For readers who have not personally experienced a situation where their bodily autonomy was ignored, an analogy might help demonstrate its importance. Imagine that your sister needs a kidney transplant. You get the relevant testing and find out that you are a match. After talking to the doctors and surgeons, you decide to donate one of your kidneys to your sister. You have the operation, everything goes smoothly and you and your sister are able to return to your lives. You have some limitations as a result of the operation, but you went into the process voluntarily and were happy to be able to save your sister’s life. You end up in the newspaper as a hero and your sister is forever grateful to you. You feel great about your decision.
Now imagine that you were not asked whether you would donate your kidney. Instead, the government tells you that because you are the only match for your sister; you must donate your kidney because she has a right to life. You are told that there may be dangers to you up to and including death, but you have no choice and you must undergo the operation and give your kidney to your sister because her life matters. The operation happens, and you make it through, but now your life and your body are forever changed. You have developed high blood pressure as a result of having one kidney. You worry that since your sister needed a kidney, your one functional kidney may fail at some point.
Most of us would agree that the second scenario is an egregious affront to the person giving the kidney. The kidney donor’s bodily autonomy is being overridden by the government’s ruling. But in reality, this is not too different from what anti-abortion proponents propose. Anti-abortion proponents demand that women use their bodies for the purpose of growing another human whether they want to or not. Women are expected to give over their bodies for nine months and then face the unpredictability of childbirth and any resulting body injuries or possible death. While many women intentionally go through this process because they want to have children, others do not. When a woman becomes pregnant unintentionally, she is faced with a difficult decision about her body and her future. However, in the discussion about if or when it is appropriate to allow abortion, the woman’s bodily autonomy is rarely discussed. How a woman gets pregnant, whether through failed contraception or rape, is irrelevant. Because it is her body and health involved, she is the only one who can make that decision. Just as if you were presented with the kidney donation situation, you would want your bodily autonomy respected, a woman who discovers that she is pregnant wants hers respected as well.
Anna Lynch is a “writer, educator, and champion for all things women.”
Originally published July 3, 2019