Focusing Only on the Woman for a Time Is Not Compromise

Part III of a Series

I’ve now written two posts in this series focused on the woman’s right to her body and the value she has as a person.  I’ve made the point that discussing what her right to her body entails must be accompanied by a sort of healthy recognition that we’re talking about somebody’s body.

You may worry that making this recognition somehow chips away at or cheapens our concern for the unborn child.  No, I’m not forgetting the unborn child.  Don’t worry.  But I am attempting to take seriously what it means to have a body and to have another person’s body inside one’s body.

Focus on the woman or focus on the unborn child?  It doesn’t have to be one or the other.  But I am arguing that in order to show concern for the woman’s real right to her body, in order to communicate to the pro-choice advocate the real value we believe the woman has, we might have to be okay with not mentioning the unborn for a moment.  This is a small concession, and I don’t think it’s a compromise.  Currently, the typical pro-choice advocate sees most pro-life advocacy as only about the baby.  There is truth in their perceptions, even though I think this characterization of us as mostly anti-woman is wildly off the mark. 

I’ve been working for years to respond to arguments about the woman’s body, and I have rarely, if ever, paused to reflect on the person I’m in fact discussing.  Without much fanfare, I’ve been discussing the physical organism, the body, to which she is more deeply connected than she is connected even to the unborn child inside of her.  For, of course, she isn’t connected to her own body through a placenta or umbilical cord or by “sharing space.”  She is directly connected to her body as her own.

With that reality in mind, I can no longer simply proceed as if this discussion of what her real bodily rights entail is a purely theoretical argument.  I can no longer proceed as if we simply need to get to the right answer about that argument, as important as that is.  Questions such as, “What rights and responsibilities does she have?” and “What limits can be legitimately made by law upon the actions of her body?” and “What is right?” are all important, to be sure.  Concern for the woman’s body doesn’t erase these other concerns.  We can’t love the woman and be sympathetic about her experience and simply ignore the question at hand, “Can you ask a doctor to kill the unborn child in her body?”  We must find a way to love both as equal human beings. 

I’m not arguing here for focusing on the woman to the exclusion of the unborn child.  I’m saying that I can no longer in good conscience simply think about, teach about, and respond to the statements and arguments regarding a “woman’s right to her body,” without giving some reflection and time to the fact that she has a special connection to her body, and all of our discussion affects her in a way it doesn’t affect us who don’t have her body.  I’m arguing that giving focus to the woman will gain us a hearing for our thoughts not only about her, but also about the unborn child.  Both the woman and the child are often forgotten in these conversations. 

Remember how important your body is to you.  This is not only about the woman, of course, but it is at least about the woman.  It would be a great progress for the woman to whom we are speaking to feel clearly the value we believe she has.  If we hope to kindle affection for unborn children as valuable human beings, one necessary (though not sufficient) step is to kindle affection for the woman experiencing unintended pregnancy. 

See www.jfaweb.org/blog/bodily-rights for more posts in this series.