I Support Your Right to Choose to Harm Your Own Body!
I’ll be blunt: I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone under the age of 40 would choose to smoke! Having grown up at a time when the ill effects of smoking are so widely known, why would anyone decide to start something that will likely be detrimental to their lives and to their bodies? I know I personally would never choose to smoke!
But on the other hand, I don’t think that cigarettes should be banned either. We can discourage their use and offer smokers alternatives, but people have the right to knowingly harm their own bodies if they so choose. It’s true that the government has an obligation to recall or ban harmful products when people expect them to be safe (tainted milk, lead in paint etc) but there’s a fine line when it comes to personal choice and to the adult consumption of products that are known to carry some health risk.
And that’s why I don’t find particularly persuasive the arguments to ban abortion on the grounds that it harms women – be it “abortion causes breast cancer” or worries about “post-abortion syndrome.” Even if abortion does cause physical or psychological damage, women undergoing a surgical abortion expect a certain degree of risk. I think the law has no further obligation beyond ensuring that informed consent is received, and that adequate risk warnings are given — akin to the warnings placed on cigarette cartons, perhaps. Pregnant women, just like smokers, have the autonomous right to choose their own bodily risks.
However, I also strongly support bans to public smoking, and all efforts to make it illegal to smoke in vehicles or in homes where children are present. The difference lies in what the risk taker is doing only to themselves, vs what they are potentially doing to another human being. In the first case, the smoker harms only his or her own lungs and body. In the second case, the smoker is imposing his or her personal choice on the lungs and body of someone else. Often on someone who is unable to consent to having smoke in their shared air.
So if abortion is like all other surgeries, which affect only the body of the one undergoing the surgery, then no one should have anything to say about the personal choice being made. I may not personally choose to have an abortion, just as I may not personally choose to smoke, but if there’s no second body impacted in that choice, no restrictions should be imposed on their choice. Offer alternatives and discourage their choice if you want to advocate for a different choice, but don’t take their legal choice away.
… Unless the choice of abortion imposes harm on a second body.
If public smoking and smoking in the presence of minors are banned because of their known impact on others, especially on vulnerable and non-consenting minors, then the law has exactly the same right to impose restrictions on the choice of abortion. The body that is dismembered in an abortion is not the woman’s body, it’s someone else’s arms and legs and developing brain. Human bodies don’t begin development at birth, and human beings don’t become fully human and worthy of protection only once we’ve attained completed brain function and adult maturity. Young and vulnerable humans matter – and they should be protected from the destructive choices of others.
I wholeheartedly agree with the philosophy of “your body your choice,” — even when I personally wouldn’t ever make that choice. But you don’t have a right to make a choice that has deadly impact on someone else’s body. No one does.