Part I

This article was originally published on No Termination Without Representation and is reprinted in part here. The rest of the original post will be printed in part II. Only slight changes in formatting have been made; otherwise, the integrity of the content of this article is the same as the original.

Robert McFall clearly needed some of David Shimp’s bone marrow more than Shimp needed it. When Shimp – McFall’s first cousin – refused to give it, McFall took him to court.

The judge’s gavel came down. He wasn’t enthralled with Shimp as a person, but every speck of the bone marrow in Shimp’s body was, in the eyes of society, private property – Shimp’s private property. McFall’s eyes closed on the world, for the last time, before his 40th birthday.

A caring society views both such persons as equally valuable. Such a society has an interest in seeing both thrive and not come to harm. It would seem completely logical for society to have instructed Shimp to hand over some bone marrow, and if he did not do so peacefully, to have taken it forcibly. Why doesn’t society do that? Is society wrong not to do that?

Society sometimes grants to its citizens surprisingly strong body-related rights – body-related rights that are out of proportion to what a rational fairness would seem to demand. In a moral framework, our bodies have a certain mystique. I don’t think that that is necessarily wrong. People are psychologically constructed with a strong sense of ownership of their bodies. Ownership of any kind has no foundation in science, and a strong principle of individual body ownership would be very debatable philosophically, but the psychological sense is a reality. And due to sharing that sense, which is to say, due to belief in the validity of that sense – or due at least to a pragmatic recognition of the strength of that sense – society sometimes grants to its citizens surprising rights such as those of Shimp that we have just seen. A belief in the validity of that sense could also be termed a moral intuition (whether or not it is a correct moral intuition) that near-inviolable body ownership ought to be respected.

I cannot think of a more likely explanation than this for the origin of that particular moral intuition. And I basically support such rights, at least in this part of this century. Perhaps Shimp should have been sentenced to a lot of community service for refusing to help McFall. But I say that I basically support such rights because I do not think he should have been tied down and his bone marrow removed forcibly.

 It is important that the laws and conventions of society should give that psychological sense of ownership, and the actual ownership that society tends to think underlies it, its due. But is the current concept of bodily rights the most logical and coherent way to accomplish that? The value of the current concept of bodily rights is one of the first things we will examine.The bodily-rights argument for legal abortion is usually advanced through thought experiments that create analogies with pregnancy – analogies in which our sympathies will be on the side of a right to refuse to let one’s body be used. And those arguments are usually contested by showing the disanalogies between the situations of the thought experiments, and the situation of actual pregnancy. This essay hopes to reveal that one’s bodily rights may not be as strong in the first place when abortion is being prevented as they are when organ donation is being compelled (which is in itself a disanalogy), but the main effort here will be to analyze the concept of bodily rights. I think that the resultant demystification of bodily rights will cause “bodily rights” to lose its power as a mantra and retain only a more rational kind of power – power in situations where that power serves justice, but not in situations where it doesn’t – and that that in itself will weaken bodily-rights arguments for abortion rights.

Synopsis

Negative and even positive rights of different kinds can all be conceptualized in this way: they are rights not to be caused harm of different kinds. So what kind of harm can bodily rights, usefully conceived, protect us against? In order for the term “bodily rights” to be useful, such rights should not redundantly protect us in ways already covered by older and more obvious ethical notions (such as the right not to be punched in the face).

I find in this essay that the term “bodily rights” is useful only if it is confined to rights that aim to protect us against a certain kind of mental harm – offense to our psychological sense of body ownership. That form of mental harm is a real harm (a real mental harm), and it is caused by the trespass per se. 

(Rather than a “sense of body ownership”, the sense may often be a sense more of identification with the body, and we also have a sense of dignity or indignity associated with the treatment of our body by others. For convenience, I will use “psychological sense of body ownership” to mean any balance among these different senses that an individual may have at any moment. In any case, they are all psychological senses that are susceptible to being offended.) 

Current concepts of bodily rights do reflect some awareness of the sense of body ownership and of offenses to that sense, and they do aim to protect us against the harm of those offenses, but they also aim, redundantly, to protect us in other ways. Moreover, logically the strength of the right that protects us from that mental harm should vary in proportion to the degree of that mental harm. People advocating on the basis of the current concept of bodily rights may not (though they sometimes do) claim that bodily rights are absolute, but they do claim, at least implicitly, that the right is less than absolute only in that the strength of the right varies with the degree of trespass on the body, that is, on how deep in the body the proposed use of the body is to be. (They suggest that society may possibly require a person to use their arms and legs in some way, but it may not require them to surrender bone marrow, or to lend their uterus.) However, we find that in reality, the degree of that mental harm (consisting of offense to one’s psychological sense of body ownership) varies only partially and unpredictably in relation to the degree of trespass, so that really the degree of the harm can be ascertained only situation by situation.

This raises the possibility that a proposed use of the body, even if deep within the body, may not involve a high degree of the mental harm, and therefore may not justify a strong right to protect against it.

In relation to the abortion debate, it raises the possibility that a proposed use of the uterus may not involve an extremely high degree of the mental harm, and therefore may not justify a strong right to protect against that use. In the essay I discuss that possibility at some length. Bodily-rights arguments against abortion restrictions show us that denial of abortion is a degree of trespass on one’s bodily boundaries similar to the degree of trespass involved in other situations (such as the forcible appropriation of a body part) which nearly everyone’s moral intuitions agree are wrong. Bone marrow or a kidney is located deep within the body, and the uterus is located deep within the body. The arguments thus try to persuade us that denial of abortion is also wrong. However, they overlook the unpredictability of the mental harm, mentioned above.

I do not think that establishing the correctness of the pro-life position depends entirely on the possibility I mentioned about the degree of mental harm involved in a proposed use of the uterus. That possibility is the possibility of a big disanalogy between use of bone marrow or a kidney on the one hand, and use of a uterus for gestation on the other hand, but even without that disanalogy, I think that a “cocktail” of other, often better-known, disanalogies defeats bodily-rights arguments.

The moral intuition that body ownership ought to be respected seems to stem, as mentioned earlier, from the wish to spare our fellow human beings the mental harm of offense to their strong psychological sense of body ownership (which sense is an undeniable reality). So to answer the question whether there should be a right to refuse the use of one’s uterus – a right comparable in strength to the right to refuse to donate one’s bone marrow – one question that we in society have to answer is whether the mental harm to a woman when abortion is denied is really comparable to the mental harm that would occur if one’s bone marrow or kidney were taken forcibly. Since I think I will show that real mental harm is somewhat independent of the degree of trespass of one’s bodily boundaries, it is not enough, as mentioned, to show that the uterus is deep within one’s body. Rather, the degree of real mental harm when abortion is denied could be approximately determined only by psychological study focusing on the psychological phenomenon of harm in that specific class of situation, not by possible biological similarities with other classes of situation (normally I will just say “situations” rather than “classes of situation”). In the present undeveloped state of psychology and neuroscience, we in society will have to rely a lot on our intuitions, which will be discussed. To understand it in this way is to liberate our minds by demystifying bodily rights, as we seek our most correct moral intuitions about abortion.

I hope that producing a better understanding of what bodily rights really consist of and don’t consist of  will in itself help in a general way to convince readers that in invoking bodily rights we have to approach different social situations in different ways. But beyond that, I hope to show that in the specific situation of a typical proposed abortion, the possibility I mentioned, that the harm caused by offending the pregnant woman’s sense of body ownership may be less than the harm caused by offending the pregnant woman’s sense of body ownership in some other situations, is likely a reality. In this essay alone I will not prove that abortion should be illegal, but I think that I can at least help show that there is no strong bodily-rights argument against making many abortions illegal.

(The entire argument of my essay can be outlined in ten points – see below. The foregoing nine paragraphs can be broken down into points 1-8 of the outline.)

Moreover, if society holds and sustains a “right not to be unjustly harmed physically or mentally,” and the idea of “harm” incorporates an understanding of the psychology of ownership, including body ownership, that will serve all purposes, and society can dispense with the off-target and therefore sometimes misleading idea of bodily rights. (This sentence can be broken down into points 9 and 10, i.e., the last points of my outline.)

I would like to proceed now according to the following outline:

1. Rights are only meaningful and useful in terms of protection against wrongs, that is, against unjust harm, so the concept of bodily rights – “bodily” and “rights” – can be meaningful and useful only in situations where there is a potential for unjust harm to be done that is defined solely by trespass of one’s bodily boundaries; and only if protection by more obvious ethical notions is lacking.

2. Harm can be only harm to the body or harm to the mind, or both.

3. In terms of a right to freedom from harm to the body, the concept of bodily rights doesn’t realistically add anything to older and more obvious ethical notions. So though the current concept of bodily rights aims to protect against both physical and mental harm caused by trespass of bodily boundaries, in relation to bodily harm, the concept is superfluous and therefore not particularly useful.

4. In terms of a right to freedom from mental harm, the concept of bodily rights could be meaningful as one possible way of framing that right. (Even if it is not the best way – see 10.) People have a sense of ownership of their bodies, such that trespass on their bodily boundaries can be a source of mental harm, and “bodily rights” would be one way to protect from that mental harm.

5. Because of the sense of body ownership (and the assumption that actual ownership underlies it), in a situation of opposing interests between two innocent people that involves one person needing to use the body of the other, society does not make a simple decision in favor of the person who is likely to suffer the greater total harm of obvious kinds – that is, of kinds other than offense to the sense of ownership. It counts that kind of mental harm as harm, which weights its decision in the direction of the person whose body stands to be used by the other. (The total harm that can possibly be caused to any person by any action consists of the physical harm, the tangible mental harm, and that or some other intangible mental harm.)

6. Society weights its decision in this way so strongly, that in many cases it decrees that a particular offense against one person’s sense of body ownership is not justified even if the other person will die.

7. Although the concept of bodily rights is often expressed as a very simple principle, and sometimes as an absolute principle, when people actually apply it to different real-life situations, we see a patchwork of different attitudes, each depending on the situation. This renders the concept vague and confusing as a yardstick in any situation that has not yet been resolved, such as a proposal to abort. It turns out that the degree of mental harm caused by offense to one’s sense of ownership, which society believes to be morally relevant, is inconsistently related to the degree of trespass on the body – the degree of trespass being morally irrelevant apart from harm. Since it is inconsistently related to the degree of trespass, the degree of the mental harm when abortion is denied could be approximately determined only by psychological study focusing on the psychological phenomenon of harm in that specific situation – not simply by knowing the degree of trespass. We could speak of the situational nature of the strength of bodily rights.

8. Some actions that trespass a person’s bodily boundaries without the person’s consent are countenanced or supported by society in general (meaning that society in general does not take very seriously any offense to the sense of ownership in such cases). In my personal view, still more such actions should be countenanced or supported.

9. What matters, in terms of the rights that society should choose to sustain in this area of law and ethics, is that those rights should reflect a recognition of the sense of body ownership and its nuances – and of the possibilities of mental harm based on that sense of ownership and its nuances. 

10. If society holds and sustains a “right not to be unjustly harmed physically or mentally,” and the idea of “harm” incorporates an understanding of the psychology of ownership, including body ownership, that will serve all purposes in this area of law and ethics, and society can dispense with the idea of bodily rights.

And now the full argument:

1. Rights are only meaningful and useful in terms of protection against wrongs, that is, against unjust harm, so the concept of bodily rights – “bodily” and “rights” – can be meaningful and useful only in situations where there is a potential for unjust harm to be done that is defined solely by trespass of one’s bodily boundaries; and only if protection by more obvious ethical notions is lacking.

Negative and even positive rights of different kinds can all be conceptualized in this way: they are rights not to be caused harm of different kinds. It might at first appear that only negative rights should be seen in that way; an example of a negative right is a right to freedom from cruel or unusual punishment, whereas the right to drive is considered a positive right and is a privilege that society grants to the deserving to perform a certain action. But freedom to drive is the default (anyone could drive if there were no restrictions), so denial of that right would detract from our freedom of expression, certainly a kind of harm. The right to drive, when granted, protects you against restrictions by the government.

A negative right protects you from harmful actions by individuals or by the government. A positive right protects you from restrictions, which are also harmful, by the government.

Bodily integrity, or bodily rights, according to one definition, “emphasizes the importance of personal autonomy and the self-determination of human beings over their own bodies.” I think having self-determination over one’s body would appeal to everyone. But its obvious appeal does not automatically make it a right. To see whether it should be a right, let’s first ask, what would a person lose if they did not have such a right?

In any society, I think that the development of concepts of rights must start with a sense of wrong being done to someone, or of a threat of wrong being done to someone. We interpret such a wrong or threat in terms of that someone having a certain right, and the wrong being a violation of that right. Thus it should be possible to gauge the meaningfulness of any right by gauging the meaningfulness of a violation of the right. We notice in the discourse around us that “bodily rights” usually comes up in the context of violations thereof. The concept of bodily rights can be meaningful only if and as there is a potential for harm to be done that is defined solely by trespass of one’s bodily boundaries. (A question which we will discuss under 3 and 4 below.)

2. Harm can be only harm to the body or harm to the mind, or both.

“Violation” implies harm. All that humans are or have that can be harmed is their bodies and minds. (If there is a soul, and the soul can be harmed, let’s leave that out of the discussion.) Most kinds of harm involve harm to one’s body which is consequently harm to one’s mind also.

However, there are kinds of harm that relate to the mind only. A Shakespeare character said:

Who steals my purse steals trash. ’Tis something, nothing:

‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands.

But he that filches from me my good name

Robs me of that which not enriches him

And makes me poor indeed.

This character’s concern is about reputation (“good name”). The loss of reputation is an example of harm to the mind only. Another example of harm to the mind only would be the theft of objects not needed for one’s bodily comfort.

“All that humans are or have that can be harmed is their bodies and minds.” A violation cannot be harmless, so a violation of bodily rights must constitute either:

a. a violation of bodily rights that harms the body

b. a violation of bodily rights that harms the mind

or

c. a violation that harms both.

3. In terms of a right to freedom from harm to the body, the concept of bodily rights doesn’t realistically add anything to older and more obvious ethical notions. So though the current concept of bodily rights aims to protect against both physical and mental harm caused by trespass of bodily boundaries, in relation to bodily harm, the concept is superfluous and therefore not particularly useful.

Regarding a. above: Long before we in the human community started talking about bodily rights, it was sensed that any kind of harm to a person’s body would be disagreeable to that person, and therefore that to inflict such harm without justification would be wrong. To put it conversely, we had a right to freedom from bodily harm. Now, the current concept of bodily rights has been said to “emphasize . . . the self-determination of human beings over their own bodies;” and as we have seen, that emphasis must be in relation to some possible wrong, some possible harm, which can only be to the body or the mind or both. As regards harm to the body, if the concept of bodily rights is to add anything new to the understanding “to inflict bodily harm without justification would be wrong” or “we have a right to freedom from bodily harm,” it would have to demonstrate a dichotomy between unjustified forms of bodily harm inflicted via trespass on someone’s physical boundaries, and unjustified forms of bodily harm inflicted without trespass on someone’s physical boundaries. Can it demonstrate that dichotomy in a meaningful way?

I have heard the following actions, most if not all of which involve bodily harm, all named as violations of bodily rights: assault, kidnapping, enslavement, torture, and medical experimentation without informed consent; as well as the forcible use of one’s body parts and being forced to carry a child that one has conceived (assuming that that causes at least a little bodily harm). But then what is left? What form of bodily harm does not involve a violation of bodily rights according to this thinking? If there are such forms, that would explain why “bodily rights” adds something when we object to bodily harm, but if there are not, then “bodily rights” doesn’t add anything.

An unborn child is inside the mother, and consumes some of the nutrients in its mother’s body. If the child is unwanted, this is a clear violation of bodily rights, we might say. Whereas when an enemy army surrounds a city and cuts off its food supply, it deprives the inhabitants of nutrients without touching their bodies. So we might say that here we have discovered at least one “form of bodily harm that is not a violation of bodily rights.” But how useful is this distinction? It’s not. So if we are not to split hairs, every instance of bodily harm will automatically involve a violation of bodily rights, according to this thinking. But it seems to me that a useful concept of bodily rights wouldn’t try to add anything to more obvious ethical notions in terms of a right to freedom from bodily harm, and that insofar as a concept does try, it is not useful.

Another way to put it: In terms of harm to the body, a violation of bodily rights would be a trespass on one’s physical boundaries that results in bodily (as opposed to mental) harm. But if there are no forms of bodily harm that are not, meaningfully understood, trespasses on one’s physical boundaries that result in bodily harm, then there is no justification, in terms of bodily harm, for considering bodily rights as a right distinguishable from a right to freedom from bodily harm.

Instead of saying “You should not violate my bodily rights in a way that physically harms me,” why not just say “You should not physically harm me” – ? Instead of “You committed a nose-breaking violation of my bodily rights!,” why not simply “You broke my nose!” – ? We clearly have a right not to be harmed without sufficient cause, and assault, for instance, is clearly harm, without talking about bodily rights.

The current concept of bodily rights aims to protect against both bodily and mental harm caused by trespass of bodily boundaries. The urge to protect against those harms is well and good, but in relation to bodily harm, a concept of bodily rights is redundant. Even before the relatively new idea of bodily rights was defined, it was recognized that we had a right not to be harmed in terms of all the forms of bodily harm that eventually came to be included by some as violations of bodily rights.

4. In terms of a right to freedom from mental  harm, the concept of bodily rights could be meaningful as one possible way of framing that right. (Even if it is not the best way.) People have a sense of ownership of their bodies, such that trespass on their bodily boundaries can be a source of mental harm, and “bodily rights” would be one way to protect from that mental harm.

Regarding b above: Now let’s look at harm to the mind. It seems to me that there are two possible kinds of harm to the mind resulting from trespasses on bodily boundaries, one more tangible and one less tangible. 

i. Enslavement is one kind of trespass on bodily boundaries, and clearly enslavement is likely to result in mental harm, if only in that a slave will be deprived of a free choice of entertainments and likely of opportunities for learning. These tangible deprivations, these harms, occur because the slave’s body is restrained. And yet the same harms could be effected without restraining anyone’s body, for instance by closing the doors of places of entertainment and education to girls, such as occurs in some cultures. So just as the concept of bodily rights fails to demonstrate a dichotomy between unjustified forms of bodily harm inflicted via trespass on someone’s physical boundaries, and unjustified forms of bodily harm inflicted without trespass on someone’s physical boundaries, so, I think, it fails to demonstrate a dichotomy between unjustified forms of tangible mental harm inflicted via trespass on someone’s physical boundaries, and unjustified forms of tangible mental harm inflicted without trespass on someone’s physical boundaries. 

ii. But now let’s look at less tangible forms of mental harm. Suppose you are in a foreign country and someone you have just met reaches out with a thumb and forefinger and feels a few strands of your hair, because he has never seen hair like yours before. Though to you he is violating the “self-determination of human beings over their own bodies” (in fact, by the way, we find that where the relevant boundary lines are drawn varies significantly from one part of the world to another), you are not harmed at all physically, nor harmed mentally tangibly – i.e., not harmed mentally apart from the bodily trespass – but you are harmed a little mentally by the mere sense of trespass. You are harmed because you have a sense of ownership, a sense that your hair is “all yours” (even if you had planned to cut off that part of your hair later that day). And society believes in that ownership, or at least pragmatically recognizes the strength of that sense of ownership, and that sense is being offended.

So now we are finally talking about real harm caused by a violation of bodily rights as presently conceived, without having to bring in forms of physical or mental suffering that may be related to, but can easily be understood without conceptualizing, trespasses on bodily boundaries. The only right that the current concept of bodily rights meaningfully provides would best be termed a “right to freedom from the mental harm caused by offense to our mental sense of body ownership.” Such a violation of “bodily rights” genuinely is mental harm. But how much suffering is involved? In the above hair example, not much – the nature of the offense is a violation of “bodily rights,” but the suffering is of low degree. That violation, lasting a few seconds, would hardly justify killing. Or suppose a stranger grabs your hand and shakes it, though he looks a bit unkempt, or gives you a quick hug, an unwanted hug, saying, “Welcome to Krakozia (or wherever).”

5. Because of the sense of body ownership (and the actual ownership assumed to underlie it), in a situation of opposing interests between two innocent people that involves one person needing to use the body of the other, society does not make a simple decision in favor of the person who is likely to suffer the greater total harm of obvious kinds – that is, of kinds other than offense to the sense of ownership. It counts that kind of mental harm as harm, which weights its decision in the direction of the person whose body stands to be used by the other. (The total harm that can possibly be caused to any person by any action consists of the physical harm, the tangible mental harm, and that or some other intangible mental harm.)

And this, I think, is what justifies the existence of bodily rights as a meaningful concept in human society, to the extent that I think it is justified. If there are two possible courses of action, and neither course will do much positive good, but rather each will harm one of two persons, then surely we in society ought to select the course that will do less harm to one person than the other course would do to the other person (select the lesser of the two evils). The harm of offense to one’s sense of body ownership may not be obvious as a harm. But people do have a sense of ownership of their bodies, or rather feel possessive about their bodies (this is hardly breaking news, but it needs to be spelled out in this essay). And due to sharing that sense, which is to say, due to belief in the validity of that sense – or due at least to a pragmatic recognition of the strength of that sense – society sometimes grants to its citizens body-related rights that are out of proportion to what the lesser of the two evils would seem at first sight to demand – even allowing people to refuse to let their body parts be used by their living fellows after the people are dead.

Of course the strength of that sense must vary from person to person. Therefore society’s laws and customs must reflect its perception of a kind of average strength.

Our sense of others’ bodily ownership rights often tips what should perhaps logically be a simple balancing of obvious competing needs – seeing who is likely to suffer the greater total physical and mental harm of obvious kinds – in favor of the owner of the body whose use is being demanded (e.g., David Shimp). That intuitive sense that we have of people’s bodily ownership rights is the whole basis of any meaningful concept of bodily rights and thus of the bodily-rights argument. We in society seem to sense that particular kinds of trespass on someone’s bodily boundaries may cause mental harm to that person not only in addition to, but sometimes disproportionate to, any bodily harm or tangible mental harm – because of that person’s sense of ownership.

Regarding 2 c above: I had said, “. . . so a violation of bodily rights must constitute either a) a violation of bodily rights that harms the body or b) a violation of bodily rights that harms the mind or c) a violation that harms both.” Now I’ve discussed the meaningfulness, such as it is, of a and b, and perhaps c will be clear enough without discussion.

Before closing here we should mention that mental suffering of high degree can also result in physical (psychosomatic) suffering, and that if that mental suffering results from offense to the sense of body ownership, then that psychosomatic suffering would be the result of a violation of bodily rights in the meaningful sense, which bodily suffering caused otherwise would not be.

As a conclusion to my discussion in 3 above about bodily rights in relation to harm to the body (a), I said, “. . . unwanted pregnancy should not be framed as the bodily rights of one person versus the right to life of the other, but as the right to freedom from bodily harm of each – so that if an abortion is proposed, the first thing, at least, that we in society have to ask is simply who is likely to suffer the greater bodily harm.” 

Obviously the unborn is likely to suffer greater bodily harm than its mother, and obviously I meant to suggest that therefore abortion should normally not be permitted, but . . . 

6. Society weights its decision in this way so strongly, that in many cases it decrees that a particular offense against one person’s sense of body ownership is not justified even if the other person will die. 

Having now covered the topic of the mental harm as well as the bodily harm involved in violations of bodily rights, and having seen that the mental harm can sometimes be disproportionately great due to the sense of ownership of one’s body, while I would still say that the first thing that we have to ask is simply who is likely to suffer the greater bodily harm, it is clear that that is not the only thing that we have to ask. Those who use the bodily-rights argument, and their logic and their thought experiments, keep reminding us of that. 

Here is a thought experiment that appeared in a (negative) comment under Kristine Kruszelnicki’s March 11, 2014 guest post on the Friendly Atheist blog: 

They [both mother and unborn child] are entitled to their own bodily rights. So exactly how does a fetus have the right to co-opt another person’s body without consent? 

“Let’s say for example medical science has progressed to the point of being able to transplant a fetus into another human being. In an accident a pregnant woman is injured to the point of immanent [sic] death, does that fetus have the *right* to be implanted into the next viable candidate without consent?”

The commenter was arguing, in other words, “A woman who is a candidate to be made pregnant in that futuristic way would have a right to refuse to let her body be so used – everyone would agree. Therefore, why should a woman who has become pregnant in a more usual way not also have a right to refuse to continue the pregnancy?” 

Although a patient such as Robert McFall is likely to suffer greater bodily harm, if he does not receive a bone-marrow donation, than a potential donor is likely to suffer from donating the bone marrow, our moral intuitions do not presently support forcible bone-marrow transplants (or kidney transplants, etc.). And although an unborn whose mother has just died in an accident is likely to suffer greater bodily harm, if not implanted into some unrelated woman (in a future where that might be possible), than the unrelated woman is likely to suffer from having to carry the pregnancy, our moral intuitions do not presently support forcible implantation. 

The pro-life rejoinder “But the right to life outweighs bodily rights” may be okay if “right to life” means “right not to killed”, including in an abortion; in 7 below we’ll home in on that question. But it would not be correct if it meant “right to be helped to survive”. 

(And by the way, let’s stop using the rejoinder “But the unborn also has its bodily rights.” No, bodily rights, usefully understood, are rights to refuse a proposed use of one’s body. The unborn does have bodily rights, and they apply if someone aims to harvest its organs. But in a proposed abortion aiming only to kill it, no one is aiming to use it.)

Note: For a reasonable number of readers, the author can provide a .pdf version of the essay. The .pdf version contains bookmarks and hyperlinks to make cross-referencing different parts of the argument easy. Email to acyuta_ananda@yahoo.com

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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My name is Acyutananda ("c" pronounced as in "ciao"). I am a yoga monk. I believe in the consistent life ethic. My blog is http://www.NoTerminationWithoutRepresentation.org

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.