Severed Cords

The Demands of Autonomy Are Lethal to Human Justice

My home state of Illinois recently outdid even New York in passing some of the most radically pro-abortion legislation in the country. Illinois SB 25, the "Reproductive Health Act," does some pretty frightening things, including:

• permitting abortion up until the moment of birth;

• effectively eliminating licensing requirements or inspections of abortion facilities;

• laying the groundwork for the repeal of Illinois' parental notification law;

• forcing all insurance companies to cover abortions;

• allowing non-physicians to perform abortions;

• removing language requiring medical care for a baby born alive, thus essentially permitting infanticide; and

• removing the requirement that coroners investigate "a maternal death due to abortion."1

This was all done in the name of "bodily autonomy," a term used both in the arguments for the bill and in the language of the bill itself. The text of SB 25 "sets forth the fundamental rights of individuals to make autonomous decisions about one's own reproductive health," including "the fundamental right of an individual who becomes pregnant to continue the pregnancy and give birth to a child, or to have an abortion, and to make autonomous decisions about how to exercise that right."2

"Bodily autonomy" means, basically, an individual's right to make decisions regarding his or her own healthcare—e.g., whether to visit a doctor or not, whether to continue chemotherapy or refuse it, or whether to take medication A or medication B or no medication at all. The word "autonomy" comes from the Greek auto, meaning "self," and nomos, meaning "custom" or "law." In other words, it means "self-governing." It's an inherently political term. But it has also become a politically charged term, as it is predominantly used in the context of the fight for so-called reproductive rights—i.e., abortion.

Problems with Bodily Autonomy

According to supporters of bodily autonomy, the baby in the mother's womb is dependent upon that mother for life. Therefore, the baby is really a part of the mother's body, and as such, has no inherent "right to life" of its own. This is where the "my body, my choice" rhetoric comes from. That the child is its own body does not supersede the mother's "bodily autonomy."

A personal illustration may help to tear some holes in this concept. I recently gave birth to my third child, a girl, and I have a revelation for advocates of the rhetoric of bodily autonomy: my daughter is just as dependent on my body now, after she has emerged into the world, as she was before her birth. When she was inside me, she was nourished and protected by my body without my having to think too much about it. Through the umbilical cord, she received everything she needed. Now that she is outside, I physically have to feed her, cradle her, rock her to sleep, change her diaper, clean her. My body still cares for her body, even though that care is now done consciously instead of unconsciously.

Let's think about what would happen if I decided that my bodily autonomy was being infringed upon, and so I chose to stop feeding her, holding her, changing her, and so on, nor would I allow anyone else to do so (as, for example, through adoption). My daughter is an individual, after all, with her own bodily autonomy. She has the right to care for herself and to make her own decisions about her care, just as I do. The result, of course, would be her quick and horrifying death. And, hopefully, another result would be my just-as-quick incarceration for child abuse and murder.

This line of reasoning extends to my other children, a three-year-old and a five-year-old, as well. Their bodies are also dependent upon mine, though to a lesser extent. They aren't yet capable of preparing their own meals, providing their own clothing or shelter, caring for themselves when ill, or getting themselves to the doctor for necessary medical care. What would happen if I suddenly ceased to provide their bodies with care? Once again, incarceration for child neglect and abuse. Even the advocates of bodily autonomy don't argue that I have the right to murder my children once born, even though they are just as dependent upon my body for care. (An exception is Peter Singer, the radical philosopher from Princeton who argues that it is acceptable to euthanize a disabled infant within a certain period of time after the child has been born.3)

Temples of the Holy Spirit

Our bodies are not for ourselves alone. Paul asks the Corinthians, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own" (1 Cor. 6:19). As temples, we are called to serve as the hands and feet of Christ to others. We are called to glorify our Lord by serving those around us. When a woman nurses her baby, or holds her toddler, or gives a hug to her teenager—or cares for an ill relative or prepares food for a homeless shelter—in all of these things, she is using her body as a temple of the Holy Spirit. The same goes for men.

"Bodily autonomy" is not a useful concept for the Christian. Rather, we should ask ourselves: How would Christ have me use this temple he has given me? The pro-choice advocates of bodily autonomy argue that no woman can be truly free unless she has the right to kill another body living within her, if she deems that other body to be preventing her from living as she chooses. But this is not freedom; it is slavery to our passions, to our fears. Only in adhering to the words of Paul and using our bodies in the Christ-like service of others will we find true freedom.

1. "SB 25: Here's What the Abortion Bill Will Do," Illinois Right to Life (May 31, 2019):
2. Illinois Legislature, Illinois SB 25, available at
3. Peter Singer, "Discussing Infanticide," Journal of Medical Ethics 39.5 (2013), 260.

is the managing editor of The Natural Family, the quarterly publication of the International Organization for the Family.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #50, Fall 2019 Copyright © 2024 Salvo |


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