Less than a fortnight ago Irish soccer player Callum Robinson’s mentioning of his not being vaccinated met with considerable and instant hostile reaction. Robinson was taking part in an FAI press conference following a training session when he was asked whether he thought vaccination against Covid-19 should be made mandatory for international soccer players. Further questioning by journalists resulted in Robinson, who has contracted Covid twice, disclosing that he has not been vaccinated.
Robinson’s case for not being vaccinated and for opposing the idea of mandatory vaccinations centred on a bodily autonomy argument. He repeated that the matter of being vaccinated is everyone’s ‘personal choice’. He said, ‘If you want to be vaccinated, then go do it. But if you don’t want to – it is what it is – it’s everyone’s choice, I can’t tell people to get it and I can’t tell people not to.’ For Robinson, vaccination is not something to be ‘force[d] … on people … It’s your choice, and your body’.
That the footballer’s comments, made to defend opposition/hesitancy towards vaccinations, echoed the well-versed pro-abortion choice slogan, ‘My body, my choice’, was not lost on proponents of legalised abortion, including the Irish Times and Labour TD Ivana Bacik.Four days after Robinson’s press conference, Deputy Bacik told RTÉ Radio One’s Claire Byrne that Robinson’s bodily autonomy-based position, especially his use of the words ‘your choice … your body’, was not ‘appropriate’ because, according to the new TD for Dublin Bay South, the question of deciding whether or not to get vaccinated is ‘a choice that clearly impacts upon others’. Bacik’s words illustrate that, for her, bodily autonomy rights are not inviolable. She clearly implied that where one’s actions and/or decisions impact or risk impacting negatively on others, an individual’s right to bodily autonomy ought to be curtailed, that individual liberty ought not to reign supreme over the welfare of others. I believe that most people would agree with that general position. I agree with it, and I think it is welcome to hear Bacik, who has espoused unfettered bodily autonomy in the particular area of abortion since her student days, state that bodily autonomy is not the be-all and end-all, that bodily autonomy cannot be championed as an absolute right lest it adversely affect others.
Of course, to what extent bodily autonomy rights should be curtailed and what level of risk to others from individuals’ autonomy warrants a limiting of individuals’ autonomy are matters where there no doubt lies a wide spectrum of views. But the substantive point is that in principle most people believe individuals’ bodily autonomy rights are neither absolute nor unqualified. Establishing the details of the circumstances in which such rights should be curtailed etc. is a secondary matter. At a minimum, I believe most people would give their support for the effective curtailment of individuals’ bodily autonomy where the lives of other people would otherwise be put in direct and immediate peril. I would surmise that Deputy Bacik would concur with that. The point where disagreement would arise is on the matter of who counts as ‘people’.
I agree with the Deputy that the matter of vaccination and the wider question of people’s behaviour during a pandemic are directly connected to the concern we ought to have for the wellbeing of others and society as a whole (while still finding the abuse and condemnation aimed at Robinson to have been unjustified and disturbing). Where I part ways with Deputy Bacik is with regard to the blunt and, in my view, incorrect distinction she tries to make between the supposed appropriateness of the ‘my body, my choice’ line of thought in relation to abortion and its apparent inappropriateness in relation to vaccination against Covid-19. In the case of abortion, an individual’s decision to procure or carry out an abortion entails a definite, lethally violent interference against another human. In the case of vaccination, while others may be put at risk by the decision of another to not be vaccinated, the outcome is more open-ended and less certain.
If as staunch an advocate for bodily autonomy as Deputy Bacik can acknowledge that there ought to be limitations on bodily autonomy rights where others are affected, it indicates that the issue of the unborn human being recognised as human is where we need to focus if we are to change minds on abortion for the better. Where people argue in favour of mandatory vaccinations or measures to increase vaccination rates because of the risk an individual not being vaccinated poses to others, it would be useful to outline that the banning of actions designed to result in the violent demise of others, e.g. abortions, and other measures to decrease the number of such actions are merited on the same grounds of protecting at-risk individuals from the excesses of a belief in bodily autonomy.
As seen from the reaction to Callum Robinson, it is already widely accepted that bodily autonomy should not be permitted to trump the welfare of persons and the community as a whole. This further underscores the need to ensure that unborn humans are recognised as individual humans and members of the human community who, at the very least, deserve protection from violent death. Unfortunately, in our time, a challenging, but not hopeless task.
For reading on why pro-lifers should take a Covid vaccine, you may wish to take a look at Ben’s blog post.
I also recommend this new blog post from the Equal Rights Institute: “My Body, My Choice”: Abortion, Covid Mandates, and Common Ground.