Friday, June 26, 2009

Not understanding your own argument

Yesterday, in a post I wrote that Jill of Feministe (a leading pro-choice feminist blog) might not "understand the basis of the bodily autonomy argument" after reading one of her posts.

But then in another post yesterday dealing with men who don't want to pay child support, Jill made it clear that she doesn't understand one of the basic premises of the bodily autonomy argument in favor of abortion.

She writes,
The right to abortion isn’t a right just because we think women should be able to opt out of parenthood; it’s a right because forcing a woman to maintain a pregnancy for nine months against her will is an impermissible infringement upon her physical being. The fact that a desire to opt out of parenthood may be a factor in some women’s decisions to have abortions doesn’t change the reality that abortion rights are based on the right to control your own body. When there’s another person involved — a child — your obligations and freedoms change.

Not according to the bodily autonomy argument, they don't. When Judith Jarvis Thomson first came out with the Violinist analogy, it's force was that it argued abortion wasn't immoral and shouldn't be illegal even if the unborn were persons. Now Jill is claiming a woman's obligations and freedoms change when there's a child involved. This kind of destroys the basic premise and force of the bodily autonomy argument because all a prolifer has to do is point out that the unborn (though smaller, less developed and more dependent) are children or ask the pro-choicer to prove the unborn aren't persons which leads directly to the personhood argument.

One of the basic problems with the Violinist and the bodily autonomy argument is that they prove too much. If women have complete bodily autonomy and can't be told what to do with their bodies then pro-choicers are forced to defend a host of rather unpleasant situations like sex-selection abortion, elective third trimester abortions, women intentionally taking drugs which they know could seriously injure the unborn and failing to use their bodies to properly take care of born children.

It almost seems Jill like is trying to avoid some of the unpleasantness that goes hand in hand with the basic premise of the bodily autonomy argument by coupling it with "the unborn aren't persons" argument.

But if so, why not just use the personhood argument? Maybe because she doesn't want to defend the unpleasant conclusions the personhood argument leads to, such as no problem with killing newborns?

Regardless, I think this example shows that even some of the most steadfast pro-choicers aren't really comfortable defending the logical conclusions of the bodily autonomy argument.

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