By Alex Ruggles
The argument of bodily autonomy is often used as an argument to advocate for the pro-choice position. The basic premise is that women have the right to do what they like with their own bodies. However, there is two main points as to why bodily autonomy cannot be used as an argument in support of abortion and why the context of the term “bodily autonomy” in regards to the pro-choice movement is wrongly used. The first of these is the recognition of the unborn body as an individual with its own right to bodily autonomy. The second point is that the unborn child's dependency cannot be seen as a reason to abort that child; it should be seen as a reason to be responsible for the vulnerable human and safeguard their bodily autonomy.
Who has bodily autonomy?
The first and most salient point which illustrates why the argument of bodily autonomy cannot be used to argue in favor of abortion is recognizing that abortion violates the bodily autonomy of the unborn chlld in the womb. Science has unequivocally proven that human life begins at conception, which is readily apparent in this quote from a human embryology textbook:
"Human development begins after the union of male and female gametes or germ cells during a process known as fertilization (conception). Fertilization is a sequence of events that begins with the contact of a sperm (spermatozoon) with a secondary oocyte (ovum) and ends with the fusion of their pronuclei (the haploid nuclei of the sperm and ovum) and the mingling of their chromosomes to form a new cell. This fertilized ovum, known as a zygote, is a large diploid cell that is the beginning, or primordium, of a human being." 
Thus, a new, unique, unrepeatable human being comes into existence at conception; human life does not begin at any other stage.
The argument must then be asked — bodily autonomy for whom? Abortion violates the bodily autonomy of the unborn human in the worst and most extreme possible way, by ending their existence as a human being. To defend abortion is, therefore, to support the violation of bodily autonomy at an individual’s most vulnerable and innocent stage of life. To be pro-life must be considered to be the position which truly defends bodily autonomy, not only for an individual outside of the womb but crucially for an individual inside the womb. This is a place where, due to their vulnerability, the individual should be the safest and most protected; but they are instead the most at risk of the degradation of their bodily autonomy.
Arguing in favor of abortion, after recognizing the beginning of human life at conception, can only be seen as opposing, not defending, individual bodily autonomy.
A common counterargument to this recognition of human life beginning at conception is to argue that the bodily autonomy of a woman in some way is more imperative than the bodily autonomy of the child in her womb. Such an argument is fallacious in a couple ways.
First, to suggest that an individual's bodily autonomy allows that individual to violate and infringe upon another individual's bodily autonomy is not only wrong, but also internally inconsistent.
Secondly, bodily autonomy has to exist for each individual in an absolute sense. Since human life begins at no stage other than conception, it is inconsistent to defend bodily autonomy as starting at any other stage other than when that body comes into existence. To say a pregnant woman's bodily autonomy overrules that of their preborn child is to imply that human life begins at some other point than conception, that some human lives are more important than others, or that an individual with greater power can impose their will forcefully on a weaker individual.
Is dependency a reason to kill?
The latter point brings me to my second reason. An individual’s degree of dependency on another individual cannot be used in favor of the violation of bodily autonomy of the more vulnerable and dependent individual in the womb. Essentially, this is the argument for supposed “bodily autonomy’” from the pro-choice position — the mother has a right to kill her child in the womb because of her child’s dependence on her.
Such an argument cannot be accepted if we are to call ourselves a civilized and humane society in which individual rights are respected. As already mentioned, bodily autonomy does not give an individual the right to infringe on another's bodily autonomy. Indeed, an unborn child's vulnerability in the womb should instead reveal to us the need to protect the child at their most defenseless stage and ensure their bodily autonomy is affirmed and respected.
It must also be noted that a child does not become independent by virtue of passing through the birth canal. Their bodily autonomy does not magically arise as a result of them being outside of the womb. Moreover, a child, especially if born prematurely, will require a significant degree of medical support to survive.
Would it be either lawful or moral for a medical team to deny that child medical care because of a desire to pursue their own “bodily autonomy”? A newborn child is as dependent outside the womb as they are within the womb. Again, would it be moral or legal to abandon or kill that child because of their dependency and the degree of support they would require to survive? That child will be dependent on its parent or guardian for the first eighteen years of its life and indeed will require a degree of support for the remainder of its life. Once again, the dependency and defenseless state of a preborn child, a prematurely born child, or even a healthy newborn requires us to safeguard their bodily autonomy, not violate it.
To conclude, one can see why bodily autonomy cannot be used to support abortion through the following two points:
- the recognition of the unborn child’s bodily autonomy existing from conception
- the assertion that the dependency of the child does not allow its bodily autonomy to be violated but rather that this very vulnerability requires its autonomy to be upheld and defended
- Moore, Keith L. Essentials of Human Embryology. Toronto: B.C. Decker Inc, 1988, p.2
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.