everywhere by default and you have to do nothing to care for them. You don’t have to feed them and you don’t have to worry about them starting to cry. Not so once they’re born. And if you don’t want to take them with you, you have to get a babysitter. If you can’t, then you’re stuck at home with them. What about health? Do you know how many parents will go hungry when there is a lack of food just so they can make sure that their kids get enough to eat?12 But newborns don’t deserve this kind of care. Why? Let me say it again for the people in the back church pew. The NEWBORN IS NOT A PERSON WITH A RIGHT TO LIFE. HE IS NO MORE A PERSON THEN THE UNBORN IS. THEREFORE, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH KILLING HIM, WHETHER HE’S A THREAT TO A WOMAN’S LIFE OR HEALTH.

New Mexico is just going to make itself appear like a joke. After all, they have some of the most liberal abortion laws in the country. They do abortions past the 25 week mark.13 Once we see how all the arguments against infanticide fail according to our standards, one is left wondering what Avila actually did wrong. The results of going to an abortion clinic are pretty much the same. A dead baby that ends up in a trash bin. Maybe they just don’t like that she used a public bin rather than an abortion clinic bin? Get real.

But maybe you think the unborn is a person. Or that even if he is not a rational person, he is still conscious and feels pain. Therefore, he should not be killed. Well, let’s grant those points for the sake of argument. Have you forgotten one of the other pillars of our movement: the violinist argument? Let me refresh your memory. Judith Jarvis Thomson came up with this argument to attempt to show that abortion should be legalized even if the unborn were a person with a right to life. The story goes like this:

You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, “Look, we’re sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you—we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist now is plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it’s only for nine months. By then, he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.” Is it morally incumbent upon you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness, but do you have to accede to it?14

I bet that you would say that in such a case, you should not be forced to remain plugged into that person. I would suggest that that is because you have the common sense to recognize that no one has a right to use your body without your consent. Since you have not given your consent, the violinist has no right and so therefore there is nothing wrong with you unplugging yourself from him. This is true even if the result is that he dies. You would say this even though the violinist is a person with a right to life.

Now how does this apply to Avila’s situation? Well, the baby was also using her body. And from the fact that she dumped him in the trash bin, we can see that she did not consent to letting him use her body. If a person does not have a right to use another person’s body without their consent, then he does not have a right to use her body. Therefore, there was nothing wrong with her stopping him from using her body.

But the baby was conscious and probably felt pain and fear right? Perhaps that’s what made leaving him in the garbage bin wrong. Well let’s apply that reasoning to the violinist story and see if it changes anything. The violinist is also conscious and would likely feel pain and fear if he was left to die of his kidney disease. Would that change your mind about the permissibility of you unplugging yourself from him? If not, then that shows that the fact that someone feels pain or fear as a result of your actions, does not change the moral permissibility of those actions. In the same way then, the fact that Avila’s baby could feel pain and fear, cannot change the moral permissibility of her stopping him from using her body.15

Or perhaps you’re thinking that by giving birth and taking the baby home with her instead of having an abortion, she did consent to letting the baby use her body. That is the same weak justification Thomson gave for holding to her position while condemning infanticide.16 But someone needs to give her a reality check. There could be several reasons why Avila did not seek an abortion. Maybe she just could just not afford one.17 Thomson does know that abortions aren’t free doesn’t she? But let’s go with the worst-case scenario. Perhaps she did initially choose to keep her baby. Does that mean she should be forced to continue looking after it if she changes her mind? Let me quote David Boonin to disabuse you of such an idiotic notion.

Suppose, after all, that a woman made the following explicit agreement: Give me some money today, and tomorrow you can use my body in any way that you want even if by that time I have changed my mind and no longer want you to. Most of us would think this sort of contract to be simply invalid. As at least one writer sympathetic to the good samaritan argument has argued, “one cannot legitimately enslave oneself by waiving in advance one’s right to control one’s body.”… And if this is so, then even if we thought that by her actions the woman could legitimately be understood as attempting to consent to waive this right, we would still have to conclude that she has not in fact done so.18

(Of course, Boonin also is against child abandonment. But he seems to fail to realize this argument would justify it.) In the same way, I would argue that even if a woman has consented to waive her right to bodily autonomy by bringing the baby home, she cannot legitimately enslave herself.

Now I am aware that Miss Avila has expressed remorse over her actions. She even said that she should apologize to her baby. How absurd is that? It’s not like her baby had any desire to not be thrown out. She didn’t thwart them.19 Heck, the baby didn’t even understand what was going on. You don’t need to apologize to someone who doesn’t know they’ve been wronged.20 But I would suggest that the only reason she’s feeling remorse is because of the stigma surrounding child abandonment. Rather than supporting a woman in her deeply personal decision, social media is full of condemnation. People who have commented on it say such hurtful statements as “It’s about time the law work for the victim,” and “Good job! Thank y’all for all that you guys do!”21 Who wouldn’t be full of shame from all of that oppression?

If we don’t want our rights taken away, we need to change the narrative. People are starting to think that something being helpless and innocent is a reason to protect it, not end its life. Pretty soon they’ll realize that the same reasoning could be applied to the unborn as well. So what I propose is that we start shouting our child abandonment! Share your stories online about how you left your baby to die. Tell us about how it was the best decision you ever made. Take photos. Post videos. We need to do this to let women out there know that we stand with them. Put it under the hashtag #wethrew. Only in this way can we stop the relentless onslaught against our reproductive freedom.

Signed,

Miss Representation

References

  1. Phil Helsel, “New Mexico Women Sentenced to 16 Years For Placing Baby in a Dumpster: Alexis Avila Who was 18 At the Time was Convicted of attempted Murder and Child Abuse. The Newborn was Found and Survived.” NBC News, Uploaded May 1, 2023,  https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/new-mexico-woman-sentenced-16-years-placing-baby-dumpster-rcna82368 
  2. Helsel, “New Mexico Women Sentenced to 16 Years For Placing Baby in a Dumpster,” NBC News, Uploaded May 1, 2023,  https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/new-mexico-woman-sentenced-16-years-placing-baby-dumpster-rcna82368.
  3. The year before Roe v. Wade was decided.
  4. Nancy R. Pearcey makes this point in Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018), 60.
  5. Mary Anne Warren, “In the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion,” in Jonathan Wolff, Readings in Moral Philosophy (New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2018), 345-346.
  6. David Boonin, A Defense of Abortion (Cambridge, EN: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 125-126.
  7. Peter Singer makes this point in Practical Ethics, 3rd ed. (Cambridge, EN: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 151.
  8. Warren, “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion,” in Wolff, Readings in Moral Philosophy, 351.
  9. Warren, “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion,” in Wolff, Readings in Moral Philosophy, 350.
  10. Christopher Kaczor, The Ethics of Abortion: Women’s Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Abortion (New York, NY: Routledge, Taylor and Francis, 2015), 45.
  11. Warren “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion,” in Wolff, Readings in Moral Philosophy, 351.
  12. Kellogs, “Going Hungry So their Children Can Eat: Third of Parents On Lower Incomes Have Skipped Meals During School Holidays,” at Kellogs, uploaded July 20th, 2015, https://www.kelloggs.co.uk/en_GB/press-release/going-hungry-so-their-children.html.
  13. CARE, “Abortion After 27 Weeks in New Mexico,” by Clinics for Abortion and Reproductive Excellence, https://abortionclinics.org/new-mexico/late-term-abortion-new-mexico/ (accessed August 21st, 2023).
  14. Judith Jarvis Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion,” in Wolff, Readings in Moral Philosophy, 332.
  15. This line of argument is based on the writings of David Boonin in Beyond Roe: Why Abortion Should be Legal—Even if the Fetus is a Person (Oxford, EN: Oxford University Press, 2019).
  16. Judith Jarvis Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion,” in Steven Scalet and John Arthurs, Morality and Moral Controversies: Readings in Moral, Social and Political Philosophy (New York, NY: Routledge, Taylor and Francis, 2019), 341.
  17. Patrick Lee makes this point in response to Thomson in Abortion and Unborn Human Life, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2011), 112.
  18. Boonin, A Defense of Abortion, 166-167. The quotation is from Roderick T. Long, “Abortion, Abandonment, and Positive Rights: The Limits of Compulsory Altruism,” in Social Philosophy and Policy, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 166-91, 189. 
  19. Boonin, A Defense of Abortion, 126, 133. Boonin argues for desires being the basis for moral considerations.
  20. Singer, Practical Ethics, 152. Singer talks about how preference utilitarianism, your concern is about the emotions certain policies could engender. I would assume this would also apply to emotions that could be caused by certain actions.
  21. Fifth Judicial District Attorney, “Justice for Baby Boy!” on Facebook, uploaded May 1st, 2023, https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=604182838401467&set=a.296757802477307.

Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

Born in Vancouver, B.C., Chris has been married to Amy since 2017. He has a BA in Religious Studies (Youth Leadership), and an MA in Theological Studies (Apologetics). He enjoys acting, evangelism, and debates.

The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.