Practical Suggestions for Concern and Common Ground Regarding Bodily Rights

Part IV of a Series

I’ve made the point in the previous posts in this series, that when someone defends abortion by saying, “It’s her body,” the first thing we should do is find common ground and show concern for the woman and the uncontroversial aspects of her real right to her body.  Here are a few additional practical suggestions for finding common ground and showing concern for the woman when her bodily rights are the topic of conversation:

  • “How does it feel for you to discuss this topic?  I’m not sure I can understand what it’s like to discuss this, but I’d like to try.”
  • “Is it difficult to be open-minded, considering what’s at stake for you?  Can you describe for me what you feel is at stake with your legal right to abortion?  How does this discussion affect you?”
  • “This is a really difficult experience we’re talking about, and one that the woman understands in a way I cannot as a man.  She has a body that has the ability to have another body inside of her.  And then she sees all of these people arguing about what she can do or not do.  She feels conflicted, perhaps, about what is inside of her when she is pregnant.  She may feel conflicted about the circumstances in which she got pregnant and the man who contributed to her becoming pregnant.  But now here she is, pregnant...and in a very real sense, she feels alone with her body and what’s happening within her body.”
  • “There are many different ways in which women are oppressed and their bodies are not respected.  The last thing I want, as a proponent of human rights, is for her real right to self-determination to be unnecessarily or unjustly restricted.  I think we need more advocacy and action against rape and domestic violence and other forms of assault against women.  These ways of treating women must be stopped.  I am committed to giving my time and money to being a part of the solution.”

Here’s another thought you should consider: When someone says, “I have a right to my body,” there’s a possibility that the person is not really intending to make an argument.  The person may be intending to say something more emotive, something more like a desperate cry of self-preservation. 

I think the same is true, by the way, with many statements that seem to us to be justifications of abortion, but which pro-choice advocates are intending more along the lines of shows of sympathetic concern.  Sometimes when people mention poverty or single parents or other situations in which it’s understandable that a woman wouldn’t want to be pregnant, I think the person is really just processing and emoting with language, and is not really intending to give reasons in the sense of argument and logic. 

So it may be with the statement, “It’s her body.”  We can’t assume an argument is intended by those words.  Sure, an argument is definitely lurking in the shadows, even if its not intended, and we need to be ready for it.  I think the communication that’s intended, though, is something simpler: “Her body is affected by pregnancy a lot, and I care about her.”  We can surely agree with those sentiments.  Let’s pause, then, to hear the heart, and only move forward to clarify and respond to the intellectual arguments once that concern has been laid as a foundation stone in the conversation.

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