James Kerian: Bodily Autonomy Does Not Mean You Can Kill Your Child


The term “clump of cells” has probably permanently disappeared from our national debate over abortion. It will be up to the prosecutors and Planned Parenthood’s lawyers to argue over whether the money they admit to taking in exchange for organs is solely a reimbursement for “simply costs” as Planned Parenthood has publicly claimed or if these funds allow them to “do a little better than break even” as a Planned Parenthood executive stated in the first undercover video released last month.  But what is not disputed is that these about-to-be-born children (or fetus, if you prefer Latin) are being cut up for parts and that the organization that kills them is receiving money on a “per item” basis for their hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys, etc.  These obviously aren’t “clumps of cells” anymore than you and I are.  While improving ultrasound technology has been making that more and more obvious for years these videos should finally put the “clumps of cells” deception to rest once and for all.

The new argument from those who want to keep elective abortion legal is that the woman’s bodily autonomy means that she can have an abortion for any reason (or no reason whatsoever) even if the fetus is a living human child.  The idea here is that no one can tell anyone else what they can or cannot do with their body because that would be like slavery or something and so if a parent can’t choose at any moment during the pregnancy to stop using her body to support her child then she would be unconstitutionally and immorally enslaved.

The obvious problem with this argument is that parenthood has always placed legal limits on bodily autonomy.  The North Dakota Century Code defines it as criminal child neglect (a felony) if a parent:

“Fails to provide proper parental care or control, subsistence, education as required by law, or other care or control necessary for the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health.”

That places a lot of limits and requirements on what must be done (including several things that require the use of one’s body) if one happens to be a parent.  These limits and requirements are common both throughout the country and everywhere else in the civilized world because children have rights.  Specifically, children have the right to be cared for and nourished by their parents at least until that responsibility can be safely transferred to someone else.

Parents are not obligated to die for the care of their children.  The self-defense laws allow them to avoid prosecution if they decline to risk their lives to save their toddler.  The same principle should allow them to undergo procedures to save their own life even if that procedure puts their unborn child at extreme risk.  But bodily autonomy provides no more excuse for an elective abortion than it does for child abandonment because, again, children have rights and those rights give parents legal obligations.

Those who advocate for keeping elective abortion legal will become much less fond of this bodily autonomy argument when they see how soundly it was rejected by the authors of their favorite court decision, Roe v Wade.  The decision itself states:

“If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case [in favor of legal abortion], of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the [14th] Amendment. The appellant conceded as much on reargument. On the other hand, the appellee conceded on reargument that no case could be cited that holds that a fetus is a person within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Legal elective abortion cannot rationally or consistently be maintained unless the about-to-be-born child is dehumanized. With what we can see now, if we only have the courage to look, it should not be long until every child, born and about-to-be-born, has equal protection under the law.