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Midweek Musings: Moral Obligation & Bodily Autonomy

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UFL chapter.

The state of Indiana is seriously in need of a Leslie Knope. After passing an extremely controversial, discriminatory “religious freedom” bill, the state has now charged, tried and sentenced a woman for the crime of feticide, the first in the country’s history. Feticide, or the killing of a fetus, is simply a scarier word for abortion, a rhetorical attempt to make abortion seem more criminal and condemnable. Indiana has now raised a fetus to the status of full personhood — even unborn — and condemned a woman to a 41-year prison sentence. Seeming more like 17th century Salem than modern Indiana, this sentencing has taken abortion past criminalization and elevated it to the status of intentional murder. Although the details of whether the Indiana woman — Purvi Patel — aborted or miscarried are debated, the case itself has sparked new conversations in the ongoing abortion dispute.

When speaking on abortion, we often focus on rights — a right to live or a right to choose. A “right to life” paints a troubling picture; it refocuses the subject of abortion discussions away from the person at the center — the woman. Language that insists on an unborn fetus’ right to live suggests that a woman has a moral obligation to someone else’s life — if we’re even operating under the mindset that a fetus constitutes a “someone.” Now, that might be controversial for some, but we must wonder to what extent we are obligated to the well being of others. We do not feel obligated to the life of strangers, so why a fetus? Too much thinking around abortion assumes that if a woman is pregnant, she is a mother — that she loves her child or has an emotional bond to it. If a woman is considering abortion, this is more than likely not the case. Most would argue that moral obligation derives from personal relationships, love or family ties. If these do not exist, are we still morally obligated?

Now, some might argue that the problem is in the act of abortion itself, that even if no moral obligation exists, harming a “stranger” — in this case, the fetus — purposefully is wrong. But if one were forced to help strangers at some personal cost — if citizens were legally obligated to help others by sacrificing parts of themselves — that would be a huge breach of rights. The concept of bodily autonomy exists to prevent infringements on individual bodily rights. If someone is not an organ donor, for any reason whatsoever, doctors are not legally allowed to use their organs to save someone else’s life. A car accident victim’s perfectly viable organs couldn’t be used to save a hospital wing full of toddlers unless he consented before his death. Taking that into consideration, the state of Indiana allows more rights to dead bodies than to women. Anti-abortion laws force women to give up the use of their bodies for nine months, to pay medical bills and endure complications, denying all sense of bodily autonomy in order to “save” a fetus that is instantly ignored by anti-abortion advocates the moment it’s born.

Like all protested acts, legality won’t stop abortion from happening. Criminalization will only lead to unsafe practices and thus more dead women and dead babies. Providing women with safe, affordable and accessible abortion gives women real alternatives, while criminalized abortion leaves only one. And for many women, that option is simply not feasible. There are so many varying circumstances that lead a woman to abortion, all of which are real and valid. A holier-than-thou pseudo-knowledge of some universal truth of morality is pretentious and condescending. I find it mystifying that men, courts, government or even other women can pretend to understand, empathize or supposedly know better than every pregnant woman seeking abortion. Cutting off access to reproductive options, shaming, judging and prosecuting women who don’t hold Christian ideals is retrogressive at best — fascist at worst.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of HerCampus.com.

Photo credits:www.the-works.net

Amy Coker is a 3rd year English major with a minor in Women's Studies. This is her first year with Her Campus and she couldn't be more excited! After graduation, Amy hopes to find a hybrid career where she can write, act, read and publish books, and see plays for a living. Her job as a barista in combination with her major make her quite the stereotype. In her free time, Amy is usually watching Netflix and trying to force herself to go to the gym.
Victoria is a junior journalism major at the University of Florida. As a writer for Her Campus, she enjoyed writing about fashion and giving advice to readers. She is currently a senior editor of Her Campus UFL and is in training to become the chapter's next Campus Correspondent. Outside of class and Her Campus, you can find Victoria scoping out cute boys with friends, longboarding around campus, or hanging out with her Alpha Omicron Pi sisters. She enjoys traveling to new cities, spending time outside, drinking toffee nut iced coffees, shopping, trying new types of food and working for Her Campus!