Bodily Autonomy Begins With You(terine) Control

By: Lessa Leigh

Imagine standing on the steps of the Supreme Court, ripping up decisions with gusto. Forget Roe v. Wade.

Imagine standing there, as bits of paper float to the ground by your feet. Forget Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Imagine a confetti laden, ticker-tape parade along Constitution Avenue, where the last gasps of Heartbeat Bills and waiting periods and vaginal ultrasounds rain down to the pavement.

For too long, those of us who support pro-choice reproductive rights for women, have relied on court decisions to bolster or define laws. Meanwhile, reproductive rights in this country have eroded in over four decades to being almost unrecognizable from their inception in 1973. The so-called “Pro-Life Movement” has chipped away around the edges to the point of completely redefining what procedures a woman can have and when she can have them.


We can continue to be pushed further back into a corner, becoming more defensive in our postures, or we can re-frame the debate. Taking a page from the play book from the fight for equal rights that the LBGQTIA community has waged over the years, we need to shift our focus way from reproductive rights toward bodily autonomy. In making the fight about bodily autonomy, we define a basic human right. One should have the right to do what one wants with one’s own body. Period.


There will be dismay from the anti-choice side, and they will advocate for fetal rights. However, there are two points that work against this position. One is that the rights of an actual human being should super-cede the rights of a potential human being. The other is that with fetal rights come unconsidered parental responsibilities. How many of us have argued with our parents and said, “I didn’t ask to be born”? Retroactively granting children the right to protest their conception could make things quite tricky for parents. It’s not difficult to envision a scenario where a child could claim that the parents were irresponsible to conceive a child based on hereditary genetics, economic disadvantages, or emotional distress.

While we advocate for bodily autonomy as a basic, undeniable human right, we can appeal to fiscal conservatives by running the numbers about the costs of having a woman on birth control and having easy access to abortions versus the costs of supporting a woman and her child(ren) through state programs. From an economic standpoint, reducing the number of people, who are dependent on the system for all their social services, should be the primary goal of any good fiscal conservative. One way to reduce dependency is to provide for free reproductive health care and free birth control for women. There have been numerous studies showing how women, who are in control of their own bodies, do better socially, economically, and educationally. It’s not rocket science to see how being tied to an unplanned/unwanted infant will derail most women in their life trajectory. Why are we continuing to hold women back by our fallopian tubes? Why does our uterine real estate only have value if it’s being used? Why are our reproductive choices and decisions anyone’s business but our own and our doctor’s? Why are we even having this debate?


We’re having this debate because bodily autonomy is a right automatically granted to men and conditionally granted to women. We’re being enslaved by a patriarchal notion that our reproductive organs are the only value we contribute to society. We’re being held captive by the real fear of impregnation without consent or desire or intent. Reproductive rights as they apply to bodily autonomy are a 21st century abolitionist movement. Free our ovaries, free ourselves!

So, like any good strategist, we’re going to retreat, regroup, and re-frame our fight. We’re going to strike down our captors with unexpected arguments and guerilla tactics. We’re going to start a movement that ensures our fundamental human rights. We’re going to resist. We’re going to win.

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