Women’s rights clearly include their right to health and to make fully informed decisions regarding their bodies. Does a woman’s right to decide what she will and will not do with her body extend to cover actions affecting the fetus who may reside in her body? Does a woman’s right to control her own reproduction include a right to induced abortion?
Granting the notion that our bodies are our own property, does it follow that a pregnant women can choose to kill her fetuses because the fetus is also her own property? Or, if we grant that a fetus is a separate individual with future of value like ours, does it follow that women can choose to kill fetuses on the ground that they are trespassers?
These questions get to the heart of the abortion debate. I do think that women have a right to make reproductive decisions. They have a right to control their own bodies. They may exercise these rights by, for instance, using contraception or natural family planning. But do they have a right to do what they please to their fetuses?
Imagine the following scenario: Jane decides to chop off the legs of her embryo, at week 7. Believing that Jane has the right to choose what happens to her body, Dr. John, with help of modern technology, performs the operation and chops the legs off Jane’s embryo. In week 10, Jane decides to chop the hands of off her fetus and Dr. John again performs what he reasons to be Jane’s personal choice and right. Taking it to an extreme, Jane decides to pluck her fetus’ eyes out. I’ll refrain from continuing this gruesome tale, but it ends in one of two ways: Jane finally decides to have an abortion, or Jane decides to give birth to an blind, amputated child. This second possible outcome reveals the obvious fact that Jane’s actions were not done to her own body, but to the body of another individual.
If it is true that a woman’s right to control her own body extends to her unborn child, then Jane’s actions are permissible. Assuming we are not sociopaths, however, we naturally condemn Jane’s hypothetical actions as inhumane and morally repugnant. Clearly, Jane’s right to control her own body does not extend to her fetus. A woman’s right to bodily autonomy does not go that far.
If it is not true that a woman’s right to control her body encompasses a right to control what happens to her fetus, then the argument for abortion rights is fatally flawed.