Who owns your body? Even postulating that question seems to intuitively, axiomatically not make much sense, because, how could anyone else but you own your body? And worse, if you acknowledge in the affirmative that you own your body, but that there are instances in which you do not own your body — say, in what you put into, or take out of your body — on what foundation does that rest, and how does that foundation not contradict the prior affirmation? How can it be said that you own your body most of the time? In most circumstances? If the State, whether that’s a representative government like in the United States, or a dictatorship like in North Korea, can claim to have temporary ownership of your body in those circumstances outside of “most,” what’s the bulwark against the claim that the State has complete ownership of your body, and that in fact, the “most” is their allowance of you controlling your body, which apparently can be revoked at any moment?
Now, we can imagine at least one scenario where one forfeits temporarily (in theory), as it were, one’s body: If you commit a crime against another person, and are so convicted of that crime, then society deems you to have forfeited control of your body, i.e., you are now behind bars. Of course, prison abolitionists argue against prisons, because of how fraught they are with cruel and unusual punishments, human rights violations, inhumane and inordinate sentencing, wrongful convictions, and so on. I’m sympathetic to that argument, but at least we have firmer ground in which to claim someone has “forfeited” “temporarily” control of their body.
The same sort of thinking would apply, I think, to self-defense claims, and to fighting a pandemic. To the latter, it is not so much that a person is committing a crime and thus forfeits some bodily control, but that their actions (or lack of actions) can be putting someone else at risk, thus infringing on their bodily autonomy.
However, two objections, alluded to earlier, do tend come up: Can’t we restrict some of what you, the person who ostensibly owns your body, wants to put in said body? If say, that person wants to inject heroin into their veins, ought the State to have the capacity to interfere? And worse, force that person to forfeit control over their body by incarcerating them? Again, I would ask, what foundation does such a claim of interference rest?
The second objection, which was the catalyst for this post in light of the leaked draft Opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, is: Can’t we restrict a woman from aborting a fetus? Isn’t there a stronger edifice on which to make this claim, given the “personhood” of a fetus? No, for two reasons. First, the alternative is forcing someone to carry a fetus to term. I’m not sure how anyone can justify such State power of coercion, and the necessary surveillance and policing it would require, to do that to women. As alluded to, too, prohibition breeds black markets, so you’re necessarily pushing something already extremely safe to an area where it would be dangerous, and life-threatening. Secondly, if you’re saying the State should have the power to interfere in a woman aborting a fetus on the grounds that the fetus is person the State has a vested interested in protecting, then by definition, a woman attempting to abort a fetus is committing a crime. So, are we willing, as a society, to incarcerate women, thereby forcing them to forfeit their bodily autonomy (again), in order to justify this level of interference? I can’t abide by it.
I can’t abide by any of it.
You own your own body. The onus is on those who think we don’t, or don’t in some measure, at some time, in some circumstances, to justify why and how the State ought to intervene. As it stands, they do not, as best I can surmise, have any convincing arguments.
Short of a national ban, it’s perhaps even more ludicrous to claim women of New York have bodily autonomy, but the women of Texas do not because the New York and Texas governments differ. That’s just a closer-to-home form of tyranny, which is why the guiding principle of “bring things back to the states” doesn’t always hold.
I’m running out steam, and I have a chicken pot pie heating up in the microwave, but those are my fast philosophical musings on what seems like a self-evident proposition: Who owns your body? You do.