Being Tossed From Airplanes: Bodily Autonomy, Evictionism, and Personhood

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Over the last several years I have noticed a trend away from pro-abort arguments that dehumanize the preborn toward arguments that rely on “bodily autonomy” based ideas. The cliche and scientifically ignorant arguments that claim that the preborn are “not human” a “parasite” or “not alive” are quickly being replaced with this more elegant though equally erroneous argumentation. The basic claim is that the mother has bodily autonomy (or control). She is the rightful owner of her body, therefore she may do as she pleases with her body. This seemingly gives the “right” to abortion to the mother.

But there is a problem (obviously). If you assume that she has absolute autonomy over her body (and that is an unproven assumption) she can, theoretically,

EVICT the preborn child. She can not actively kill the child. She can remove the child, but an effort must be made to maintain the life of the child. This, of course, means the death of the child the vast majority of the time. De facto abortion, just by different methods. Not helpful.

This de facto pro-abortion theory is called evictionism. It is lauded as the “consistent” pro-property rights position by some, and it has become the philosophical refuge of the more mindful pro-abort. The stereotypical denial of science is only the soundbite of the ignorant, not the informed pro-abort thinker. The argument, in short, is that the mother has a property right over her body and therefore she can evict all persons from her body. This includes invited parties (i.e. planned pregnancies) and uninvited parties (i.e. unplanned pregnancies, including pregnancies from rape). This can be seen through metaphor. I can invite Bill over to my house. However, if I so choose, I can revoke my invitation and evict Bill from my property. I have no obligation to allow Bill to stay on my property, regardless of a prior invitation. This is basic property rights.

But a pregnancy is not so much like a house. It is more like an airplane while in flight. If I invite Bill onto my airplane, there is an unspoken contract between Bill and myself that provides for Bill’s safety until he can remove himself from my property without death.

Essentially, if you invite someone onto an airplane, and then the airplane takes off, you can not ethically revoke your invitation and indirectly kill the invited by “evicting” the person. Whether it is by a long fall and a sudden stop, or by a gunshot, both actions unjustifiably kill a man. This is the basic failure of the evictionism bodily-autonomy argument. Ethically, evicting Bill from a flying plane is not the same thing as evicting Bill from your house. This should be obvious.

But then the hardcore pro-abort economics “expert” will say that there can be no unwritten or unspoken contract between one party and an uninformed party. I’m looking at you, Rothbardians. In other words, there can be no contact, written or not, with a preborn human. So we are still left with de facto abortion simply because the Image Bearer of God isn’t smart enough to be aware of his or her situation. Not helpful.

Here’s the trick. The assumption being made is that property rights must be contractual rather than innate. This is purely humanistic. Property rights, including the right to life, are natural and intrinsic, not based on knowledge or contact. Not based on human relationships or institutions. The visitor on the airplane is protected because he’s another human, not just because there is a contract. This is really the crux of the problem. Do ethics and human value come from our own personal understanding, or from something much more objective and transcendent? If ethics simply come from utilitarian studies of human action and what most (though not all) of us think of as “good”, then what keeps me from giving a surprise “eviction” to an invited neighbor with double-aught buckshot? No warning needed. Why is the contract valuable? Why are interpersonal understandings valuable? The secularist does not have answers to these questions.

To demonstrate the absurdity of the pro-abort view from this perspective (mostly anarchists and left libertarians), consider if an airplane handyman fell asleep and accidentally became a stowaway. Is it ethically permissible to kick him out of the flying plane? After all, the handyman did not willingly trespass on the private property. It is important to note that the handyman did not knowingly trespass. According to the logic of evictionism, the only relevant fact is that the handyman did NOT enter into any sort of spoken or unspoken contract with the owner of lawful steward of the airplane. With no such contract existing, the sleepy-storway-handyman could be promptly tossed from 40,000 feet.

This unlikely but poignant scenario shows the failure of an ethical system that is firmly based in mutually understood consent, understanding, and personal autonomy rather than based in the innate value of humanity. Note that I am NOT against contracts, consent of the use of property, and other basic property rights, however those rights are based in something more fundamental and innate than our own reasoning. We should have basic personal rights, but the value of human life must be more foundational than a right to bodily autonomy, or else you lose all rights. Including property rights.

And we must not stop at the value of human beings. Why are human beings valuable? God’s Word makes this plain in Genesis 1:27.

“So God created man in his own image, 

in the image of God he created him; 

male and female he created them.”

God further demonstrates the value His Image Bearers have in Genesis 9:6.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,

by man shall his blood be shed,

for God made man in his own image.”

Simply put, human beings have value because we are created in the image of God. The destruction of that Image of God is nothing short of a direct violation of God’s Law. Without this basic foundation, ethical systems such as Rothbardian Evictionism become absurd on its face. Their foundation, whether it is the Non-Aggression-Principle or anything else, is built on nothing but insistence. Why is aggression bad? Why should I even care? Many secularists may come to the conclusion of the basic inhumanity of abortion and the indefensibly of the bodily autonomy argument. They can logically see the inconsistencies within such a system, and only the most cold individual would not clearly see the injustice of tossing innocent people from airplanes because of property rights. With that said, in order to justify their thoughts and feelings, they must appeal to some sort of standard. However, the secularist has no standard. 

Understanding that bodily autonomy and evictionism arguments are intellectual and ethical failures also simplifies the question of rape conceived preborn. The preborn, even in the case of rape, is an innocent party and is under basic human protection. This protection is extended with or without the permission of the rightful owner of the body, i.e. the mother. Why? Because the value of human life is more foundational than the right of personal autonomy.

To really bring it home, if a violent and evil man secretly places a baby onto an airplane, the airplane owner has no right to “merely” evict the innocent baby once the airplane is in the air.

In fact, the owner or rightful stewards of the airplane have a moral and legal obligation to care for that innocent baby.

How can this be any more obvious? There are only two options. The respect of protecting of God given life, or outright barbarism.

While we seek to protect the preborn, we must be aware of these arguments or we will rhetorically fall far short. Although I would not call bodily autonomy or evictionism arguments particularly good, they are better than asinine soundbites such as “my body, my choice”.

We must not forget that these arguments PRESUPPOSE personhood. To be very clear, these pro-choice arguments have no problem whatsoever with fully bypassing personhood as a philosophical claim. Personhood does not even slow them down. Although some legal personhood efforts have merit, as a philosophical and rhetorical idea, it is an utter failure. To the thoughtful pro-abort, the unborn child is like a man breaking into your home. In the state of Texas, you can shoot that man. Do these “castle” laws revoke the “personhood” of thieves? No. In fact, the state of Texas already does recognize the personhood of the preborn and that has done nothing to stop abortions.

Personhood is not only assumed by the best pro-abort arguments, it is a philosophical argument that has failed for the very same reason that bodily autonomy and evictionism arguments fail. We can ask the very same question as the one stated above.

Do ethics and human value come from our own personal understanding, or from something much more objective and transcendent?

These three views begin and end with a humanist foundation that is not backed up by anything greater than itself. Similar to how I am not opposed to a type of bodily autonomy, and similar to how I am not opposed to a type of evicting intruders, I am also not opposed to a certain tpye of personhood. It is not that the idea is terrible in of itself, it is that it is not grounded ethically in God’s Law. If we start with God’s Law, however, personhood becomes superfluous. Legally understood “personhood” is as humanistic as evictionism. We can define our terms to suit our purposes, but it is a category separted and made distict from Biblical categories.

Human beings are created in the Image of God and to kill Image Bearers of God without just due process is murder AND should be punished as murder. THAT is what it means to have ethics that are grounded in objective, transcendent, truth.

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3 thoughts on “Being Tossed From Airplanes: Bodily Autonomy, Evictionism, and Personhood

  1. Great piece written here. Spot on. I would add that abortion isn’t just the equivalent of tossing the living human being from the plane, but you toss them piece by piece out of the plane. It is a deliberate killing before even being evicted from the plane. But this is absolutely correct that the grounding of our case is in the transcendent fact that human beings are made in the image of the infinite and personal God.

    Like

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