We hear a lot about bodily rights during the abortion debate. Moving beyond the abortion debate to society in general, I think it’s clear that bodily rights are fundamental. It seems most other pro-lifers think it’s clear too. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a pro-lifer that says they’d be fine with laws forcing drivers to donate blood to people they hit with their cars, or even requiring parents to donate kidneys to their sick children.
Of course this doesn’t apply to the entire pro-life movement; there are plenty of pro-lifers who try to explore the moral distinctions between pregnancy and allegedly analogous situations. Still, in my experience it seems too many pro-lifers haven’t seriously considered–and in some cases refuse to consider–how much bodily rights do play into the abortion debate. Sometimes I’m surprised by this, because the issue of bodily rights weighs heavily in my consideration of my abortion stance.
I wonder if pro-lifers dismiss the bodily rights argument partly because it’s not usually why women get abortions in the first place. While bodily autonomy is a commonly cited reason for keeping abortion legal, it’s not a commonly cited reason for actually getting an abortion.
According to Guttmacher:
The reasons most frequently cited were that having a child would interfere with a woman’s education, work, or ability to care for dependents (74%); that she could not afford a baby now (73%); and that she did not want to be a single mother or was having relationship problems (48%).
Not mentioned is a concern for bodily health, or a frustration or fear over sharing her body with another.
The Guttmacher report elaborates:
In a 1985 study of 500 women in Kansas, unreadiness to parent was the reason most often
given for having an abortion, followed by lack of financial resources and absence of a partner. In 1987, a survey of 1,900 women at large abortion providers across the country
found that women’s most common reasons for having an abortion were that having a baby would interfere with school, work or other responsibilities, and that they could not afford a child.
Again, the main reasons women choose abortion have nothing to do with their bodily autonomy.
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Still, that doesn’t mean bodily autonomy is irrelevant to these women. Guttmacher found that 12% of women cite concerns over their health as cause for an abortion, including “from chronic or debilitating conditions such as cancer and cystic fibrosis to pregnancy-specific concerns such as gestational diabetes and morning sickness.”
Why is there such a divergence between the reasons people insist abortion should be a right and the reasons women actually get abortions? Does the difference matter? Are there parallel differences between the reasons people protect other rights vs the reasons people exercise those rights?