“My Body, My Choice.” has become a catch phrase of both liberals and conservatives recently. Far from an indication of some new unity of purpose or compromise, it is an ironic sign of how polarized politics have become.
On one side, you have the political left claiming that people, specifically women, have the right to decide what to do with the reproductive systems of their own bodies and therefore it is not within the government’s charter to limit abortion. Conversely, they also support new mandates for vaccines to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the other side, you have the political right claiming that the new vaccine mandates violate people’s right to bodily integrity and therefore it is not within the government’s charter to enforce them. Conversely, they support abortion laws as necessary to protect the ‘rights of the unborn’, which they clearly feel trump a mother’s rights to bodily autonomy.
Is this pure hypocrisy? How can the same right mean completely opposite things to different people? In situations like these, it is useful to take a step back and look at a wider view.
Bodily integrity is not inviolate. Governments regularly infringe on personal rights of bodily integrity for a variety of reasons. Each of these reasons generally boils down to the benefit and/or protection of the populace as a whole or other individuals.
Forced blood draws and strip searches regularly violate bodily integrity when the state determines that the individual has likely committed a crime and evidence of that crime is needed. Laws against euthanasia and requiring seat belts and helmets also violate the right of bodily integrity.
Is this okay? It can be argued that all of these are wrongful interference by government and that bodily integrity should trump such needs of society. What about mask mandates? Is it acceptable for an infected person to go about infecting others and risking their lives at will?
A compromise is required. The inviolability of any right must be tempered by how much impact the excercise of that right will have on others and the society as a whole. Viewed through this lens, what to make of the partisan arguments above?
Abortion. Even if you assume that the unborn are indeed people at some point in their development, the rights of one person do not trump the rights of another. You cannot force a mother to carry their baby in an effort to save that baby for the same reason you cannot force a person to donate bone marrow to save another. When opposing rights are equal, the state has no responsibility or authority. This issue is very complex and such nuance should not be glossed over. However, the argument serves well as a basis for comparison to the argument for bodily integrity as it relates to vaccines.
Vaccines. There is a clear public threat and safe and effective mitigation methods. The state has an obvious responsibility and authority. The same logic applies to mask mandates.
A wider perspective shows the claims are far from equivalent. From afar, one is a clear mandate to governmental action and the other is narrow victory for proponents of government inaction.
Liberty itself is the real issue. One person’s choices often impact others. It is inevitable that personal rights will come into conflict any time more than one person is involved. It also doesn’t take much looking to find other areas where personal rights come into conflict. The higher a population’s density, the more often such conflicts will arise. Viewing these issues with an even wider lens may again be useful.
A global perspective. It is an uncomfortable fact that each new life brought into an already overtaxed and collapsing global ecosystem is a burden rather than a blessing. If the common good is the real goal, responsible governments should be encouraging abortions and providing free birth control to everyone on the planet. If vaccines and masks save lives, then by the same logic they should be banned. From the widest view, both partisan arguments are wrong
But that’s immoral! Of course it is. We cannot coldly argue that deaths are necessary and aborting foetuses is for the common good. We also cannot ignore the titanic wave of death and misery that will befall our entire race if we continue to do nothing about the death spiral of our ecosystem.
Bodily integrity is a noble goal and should be protected to the extent possible. However, the extent possible grows less and less each year as our population expands and our planet’s delicate balances are destroyed. It is and must be a secondary issue.