Bodily Autonomy and the Right to Life Part One

Our church has been doing a monthly equipping class on prolife persuasion. We decided to undertake this mammothly important topic because of recent legislation changes related to life being debated in New York, Virginia, and other states. We believe that the Bible is a prolife book. Not one chapter in do we find the bedrock truth that all people are made in the image and likeness of God. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” All human beings regardless of race, age, gender, religion, orientation, socioeconomic standing, intelligence level, disability, size, level of development, environment, degree of dependency, or any other factor have objective worth, value, and dignity and are worthy of protection and life. As Christians, we believe if you are human, you are enough. Your life matters. That’s the prolife position. A human being is valuable because they are human. A baby that will not live more than five minutes outside the womb is worth more than the Milky Way galaxy and every piece of silver and gold that has ever existed. We are image-bearers of God.

We have an obligation as Christians, no as image-bearers, to stand up and defend life when it is threatened. One of the more complex and vexing prochoice arguments is the argument related to bodily autonomy. Essentially bodily autonomy arguments come down to the freedom that a person has over their own body. There’s two distinct variations to this argument. The first is the sovereign zone autonomy argument which states that a woman has a right to do with her body whatever she so desires. It is the assumption behind the phrase, “My body, my choice.” The second is somewhat different but related. The right to refuse autonomy argument states that a person does not have a right to another’s resources even if those resources preserve life. How does this relate to abortion? The argument goes that the unborn does not have an absolute right to the woman’s body in the same way that we aren’t obligated to hand over our organs to those in need after death. Someone cannot be forced to give pints of their own blood to another even if they are the only ones who have that life-saving type. These are the most salient and persuasive pro-choice arguments. They also are bad arguments. We will deal with the first bodily autonomy article in this post and the right to refuse autonomy argument in a follow up post.

downloadThe sovereign zone argument has a litany of responses. Likely the most important response is that while a fetus is housed within the mother’s body, he or she is not the woman’s body. This is not my opinion. This is a scientific fact. At fertilization, an individual’s DNA is determined. One’s gender, blood type, hair color, and a host of other qualities are present within them even though they are as tiny as the point of a needle. John Jefferson Davis writes,

It is a well-established fact that a genetically distinct human being is brought into existence at conception. Once fertilization takes place, the zygote is its own entity, genetically distinct from both mother and father. The newly conceived individual possesses all the necessary information for a self-directed development and will proceed to grow in the usual human fashion, given time and nourishment. It is simply untrue that the unborn child is merely “part of the mother’s body.” In addition to being genetically distinct from the time of conception, the unborn possesses separate circulatory, nervous, and endocrine systems.

A distinct little human being has come about and, with proper gestation and nutrition, that distinct little human being will continue to advance through the different stages of life. If the baby is simply a part of the mother, then you’re committed to the idea that the mother has four arms, four legs, two noses, four eyes, and sometimes (if it is a male) two different sets of genitalia all at the same time. It is simply false and misguided to say that the baby (albeit very small and located within the mother) is a part of the mother’s body.

why_pro_life_810_500_75_s_c1The second response is the simple acknowledgement that it is not true that a woman is allowed the right to do with her body whatever she wants. This applies to men also. There’s a host of things we are not allowed to do with our bodies on any given day of the week. I cannot walk down my street nude, I cannot smoke in certain places publicly, I cannot drive down my street while being intoxicated, I cannot shoot up heroin, I cannot sell my organs on the black market to the highest bidder, I cannot prostitute my body out, I cannot simply decide I don’t want my arm amputating it from the elbow, I cannot use my body to do bodily harm to another individual, and the list could go on and on. We limit the rights of what people do with their bodies all the time. Ultimate self-determination with our bodies is a myth and the right to bodily autonomy is infringed upon on a daily basis.

The third response concerns the role of the father in this situation. As long as the father contributes twenty-three chromosomes to that new life, it would seem judicious that he have a voice within the conversation. R.C. Sproul writes

Although the father does not carry the fetus in his body, he has contributed half of the substance that is the genetic structure of the fetus. In the case of abortion, at least three people (not to mention grandparents and other ancestors who contributed to the unique genetic structure of the fetus) have a stake in the woman’s decision about “her body.”

The rank duplicity is evident in the fact that should the woman decide she desires to keep the baby, then the man would be required to pay child support until he or she turns eighteen.

33880490-stock-vector-black-cartoon-vector-silhouette-of-a-large-foot-about-to-tramp-a-row-of-people-conceptual-of-oppressFourth, this argument is based upon the assumption (or the assertion) that the baby within the womb is not a person. Only if one denies not only the humanity of the baby (which should be enough) but also the personhood of the child can one advocate for the killing. Some will grant the full humanity of the baby but then go on to deny its personhood. Why? Most folks know that our rights end where other people’s rights begin and granting personhood to the baby means there are responsibilities, duties, and rights to be discussed. The problem with this skewed logic is that there’s no meaningful difference between what is in the womb and what’s out of it to support killing him or her. You’ve never met a human being that wasn’t a person and no objective criteria for someone being a human but not a person can be given without leading to absolute contradiction and consternation. History records that when human beings have gotten into the habit of denying or diminishing someone’s personhood, they’ve always done this for nefarious purposes. This situation is simply more of the same.

Fifth and finally, in light of the importance of the previous four responses, it seems that the bodily autonomy argument boils down to a simple observation–this is not an issue about having control over one’s body but doing whatever you want when you want to whomever you want. It is about power. The problem with this ancient malady is we know we have responsibilities to others, responsibilities that many times include laying aside our own comfort, privileges, and desires for the good of someone else. It does not take courage to argue “my body, my choice.” As J.R.R. Tolkien wrote many years ago, “True courage is knowing not when to take a life, but when to spare it.” As long as we are willing to sacrifice other peoples’ lives on the altar of our own personal choices, we cowardly cheapen life for everyone.

In Christ,

Austin K. DeArmond

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