The cognitive dissonance of ‘my body my choice’

Unless you’ve been living under a giant rock, you must have heard the slogan ‘my body, my choice’. Four short and simple words; an ad hominem that’s become a sort of war cry for females across the English-speaking world.

It’s a giant shield brought out in defence of any argument against abortion; it’s played as a trump card, the ‘beats rock, paper and scissors’ of this moral minefield.

It fascinates me. I love studying people; figuring out what motivates them, what makes them tick, what their hearts beat for. And ‘my body my choice’ and the culture surrounding that is especially fascinating to me at the moment.

Why? Well, because it doesn’t take an awful lot of scientific enquiry to debunk ‘my body my choice’. There seem to be three key components behind the slogan – bodily autonomy (‘it’s my body so I can do what I want’), the concept of personhood (an unborn baby shouldn’t be granted the rights of an adult person), and moral relativism (‘keep your moral opinions to yourself’). And all of these can be challenged effectively. Stephanie Gray did a wonderful job of this in her Google talk last year, which went viral.

But though there are so many solid arguments in defence of the pro-life position, there is perhaps no method quite so effective as the use of images. Visual evidence convicted me more than anything else did. Unlike language, images cannot obfuscate or downplay. Images simply show what is, and in the face of cold reality, pro-choice arguments, no matter how eloquent, seem weak, pale and inadequate. Like a mouse trying to silence a tiger.

Yet abortion proponents still hide behind ‘my body my choice’, hoping these four words sprawled across a white banner can actually buffer away the uncomfortable truth. Quite literally, in fact. For every Abort67 display of images depicting very-human-looking aborted foetuses, one of these banners invariably follows close behind. Soon enough, the banner has obscured these shocking and uncomfortable images from view. The protesters hold them like sentinels, chanting the words on their banner, or holding a resolute silence.

This is a powerful example of cognitive dissonance. It’s the natural response to the shattering of a belief system – just shout your narrative louder to drown out the truth. Call for ‘buffer zones’ outside of abortion clinics to silence anyone attempting to offer women in crisis a real choice.

Because, you see, the choice to end a life, when no other options are properly presented, is no choice at all.

And this may surprise you, but there is no real evidence to suggest that those participating in vigils outside abortion clinics are abusive or hateful. I wish I didn’t have to say this, but you can’t spend your life believing everything The Guardian tells you. I remember a few months ago, The Guardian published an article claiming that pro-life supporters were actually ‘pro-death’. No, really.

My generation has more access to information than any generation before. Yet my generation is by far the most intellectually dishonest. We know that we couldn’t claim ‘my body my choice’ if we used our arm to stab somebody.

But, you know, ‘technically not just my body but still my choice’ doesn’t sound very righteous, does it?

The truth is that those who chant ‘my body my choice’ have fallen victim to the ‘pro-choice’ narrative they’ve been drip-fed over time. Slowly, it takes root, because ‘pro-choice’ is the only socially acceptable position to hold. In the UK, being ‘anti-abortion’ is considered one of the most terrible things you can be, and the media makes sure you never forget it. Consider the baiting of Jacob Rees-Mogg by Piers Morgan last September. (He was also, predictably, questioned about gay sex, but that’s a topic for another time).

So by the time these protesters are confronted with evidence to challenge their moral foundation, it’s very difficult for them to accept.

Yet even the staunchest pro-choice advocates will concede that no-one makes the decision to have an abortion lightly, and there’s a reason for that. Romans 2:14-15 says: “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the Law, do by nature what the Law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the Law, since they show that the work of the Law is written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts either accusing or defending them.”

We all have some understanding of right and wrong. If we didn’t, society couldn’t function at all.

I’m an idealist (albeit one prone to cynicism), and so I like to imagine possibilities. I like to posit questions and re-imagine the way we do things. I like to believe that we are capable of better.

So I’ve found myself asking recently, well, what if abortion was no longer considered a valid choice? I don’t mean just legally. I mean, what if abortion wasn’t culturally acceptable, because the culture held a set of values that made abortion unthinkable?

It’s not too hard to imagine what that might look like, because many nations already model it to an extent. Last year I witnessed some tourists from South America being horrified by an Abort67 display in central London. Growing up in from nations where valuing the unborn is deeply ingrained in their culture, they were shocked to learn of how liberal our laws are here.

Change always begins with knowledge, which is why I think Abort67’s public education project is exciting, and the desperate cover-ups an encouraging sign that worldviews up and down the country are being shaken to the core. I’m sure the social reformers of the past were met with similar reactions.

As work continues to tear down the deception of ‘pro-choice’, a culture of life must replace it. A culture of loving both mother and child, a culture of sacrificial love and generosity to cover the desperate and the needy.

A culture that has to start with the Church.

But that’s a post for another day.

 

I already posted the link above, but Stephanie Gray’s address at Google is absolutely worth your time. Thorough, engaging and winsome.

Image: Getty Images

3 thoughts on “The cognitive dissonance of ‘my body my choice’

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  1. A very interesting read.

    You say though that are thinking recently what it would be like if abortion wasn’t culturally acceptable anymore (I assume you mean here in the UK, and probably worldwide). And I know it was before your time but abortion hasn’t always been acceptable here. Back when our parents and grandparents were growing up it was very much unacceptable and people who had one were looked at in disgust by others and often shunned out of their homes. Yet still people were seeking abortions, even though they were mostly performed by back alley non professionals – and often carried a high risk of severe infect, or even death for the mother. This was often because someone was of young age or unmarried, and having a child in these situations would also cause them to often be the object of disgust or to be shunned. So, it was often for social reasons that women sought abortions – the culture around them pushed them into it, or so they felt (at the time some of this – not all – was religion based as it was very wrong to have sex out of wedlock if you followed the church, and women would often be shunned out their church, and home if they had a child and weren’t married).

    And in todays culture abortion is acceptable but then we have also raised men to believe that they can push themselves on a woman because her dress is too short or she has big breasts, or because she’s ‘his’ girl so he can take what he wants (yes I know this isn’t every man, but it is considerably more than it used to be, and more than it should be, which is none). I could accept more women having abortions nowadays due to rape or aexual abuse, because the act alone can mentally destroy a woman, so can imagine what carrying the unborn child of someone she now fears and someone who has destroyed her life could to do her mental wellbeing? Although I do believe that ‘rape’ cries should be taken with a pinch of salt as it seems to be the go to thing these for people who now regret their actions and do not want to admit to something they willingly took part in.

    So, in my opinion abortion is more necessary in today’s world where we have raised people to be this way (as in abusive and forceful, not as in I didn’t bother using protection and now I’m pregnant and don’t want it). Whereas years ago when it was illegal (I believe it became legal here in 67/68) people were seeking backstreet abortions because society forced them to, society set out clear rules about what was acceptable and anyone who didn’t follow these would often find themselves be pushed out, treated terribly and bullied because they fell in love and made a mistake.

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    1. Hi Victoria, thanks for your comment. Lots of interesting points here.

      Yes, before abortion was legalised, getting pregnant out of wedlock was far less socially acceptable, and so I can see why some women turned to illegal abortions out of desperation. I think society’s lack of mercy and compassion in such situations is to be deplored and I’m not suggesting that we go back to that.

      I was rewatching Downton Abbey recently and there’s a storyline about one of the characters who gets pregnant out of wedlock. Her partner goes missing and is later found dead. She considers abortion but after hearing the cries of another woman at the backstreet ‘clinic’, she changes her mind. Later episodes follow her travelling to Switzerland to have her daughter and give her up for adoption, then bringing the child back to live with a farmer’s family on the estate, and finally taking in the child herself without revealing the girl’s true identity. It certainly depicted the social stigma of having a child out of wedlock and it made me think about how difficult that must have been.

      But nowadays, as you say, this is not the case. We also have amazing scientific advancements that allow us to understand the humanity of the unborn in a way that wasn’t understood the same extent back then. Added to that, we have much more access to contraception. There really is no excuse for the tragic scale of abortion in this country.

      I would like to challenge your arguments about abortion for rape. Firstly I hope this sounds sincere: I can’t begin to imagine the pain and suffering of a woman subjected to rape. It’s horrific and the perpetrator should be seriously punished. However, I would have to point out that rape accounts for less than 1% of all abortions – so I don’t think the existence of rape explains our nation’s attitude to abortion. But let’s look at that 1% or so since you raised the point. I’ll pose to you a couple of questions: First of all, does the innocent child in the womb deserve the death penalty for the crime of the father, no matter how heinous the crime was?

      And secondly, does abortion take away the victim’s trauma? Can it undo what has happened and heal the pain of the experience? If the answer is no, there must surely be another option – an option that acknowledges that pain and works through it, without adding to the injustice through abortion.

      Because if the unborn is human, then nothing justifies killing the unborn.

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  2. Thanks for your reply to my comment.

    I wish getting pregnant out of wedlock was more socially acceptable these days, but sadly from personal experience I can tell you it is still not accepted by all…apparently some people (young people) think it’s OK to tell you that you need to have an abortion because of it.

    You mention in the show a woman hears the screams of someone in the backstreet clinic and decides against abortion, however this can be the case for women who hear someone giving birth scream and see the blood from their vaginal tears… That’s enough to scare some women from having children.

    Absolutely, I agree that rape accounts for a very small minority of abortion cases but for me it is an acceptable reason to undergo abortion. Whereas people who are just too lazy to bother using contraception are another cup of tea because its their choice to have that risk.

    In response to your questions, no the unborn child does not deserve the death penalty because of its father, however I would also say that the mother does not deserve to be put through more mental and physical stress and abuse by having an unwanted child because of the father.

    And secondly, the answer is yes partly. If you make/force a woman who has been sexual abused or raped carry the child of that act then you are forcing her to remember what happened to her every moment of every day that she carries that unborn child, and she may relive that experience again and again until she is free of the child, in which she may forever be left with the scars of that abuse/experience (through stretch marks, a c-section scar, vaginally tearing, etc). Whereas if she is allowed to have an abortion she can begin to move on and work past this terrible experience and feel free from it, and she would not experience the physical scars listed above (obviously dependant on the situation she may have other physical scars to live with but that does not mean we should give her more).

    So, I say surely in this given situation by making the mother carry the child to term is causing her a great injustice, and how do you decided whose life is more important? The mother or the unborn child?

    And in regards to your last comment, there is still great disparity in opinions on when the embryo becomes human and can be classed as a living being.

    I feel that pregnancy and the choice for abortion is not something you can really appreciate or understand until you have a carried a child and been in the situation, because the stress carrying a child puts on the body can be unbearable. It can cause you to suffer months of daily sickness, not being able to walk or move properly (or even by yourself), it can cause you to become incontinent either temporarily or permanently, and you can greater illnesses which can become life threatening while you are still carrying the unborn child – gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, HG, etc. Why should someone have the potential to experience all of that if they have practised safe sex, used contraception, or if they have been victim of a date rape drug or sexual abuse. Why make them go through all that extra suffering when they did their best to prevent pregnancy or were abused?

    I look forward to hearing from you again 😊

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