One of the most widely used arguments to defend a woman’s “right” to kill her unborn child is that she owns her own body and can do what she wants with it. No one has any authority to impose restrictions on her behavior, so long as she is not harming any other person.
Yes, yes, I know. An unborn baby is a person and women who abort their unborn babies ARE harming other people, but it is not my intention to discuss the person-hood of an unborn child in this article. Rather, I want to explore the philosophical question of the ownership of the human body—irrespective of sex. Male or female is irrelevant. To whom do I belong? That is a question everyone must answer.
“…how can we defend the mother’s right to kill the fetus?
Simple. She owns her own body, and the unwanted fetus growing within it is in effect a trespasser or parasite. This may sound harsh, but when the property rights in question are thoroughly analyzed, it is the only possible conclusion that may be reached.”[i]–Walter Block and Roy Whitehead
If I was asked (I wasn’t) to paraphrase and rewrite the above quote, this is the way it would turn out.
“We can defend a woman’s (mothers don’t act that way) right to kill her unborn child because she owns her body and the unwanted fetus is a trespasser and a parasite. Dastardly things, anyway! Besides, property rights are sacrosanct [ii] so we can reach no other conclusion.”
All I can say about this manner of thinking is that it is abominable and despicable. When “property rights” are the only thing in question, then the end justifies the means and any moral rectitude simply flies out the window.
Who am I? Why am I here? What will happen to me when I die? These are questions which have vexed and perplexed philosophers since people started thinking about things other than how to get and keep their next meal. There are probably just about as many answers as there are philosophers. We ought to also be asking one other question: To whom or to what do I belong? This is a valid question and there are only two possible answers: we belong to ourselves OR we belong to someone/something outside of and beyond ourselves.
If we conclude that a woman belongs to herself, then she also owns herself, every part of herself, including her body and everything in it, over which she exercises full and complete control. No one and nothing can dictate to her what she may or may not do with her body. If a woman owns her body, then there should be no restraints placed on her, so long as she does not initiate aggression against other people who also own their bodies [iii]. If this is true, then the whole argument about abortion is moot, null, void, and utterly useless, deserving to be scrapped. It is a waste of time, energy, and resources–if this is true!
But, is it? Or is there another way of looking at the question? Michael Rozeff puts it this way.
” 3. Property is what belongs to you. It’s circular to say that a person belongs to himself or owns himself. You only seem to become property when you become a slave, partly or wholly, and belong to someone else. Even in that case, they have property in your body, in the product of your labor, but not in YOU. In other words, to resolve this problem of definition and starting point philosophically or religiously, we need to specify what a human being or person IS. What IS this “I”? What is the BEING that “I” am, and that you are? That BEING exists outside the domain of human notions of property. That’s my unprovable assumption or postulate about life and existence.” [iv]
I agree. I brought this up to make the point that no one owns themselves. No one owns their own body. No man, no woman, no exceptions. With nothing more than pure logic, I can make my case using a common libertarian argument.
You and your family live in a nice house on a piece of land which you own. You borrowed money to pay for it, scrimped and saved, did without, and worked side jobs to pay the mortgage, eventually receiving the deed free and clear. It is yours. At least that’s what you think.
One day, while in a discussion with your friend, he points out that you really don’t own the property, you only rent it. He explains that if you don’t pay the taxes which the county determines you should, you will find out within the space of a few years who the real owner is. You will be looking for another place to live and all the effort you have put into this property will accrue to someone else’s benefit.
You will lose your property if you don’t pay the declared property tax, but the fact of the matter is, you can live in the house and control the property, even profit from it, without (much) interference from the county–so long as you pay the tax! Libertarians everywhere understand this argument immediately.
In the case of a woman’s (or man’s) body, there will come a time when your “property” will be taken away from you. There will be no grace period, no time to pay the back taxes, plus costs, plus interest. There will be no extensions. Begging, refusing to consent, and getting angry will not help. Trying to make a deal is an exercise in futility. (Daniel Webster [v], I need help!) As the rock band Kansas [vi] put it, “…all your money won’t another minute buy.” When the Grim Reaper crooks his finger, you will go, with or without warning. Willing or unwilling, it doesn’t matter. Off you go. You are going to die.
If we grasp the point that we don’t own our real estate because it CAN be taken away from us, then we should also understand that we don’t own our bodies because they WILL be taken away. In fact, ownership of real property is a far more feasible concept than ownership of body because the rules concerning taxation can always be changed for the better. At least it’s theoretically possible to change them. People may someday live in a society in which there are no property taxes. About the end of life, however, there is nothing to do except to understand that it is coming and to be ready for it.
We are conceived, we live, we die. Everything that we accumulate in this world will belong to someone else after our death. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life.” (Job 1:21) “We didn’t bring anything into this world, and we won’t take anything with us when we leave.” (1 Timothy 6:7)
If immortality becomes practicable in this world, I will have to eat my words. Until then, they stand. This side of Heaven (or whatever you believe lies on the other side of death), everyone will die. That is an absolute certainty. I am absolutely certain that I am going to die. And so are you.
Since you are going to die and your body is going to be taken away from you, then you do not own it. If you do not own the body you live in, then it belongs to someone or something else: God, a higher power, the Great Spirit, cosmic truth, weird space aliens who seeded our planet, et al, any one of which might actually have something to say about the way that we are abusing, destroying, and killing those “properties” entrusted, but not belonging, to us. [vii]
Let’s bring Michael Rozeff back into the conversation.
“I contend that libertarian theory is too narrow. I make the following statements of where I stand.
1. Property is too narrow a basis to build an entire law and society on. The moral principle of no physical aggression is too narrow a basis. They are good as far as they go, but taken too far, they run into problems by ignoring the non-physical. Libertarianism has an impoverished social theory by this restriction to property and physical aggression. It gains by definiteness, but it loses by restrictiveness. In some cases, as in defamation, it leads to conclusions that go against thousands of years of law and history. “ [viii]
Rozeff is correct. Libertarianism with a fixated view on property rights will not work. It has no soul. It needs to incorporate what he calls “the non-physical”, which I don’t mind referring to as spiritual and moral. When spirituality (the understanding that we are more than just body) enters the picture, it brings with it a sense of morality: what is right and what is wrong. When right and wrong come into play, it becomes evident that a monstrous crime has been perpetrated on the weakest, most vulnerable members of our society for a long, long time.
Women do NOT own their bodies and they certainly do not own the unborn children who are temporarily residing within their wombs. Any law which allows a woman to kill her unborn child, based on ownership claims, is flawed. Any society which relies solely on property rights to determine what is allowable is building a house on unstable soil. [ix] A civilization which elevates property rights over and above all things will be a civilization which is cold and heartless.
Where is the love?
[i] Block, Walter E. and Roy Whitehead. 2005. “Compromising the Uncompromisable: A Private Property Rights Approach to Resolving the Abortion Controversy,” Appalachian Law Review, 4 (2) 1-45
[ii] It seems to me that, in many quarters, rights have taken on the attributes of religion, complete with high priests, a “gospel” message, worship services, and dedicated followers who will die before they change their beliefs.
[iii] Excluding unborn children, of course.
[v] Just one of the stories I read a long, long time ago and have never forgotten. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Devil_and_Daniel_Webster
[vi] Not one of my favorite bands, but they made a hit out of this melancholy tune. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tH2w6Oxx0kQ
[vii] An example of this can be seen in the Holy Bible, Psalms, Chapter 2.