Bodily Autonomy — an Opinion Piece

Bodily autonomy is a bit of a hot topic these days. Most people feel that the choices they make for their body are not for other people to dictate or comment on. However, there are a few areas where this is still not the standard, specifically when it comes to medical decisions.

“My body; my choice,” becomes a volatile arena when we enter the medical field. Some people believe in medical face masks, vaccines, abortion, body modifications (everything from tattoos and piercings, to elective plastic surgeries), and some disagree with one or all of these. I believe my health should be my choice, and I extend and respect this right to others. When considering choices a person makes for themselves, the idea of bodily autonomy seems very cut and dry, but there is one caveat that really throws a wrench into the concept: it is morally wrong to choose an action that harms others. This belief that it’s immoral when decisions about your body also harm other people sounds cut and dry too, but a lot of the time it’s more complicated than that. This might be fine for things like behaviour, but what happens when your emotional, physical, or mental health is at stake? What about your health versus someone else’s health? Then it gets challenging.

The respect for other’s well-being seems to be at the centre of a lot of the debate about vaccines, abortion, and even some forms of body modifications (I recently learned about Body Integrity Dysphoria or BID — click here for a quick understanding of it https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_integrity_dysphoria). The argument could be made that people who aren’t wearing masks are making a choice that harms others. People who don’t get vaccines (or don’t allow their kids to) are harming the collective by reducing the likelihood of eliminating a virus/disease (or risking their children’s health). In this vein, it is argued that abortion harms the unborn person. In cases of BID, a surgeon’s ethics could be called into question if they are willing to amputate a patient’s limb even though the limb is physically healthy. In each of these instances, there is a grey area between bodily autonomy and seeking to do no harm.

I can’t speak to all scenarios, but I am a firm believer in bodily autonomy. I believe that the more people who get vaccinated and wear masks, the more success we will have in eliminating preventable diseases. However the idea of insisting, coercing, shaming, or even forcing other adults with full mental capacity into doing these things — especially the vaccines — is a “for the greater good” mentality. Historically speaking, doing things “for the greater good” is a dangerous path to take (when taken to the extreme, we get ideologies like eugenics and leaders like Hitler.) I got vaccinated this summer. One of my live-in partners didn’t, the other did. We three raise two kids together. Are we shaming and fighting over who is in the right? No. Do we support each others’ bodily autonomy? Abso-fuckin’-lutely! Two of us are vegan, one isn’t, and we don’t force our children to be (although since the vegan people do the grocery shopping and most of the cooking, our house is almost completely vegan.) We try to provide balanced nutrition, but everyone is free to eat as they wish.

In the case of abortion and the argument that a person who terminates a pregnancy is harming the unborn fetus, opposing sides tend to bicker about at what point during gestation a fetus becomes a “person.” If the uterus-owner decides to get an abortion at this time, they would be harming a person and violating the the moral of ‘do no harm’. On the Pro-Choice side, we argue that in the case of rape or a teenaged mishap, a person shouldn’t be expected/forced to become a parent, this is almost a given. I ask you, dear Pro-Choice reader, what about the adult with an established household and/or family who experiences an “oopsie” pregnancy? What is the moral thing to do there? I know of many families who have borne an additional child beyond their original plan, they have accepted and raised an Oopsie, but where is the representation of the families who choose not to accept the Oopsie pregnancy? Are they out there? Are they keeping their story silent? Why?

I ask you this because in the summer of 2021, I terminated a pregnancy. I wasn’t raped and I’m already a parent (and love it!). I had a failed contraception occurrence; The Oopsie. I believe in Pro-Choice, yet I struggled with this decision. I could sit here and tell you all the factors that led me to choose abortion, but none of them should matter. Hormones were trying their best to persuade me to keep the life growing inside of me, they made it easy for my brain to problem-solve all the fears that continuing the pregnancy would bring, and I had the support of my co-parents to choose whatever I wanted. So why did I terminate? Short answer — self-care, and self-love. A lot of my personal growth has been around prioritizing love and care for my Self, before considering what others need from me. Abortion was an act of both self-care and self-love. It was what I needed at this time. This prioritization of Self is a big part of what helps me maintain my belief in bodily autonomy for myself and others. The whole point of bodily autonomy and Pro-Choice is that I choose what’s best for me, and no one deserves to judge me based on those choices (and vice versa), regardless of my reasons.

This is the first time I am sharing this experience publicly. I struggled with whether or not I should share it. I bounced around between feeling that it’s a private matter and it’s none of anyone’s business, wanting to normalize this discussion and advocating a person’s right to choose for themselves, mixed with the fear of judgement from others. I sat with this internal debate for quite some time, trying to parse out why I felt so conflicted. Eventually, I realized that one of the reasons I struggled with choosing abortion was because I didn’t fall into the categories I thought to be “acceptable” for abortion; I wasn’t raped, I wasn’t a teenager, I have an established household, and supportive partners. This meant I was letting my social programming hold me back from talking about it. It was telling me that it wasn’t moral for me to choose abortion. However, I know that I am not my thoughts, I am not my social programming. I believe in complete bodily autonomy, and hiding my abortion meant I was not living my truth; I was not supporting my own decision. So here I am. Choosing my needs over the needs of an accidental pregnancy. I feel no guilt or shame. If I catch some backlash for this post, know that I will only be responding to kind supportive comments.