From a Foundation of Love for Women and Children, We Respond Intellectually to Bodily Rights Arguments

Part VI of a Series

How should we respond to defenses of abortion that refer to the woman’s body?  Let’s review the steps I’ve outlined so far in this series and complete the process by preparing to respond intellectually:

1. Show concern for the woman.  I described how important this is in Part I of this series and elaborated on the concept in a series of follow-up blog posts.  I suggested that we remember our concern for our own bodies (Part II), realize that it’s not compromise to focus on the woman and not the unborn for a time (Part III), and find common ground about seeking to stop violations of a woman’s right to her body that don’t have to do with abortion (Part IV).

2. Ask a clarification question to determine if the statement referencing the woman’s body is arguing against the idea that the unborn is a human being with equal value (biologically not a human organism or lacking equal value or rights to the rest of us) or is intended to make a bodily rights argument. (Part V)

3. If the person is fuzzy on biology, be ready to clarify the facts that show the unborn is a living, human organism (see www.jfaweb.org/extending-your-learning#biology).

4. If the person is fuzzy on the equal value and rights of the unborn, be ready to make an argument for those equal rights (see www.jfaweb.org/equal-rights). 

5. If the person is crystal clear on the value of the unborn but thinks abortion is justified anyway because of bodily rights, you know you’re discussing a bodily rights argument, but still you need to ask for more clarification.  When the person says, “The woman has a right to her body,” and intends a bodily rights argument, perhaps she may mean, “The woman can do anything she wants with anything in her body.”  Trent Horn has called this the “Sovereign Zone” view.

6. Be prepared to respond to the Sovereign Zone view.  This view makes a very strong claim.  Timothy Brahm’s “Autumn in the Sovereign Zone” essay can give you practical suggestions for responding.  (www.EqualRightsInstitute.com/SZ)  See also JFA’s Abortion: From Debate to Dialogue—The Interactive Guide, Activity 6 (www.jfaweb.org/IG) for scripted dialogues you can use to learn to respond.

7. When the person says, “The woman has a right to her body,” she may mean, on the other hand, “the woman cannot be forced to use her body to sustain the life of the unborn.”  Trent Horn has called this the “Right to Refuse” view.  This view makes a weaker claim, and it can come in very sophisticated forms.  Use our post, “A Response to the Strongest Violinist” (www.jfaweb.org/DFG) to understand the “Right to Refuse” argument and learn to respond.  This post includes a paper JFA helped produce which attempted to put this argument in its strongest form and respectfully show where the argument fails.

8. In all of the above steps, remember the woman.  When you are discussing the woman’s rights to her body and whether they entail the right to legal abortion, there is a person whose body and life you are discussing.  In the same way, when we discuss the woman’s right to her body, we also must work to remember the unborn child, contrary to the spirit of the age.  Both the woman and the child are persons for whom these arguments are not mere intellectual exercises, but rather are matters intensely practical and intimate.

See www.jfaweb.org/blog/bodily-rights to read all of the posts in this series.