“In a post-Roe world, pregnant women have fewer rights than corpses.” Since June of 2022, this framing of abortion rights has taken the internet by storm. If it’s true, it’s an inherently appalling concept; if our government is treating living women as lesser than dead people, it’s no wonder that Gen Z finds this argument so powerful! But here’s the bigger problem: most pro-life responses are utterly missing the mark, leaving this pro-choice slogan largely unrefuted in the minds of young Americans.
Most pro-life responses are utterly missing the mark, leaving this pro-choice slogan largely unrefuted in the minds of young Americans.
This rhetoric is actually trying to reference organ donation. If your neighbor is in need of an organ transplant, and you are hypothetically the only person in the world capable of giving him said transplant, you’d obviously be a nice person if you agreed! But the government can’t force you to do it; you maintain a right to dispose of your organs how you see fit, and you cannot be legally compelled to donate a kidney even if your neighbor will die without it. This right still holds true after death; authorization or explicit consent is required by the person (or designated decision-maker) before deceased organ or tissue recovery can occur.
In case you haven’t connected the dots, Gen Z is comparing organ donation to pregnancy. In this type of pro-choice argument, categorized by those who work in the abortion debate as a “bodily autonomy argument,” an unborn child is analogous to your neighbor who needs that kidney transplant. There’s no claim that the unborn child is sub-human or confusion about when biological life begins; the argument grants that the unborn are just as human and valuable as you and I. However, since you have the right to refuse the use of your kidney by someone else who wants to use it (i.e. your neighbor), even if they’ll die without it, then you also have the right to refuse the use of your uterus by someone else who wants to use it (i.e. a fetus), even if they will die without it. (Pro-choice people are incorrect that bodily autonomy is the right invoked in organ donation cases, but we’ll operate within the way they’re thinking about it.)
Explaining that the fetus has its own unique human DNA isn’t going to help you here; bodily autonomy arguments for abortion are powerful precisely because they accept—at least for the sake of argument—the entire pro-life case that the unborn are deserving of human dignity and a right to life, but still claim that abortion is justified because women have a right to refuse the use of their bodies by other people, period. So, how can you help your child make sense of our intuitions that government shouldn’t legally force kidney donation while squaring that with pregnancy and abortion?
bodily autonomy arguments for abortion are powerful precisely because they accept—at least for the sake of argument—the entire pro-life case that the unborn are deserving of human dignity and a right to life
Take a closer look at organ donation. When you find your neighbor in need of a kidney, you hypothetically have three options. You could help him by donating your kidney, but that shouldn’t be legally required of you. You could choose to not help him, which would be you refusing to donate your kidney. He would die and maybe you’d be a worse person, but you shouldn’t be in trouble with the law. Or, hypothetically, you could kill him. After all, if he’s dead, he definitely doesn’t need your kidney anymore! You could just shoot him, right now, and he’d be dead. Problem solved. It would save you the embarrassment of saying no to him!
So, you technically have three options—help, not help, or kill—but we all know that you can’t do the killing option; killing is wrong except in weird cases like self-defense. The killing option should be illegal for you to do, but helping or not helping should both be legal options.
However, not all three of those options—help, not help, or kill—exist in every scenario. Imagine another story: you own a giant yacht, and you’re alone out in the ocean in shark-infested waters when you discover a preschooler on your boat. This little girl was playing hide-and-seek on the docks with her siblings, she found a fantastic hiding spot in the closet on your yacht, and promptly fell asleep. In this case, you really only have two options from the outset: you can either help the preschooler by sheltering her peacefully on the boat while you take the boat back to shore and hand the girl over to the police, at which point you shouldn’t have any further legal obligation to that preschooler. Or, hypothetically, you could kill the young child. You could say, “This is my boat, and I have the right to refuse the use of my boat to this tiny person who is trying to use it” and then toss the preschooler overboard. In the boat story, there is no option to merely not help—it doesn’t exist! If there was a way to Star Trek beam the preschooler off the boat and onto shore next to her parents so you wouldn’t have to deal with her anymore, that would be a “not help option,” but we all know that doesn’t exist. If help and kill are your only options, and killing is always wrong except in cases like self-defense, then you are obligated to help.
If help and kill are your only options, and killing is always wrong except in cases like self-defense, then you are obligated to help
Of course, giving a ride to a preschooler isn’t comparable to the demands of pregnancy; we must make it clear that we understand that. In no way is this analogy meant to diminish what a pregnant woman goes through! But as in the boat story, a pregnant woman only has two options; she can either help the fetus by allowing it to exist in her womb for nine months and giving birth, at which point she doesn’t have to have any further legal obligation to the child (given the availability of adoption and safe haven laws), or she can kill the child by having an abortion. There is no “refuse to help” option that doesn’t also include killing. Let us be clear: we wouldn’t normally ask someone to tolerate a strange child on their boat. We’ll only ask for it as long as it takes to get them to shore safely, because there is no other non-violent option. The same is true of pregnancy. We wouldn’t normally ask someone to make that kind of physical sacrifice. Again, you shouldn’t even force someone to donate a pint of blood. But in this situation, the only alternative to helping is intentionally killing an innocent person.
Hypothetically, if your only options were to either donate a pint of blood to a healthy but vulnerable person, or kill that healthy but vulnerable person, and there actually was no “refuse to help” option—it just comes down to help or kill—then I think you’re obligated to donate that blood. It’s not because you are generally obligated to help. It’s because you may not kill innocent human beings.
Always be clear: you do have a right to your bodily autonomy, and you do generally have the right to refuse the use of your body to someone trying to use it. But those rights have a limit. Abortion always involves lethal violence targeted at the unborn human, and none of us have the right to intentionally kill innocent people, period.
Emily Albrecht is Director of Education & Outreach at Equal Rights Institute. She is the former Co-President of Oles for Life at St. Olaf College, where she worked to transform campus culture using ERI’s apologetics to foster respectful and productive dialogues about abortion. At ERI, she is using her educational background to write, develop curriculum, and teach pro-life advocates how to change minds, save lives, and promote a culture of life in their communities. A sought-after speaker, Emily frequently presents lectures on college campuses, in high schools, and for churches and conferences, and she regularly appears in interviews and radio/TV/podcasts, including appearances on MSNBC, BBC Newsday, EWTN, Focus on the Family, Relevant Radio, Christianity Today, and Real Presence LIVE.