Body autonomy

Matt,

It seems you got ahead of yourself when writing your response to "Rachel". I’m not going to address the flawed hypothetical presented as it is a severely flawed hypothetical when trying to support the idea of abortion, but the rest of your ideas attacking the very idea of body autonomy go a bit off the mark. You make five points to attack the idea of body autonomy, so let’s get right into this.

According to bodily autonomy, a mother could not be judged harshly for smoking, drinking, doing coke, and going skydiving (hopefully not all in the same day) while 6 months pregnant. If you really believe that a woman’s body is autonomous — that she has absolute jurisdiction over it — then you must defend a mother who does things that could seriously harm her unborn child, even if she hasn’t chosen to abort it. This is not a slippery slope argument; this is a reasonable and inevitable application of your principle.

Aside from "doing coke", there is no law that says a woman cannot smoke, drink or go skydiving while pregnant – even all in the same day if she so desires. It certainly would be very bad judgment for a woman who is 6 months pregnant to do any or all of those things, but I am aware of no law that forbids such activities.

But I do not have to support or defend any woman who demonstrably places her unborn child in harm. If I see a woman smoking, drinking, doing coke and/or skydiving, regardless of whether she is pregnant, I certainly can and likely will judge the wisdom of her decisions and actions. I’m sure when Kari Byron was playing with guns on MythBusters while in her third trimester, there were people screaming at the screen and writing nasty letters to the Discovery Channel about it. Taking into account the fact she was wearing a bullet-resistant vest around her abdomen and the fact there were safety officers there at the time this was happening, was her decision to participate in that particular "myth" – they were testing the idea of curving bullets – a wise decision? Even with as vehemently pro-gun as I am, I’m still inclined to say no.

Am I inconsistent in my application of body autonomy? No.

The fact that what she did was all perfectly allowable under the law does not mean she is immune from having her actions scrutinized by others. But what allows me to scrutinize and judge her actions while still being consistent with the idea of body autonomy is simply that I wasn’t calling for Kari to be arrested or face some other reprisal because of her actions. Now if in swinging around that 1911 she unintentionally shot or injured someone on site, or even herself, then the circumstances have changed.

There are all kinds of things that individuals do that are unwise even if legal. A person’s actions being legal does not make those actions immune from scrutiny.

I support decriminalizing drugs, and in some cases I support full-out legalization. And to support that, I cite the idea of body autonomy – if a person wants to smoke pot or snort coke, who am I to say they cannot as opposed to should not. I can point to all kinds of things showing why a person should not smoke pot or snort coke. And I can say to someone "you shouldn’t do that". But the moment I say they cannot do something is where the burden falls on me to justify forcefully stopping them from doing such, or subjecting them to any kind of reprisal for their actions.

But under your logic here, Matt, you seem to think that those of us who support legalizing drugs must also be willing to do the drugs we want legalized. Sorry but that’s not how it works. That’s like saying a woman calling for legalizing prostitution should also be willing to engage in prostitution. Uh, no.

And from there we can see the rest of your arguments against body autonomy break down.

I’m throwing this in here because most pro-aborts will not (vocally) defend abortion at 8 or 9 months. But — if bodily autonomy is your claim — you must. Is a woman’s body less autonomous when she’s been pregnant for 35 weeks? There is no way around it: bodily autonomy means that it is moral to kill a fully formed baby, at seven months, or eight months, or nine months.

It is the pro-lifer that argues, albeit implicitly, that a woman has zero body autonomy while she is pregnant, and that any claim to body autonomy is abrogated for agential claims of body autonomy for the fetus. I’ve gotten into arguments where it has been argued – despite tons of evidence (and dead women) to the contrary – that there is no such thing as a medical condition that is caused or exacerbated by an active pregnancy that places the mother’s life in danger. Worse are those that acknowledge such conditions, but still say the carrying mother must not abort the pregnancy to save her own life.

I can still support the idea of body autonomy while being against what you’ve said.

Aborting a pregnancy is to remove the fetus from the mother. In the 8th or 9th month, this tends to be called "inducing labor". In the first trimester and early second trimester, the process itself is… not kind, to say the least, but it is still the basic general idea, and that has been the general idea for the last 5,000 years it has been practiced. That is the general idea when a woman swallows down a pill or potion with the intent of getting her body to eject the fetus – in case you’re curious, yes you can find articles describing how to do that online.

But again, what you’re saying is that arguing for body autonomy means I cannot personally hold views against certain things. And that is certainly not the case.

You say that our bodies cannot be ‘used’ without our ‘consent.’ Why should this apply only to pregnancy and organ donations?

It doesn’t. The fact one person is arguing from body autonomy in the context of abortion doesn’t mean abortion is the only context for the body autonomy argument. As an example, how would you feel about laws compelling blood donation, with the forced extraction of your blood being the penalty for noncompliance? You’d probably be rather appalled at such an idea.

Same if a legislator somewhere were to introduce a law calling for guys to donate sperm on a periodic basis, with forced extraction as a penalty for noncompliance.

An argument for absolute bodily autonomy means that it can’t be illegal, or considered immoral, for a parent to decline to do any of these things, so long as their decision was made in the name of bodily autonomy.

And a parent actually can decline to do any of those things at any time. It is not any single instance of any of those things that draws the ire of the government, but a pattern that can be demonstrated to exist, at which point we call it neglect, abuse, abandonment, or any combination therein. While it might seem appalling for a parent to decline to provide care to their child, it is not uncommon. Every parent does it, even if you don’t realize it, or you delegate the task of providing care to someone else. If you’ve ever said to your spouse after they get home from work "He’s all yours now", congratulations, you’ve decided to not provide care to your child and instead delegate, or rather conscribe someone else.

And when a pattern does develop and can be demonstrated, there are procedures that exist for ensuring the child is removed from such a home and placed with people who are able and willing to provide the proper care.

But here’s something you’ll likely find appalling: the relationship of the child to the parent does not automatically entitle the child to the fruits of the parent’s labors. Thanks to several hundred million years of evolution, biologically we are wired in such a fashion, to care for the children born to us. But that does not automatically mean your child is entitled to what you can provide. But then given you said being married entitles you to every iota of respect from your wife, I guess I can’t entirely fault you for making that kind of fallacy.

Instead what we recognize is two things: the biological parent is immediately charged with the care of the child unless it is demonstrated they are unfit to do so, and such a charge carries with it certain duties and responsibilities that must be carried out. This is why I commonly say that parents do not actually have "parental rights", rights that exist simply by virtue of being a parent with a child to whom you are charged with providing care. Instead parents have duties and responsibilities and a fair amount of latitude in carrying them out.

If I can ‘do what I want with my body,’ then it becomes very difficult to launch a salient moral or legal attack against a man who chooses to sit in a playground in front of children and pleasure his own body.

That is utter bullshit, Matt. You seem to think that one person’s claim to body autonomy automatically nullifies everyone else’s claims to any rights whatsoever. If a person does do such a thing, everyone else who is around can certainly drive that person away. To say that the man’s claim to body autonomy means everyone else must leave him be and just put up with him is absolutely atrocious.

That’s like saying that I can sit on a park bench shooting up crack in front of schoolchildren and no one can do or say anything about it. Even if shooting up crack were entirely legal under the law, that does not mean everyone must put up with me doing it. And if I choose to park it on a bench in front of children to do so, others can choose to intervene in that matter, doing everything short of what could be considered assault to get me to leave.

You also forget the fact that society and common law recognize what is called necessitation. Self-defense falls under this. In criminal law, the claim of necessitation on the part of the defendant to a criminal charge means the defendant believed it was reasonably necessary to break one law to prevent or end the commission of a greater harm. Body autonomy does not mean you have the right to harm others, and harm comes in forms other than just physical harm.

After all, you seem to think body autonomy means I can snort up a huge loogie onto a sidewalk, while in likely every jurisdiction in the US doing that will get you, at the least, a citation from a law enforcement officer if you’re caught. Can I claim body autonomy as I sneeze and cough wildly around others? No. It’s rude at best, contagious in the intermediate, fatally so at the worst. Same with the loogie left on the sidewalk.

Once we’ve considered every complexity and nuance, we can rightly say that our bodies are autonomous in some ways, and in some circumstances, but not in others. We cannot say that they are absolutely autonomous, and I find it hard to believe that anyone truly thinks that.

Last I checked, the concept of autonomy does not come with conditions. We have long recognized that a person should be able to do as they please, so long as in so doing they do not demonstrably harm others – which is what makes your idea that body autonomy means you can masturbate in public without consequence all the more appalling.

If my body is autonomous, my person must be autonomous, and if my person is autonomous, then my very existence is autonomous, and if my very existence is autonomous, then it is simply unacceptable and (by your logic) immoral for anyone to expect me to do anything for anyone at any point for any reason.

I think you’ve overlooked the big difference between expecting you to do something for someone else and forcing you to do such. It is immoral and unacceptable to force you to do something against your will. You recently argued on your blog that "Business owners should have the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason", and I wholly agree with that stance. But when a person walks into an establishment, there is an expectation of service, but to force the proprietor to provide that service against their will is immoral.

It is not immoral to expect you to do something. It becomes a whole other matter when I say you must do something, and an even greater matter still when I attempt to force you to do it.

If you concede that we ought to be expected or even required to do certain things, then you are placing limits on our bodily autonomy. If you place limits on our bodily autonomy, then you are admitting that limits can be placed on our bodily autonomy.

To say that someone can expect something of me is not placing limits on my autonomy. Whether my actions or the results of my actions meet, exceed or fall short of someone’s expectations is not up to me, especially since expectations can change on the fly. But what about being required to do something? Well if you agree to do something, then that is an implicit requirement, but it is a requirement you voluntarily brought on yourself. And your failure to act as you have agreed can likely result in what is called a tort injury – and the response to most tort injuries isn’t to force you to do something, but to merely compensate the other for your not doing what you promised.

It is when requirements are made of you without you having any opportunity to examine those requirements and either assent or object to them that is problematic.

As such the only reasonable limitation – if you can really call it that – on a person’s autonomy is simply that you cannot harm others. Any additional limitations to your autonomy that you voluntarily take upon yourself is entirely your concern and not anyone else’s.