Friday, August 5, 2022

‘My Body, My Choice’: Daysi Calavia-Robertson Pathetically Weak Defense of Abortion Rights

In a New Jersey Star-Ledger op-ed, Daysi Calavia-Robertson (NJ Advance Media for asserts that people opposed to vaccine mandates—which she calls “anti-vaxxers”—have wrongly accused abortion rights advocates of hypocracy for simultaneously supporting vaccine mandates.

In Hey Anti-vaxxers, ready to march for abortion rights?, Robertson makes several meaningful errors in her argument. For starters, she writes:

One of my friends, an anti-vaxxer, snarkily asked why those losing their constitutional right to an abortion had been “so silent” when she and so many others were forced to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Where was this, ‘My body, My choice’ energy for the vaccine?” she asked. She said she would’ve lost her job had she “refused” to “get vaxxed.”

Robertson doesn’t think so. But her friend asks a valid question. But it comes with an apples-v.-oranges package-deal that needs to be cleared. There is a distinct difference between a government issuing a broad mandate across the population and a private entity like a business requiring vaccines for its employees. 

This is a critical distinction with individual rights implications. Properly understood, a vaccine mandate issued by the state violates individual rights. An employer “mandate”—which is really a condition of employment to work at that company—violates no one’s rights. When the government mandates vaccines, it means get a vaccine, period. A business can not mandate a vaccine for anyone. It can simply say if you’re not vaxxed, you can’t work here.

And there is an unjust assumption here also; Robertson’s equating of mandate opponents generally to vaccine opponents specifically. You can be pro vaccine and anti vaccine mandate. By equating anti-mandate with anti-vaxxers, Robertson is guilty of package-dealing

So right off the bat, Robertson mis-frames the issue. Beyond that, she writes:

I thought, she can’t be serious. But she was. And I thought, does she really think this is the same thing?

In fact, they’re not. A government outlawing abortion is not the same as an employer requiring vaccines. Unfortunately, Robertson doesn’t make that connection, which would have been a powerful point in her favor. Instead, she chooses trivia.

Anti-vaxxers, you see, have co-opted the “My Body, My Choice” slogan. They’ve made the slogan, that for nearly five decades has been synonymous with the abortion and reproductive rights movement, somehow now apply to their oh-so-unworthy plight to not get vaccinated for an infectious disease during a pandemic.

This is arrogant—and silly. The issue of a person being legally required to get a vaccine most certainly is a “My Body, My Choice” issue. She vehemently disagrees on superficial grounds:

What anti-vaxxers fail to understand is the two issues of body autonomy are not the same. The choice they want to preserve is a pinch on the arm that carries a minimal risk and is low cost for most people.

This is what happens when you abandon principles. 

Certainly, the degree of life disruption matters. And that should certainly be acknowledged. But on principle, there’s no difference. Both mandates—to get a vaccine and to carry a pregnancy to term—clearly violate the “My Body, My Choice” principle. If Robertson actually thought in principles, she would understand this. And it would add power to her position.

Moreover, the very idea that that slogan was “co-opted” by the “anti-vaxxers” ignores the fact that the principle behind it, if not the exact slogan, long predates the current pro-choice movement. “My Body, My Choice” is not the sole property of pro-choicers. The principle dates back at least to The Enlightenment, when John Locke, the leading influence on the Founding Fathers, proposed his theory of property rights, which begins with the idea that “. . . every Man has a Property in his own Person. This no Body has any Right to but himself.”

This “Property in his own Person” was interpreted broadly, both by Locke and the Founding era generation. It included property in one’s conscience, labor, happiness, etc. It was also consistent with the legal issue of abortion in the Founding era, which was generally allowed by law until later in a pregnancy, specifically understood to be when “quickening”—movement is felt in the womb by the woman—occurs. This means abortion was generally legal until well into the 2nd trimester. 

Daysi Calavia-Robertson’s defense of abortion rights, if you can even call it a defense, is very poorly argued on many important fronts. As a supporter of abortion rights, rooted in the broader principles of inalienable individual rights, this is very frustrating to me. Pro-choicers like Robertson will never win the day with shallow, obviously flawed arguments like those presented here. You can’t win on abortion rights by sidestepping the fundamental moral, political, and Constitutional principles involved that lead to inalienable individual rights more broadly.

Related Reading:

Vaccine Mandates: What they Are, What They and Are Not, and Why Vaccines Should Not Be Mandated

Alito's Abortion Ruling Overturning Roe Is an Insult to the 9th Amendment

In SCOTUS’ Draft Opinion Overturning Roe Abortion Ruling: Double Standards of Left and Right Exposed

Abortion and Individual Rights - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Defending Reproductive Rights Depends Upon Upholding All Rights

Right to Abortion vs. the "Right" to Abortion Services

Right to Abortion, Not Others' Wallets

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