Right to Choice or Right to Life?: Unpacking the Logic Behind the Argument

In December 2015 cover story of Vogue, a popular fashion and life style magazine, actress Jennifer Lawrence is to have said she “can’t imagine supporting a party that doesn’t support women’s basic rights.” She doesn’t specifically state what “women’s basic rights” is supposed to be, but from the context of the interview, as she talks about being raised a Republican but not wanting to support the party, it seems fairly safe to assume she is talking about the basic rights of women to go through an abortion procedure—to have the choice to abort the fetus from growing inside her body. There are various arguments to why a woman has the right to abortion, but in a general sense the logic and the arguments come down to something as follows: [1] a woman has the right to decide what she can and can’t do with her body; [2] the fetus exists inside a woman’s body; [3] the woman has the right to decide whether the fetus remains in her body or not; [4] therefore a pregnant woman has the right to abort the fetus.

Is this true? It seems like a coherent argument, but are the argument points true? Does a woman truly have the right to decide what she can and can’t do with her body? If we go in deeper, does a human being have the right to decide what one can and can’t do with one’s own body? I would say no—a human being actually does not have the rights to decide what one can and can’t do with one’s own body. Take for example: Bob does not have the rights to administer cocaine into his body, even though he can. He has the will-power to exercise his thoughts to move his hands to inject cocaine into his veins, but when he does so, he will be arrested for using illegal substances, jailed, and actually have some of his rights taken away. Bob actually does not have the right to use cocaine in his body as he pleases, or else law enforcement agencies would be coming after him. How about another example? Betty can and is able to use her body for prostitution to make money. When Betty sells her body, she is able to make more money than working at the local market for minimum wage for a full week, or maybe even a month. But when Betty chooses to sell her body as a prostitute, she will be arrested, be sent to jail, pay fines, and have her freedom taken away as a result of her free action to sell her body for sex.

Without getting too deep into why or how we as a society have come to regulate sale of illegal drugs or engaging in sexual activity for payment, it is without question that at local, state, and federal levels, such activities are heavily regulated. People actually are not completely free do to what they want to do to their own body.

Human beings do not have right to decide what one can and can’t do with one’s own body. And if human beings actually do not have right to decide what one can and can’t do with one’s own body, then it logically follows that a woman does not have right to decide what she can and can’t do with her own body. To fine-tune the argument, I would say this: a woman has rights to her body because, after all, it is her body—but a woman does not have absolute rights to her body. There are social and judicial limitations on what a woman (or man) can do with one’s own body. So with this understanding, I would say that argument [1] can be challenged and weakened to be not true. And if [1] is not true, it becomes feasible that points [3] and [4] are not true.

Also, I would like to point out the fetus’s rights—specifically the fetus’s (or as I would prefer to call “a baby”) right to life. As a Christian minister, my conviction is that life starts at conception. But aside from my own personal religious and theological convictions, it is our own Declaration of Independence which grants that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Where is this inalienable right of the fetus, baby, or the unborn (however you want to call this person)—to Life, the right to live? In any civilized society from past to present, an act of murder has always been unacceptable. If the baby inside a woman’s body is a human, what or who makes it acceptable to kill that baby?

My assumption is that those who argue for woman’s rights to terminate a fetus would have to say that a fetus inside a woman’s body is actually not a human, but merely a “thing.” If one does not acknowledge the fetus to be a “baby,” then I guess one can argue that abortion is not committing murder. But this is exactly the point that I would whole-heartedly disagree with, as I believe that all human life, born or unborn, are created by God the “Creator” (as mentioned in the Declaration of Independence) and that all humans are made in the very image of God. Hence whether born or unborn, life is precious and to be protected at all costs. The right to Life should be the supreme right, above all other rights.

This is a touchy subject and although I have not explored emotional aspects of the issue, I have made a modest attempt to refute some arguments, ask questions, and offer some responses. And I think I have been able to do it to some degree: we don’t have absolute rights to our body, and the baby—regardless of the baby’s location, whether inside or outside the womb—has the right to life.

Joseph Choi

Reverend Joseph Choi is a senior chaplain of the Spiritual Care Department at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance, CA. He also serves as a chaplain for the U.S. Army Reserves, and as the English ministry pastor at Sanctification Presbyterian Church in Gardena, CA.

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