William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Women Do Not Have A Right To Do Whatever They Want With Their Bodies

Over the weekend Yours Truly tweeted this:

Within five minutes of posting, I lost seven Twitter followers, people presumably displeased with the entry. Since this is me, I first thought of an egregious typo. What have I done now! But no typo. Perhaps the grammar? Which instead of what, dummy. The lack of a comma after “persistent”? I ran out of characters and it had to be sacrificed.

What’s left?

Well, in fact, it is the result of a fallacious argument to conclude that only women can decide which laws apply to women, or which laws apply to women’s bodies. True, it is a redundancy to add “women’s bodies”, but the phrase is there for emphasis; its presence does not invalidate the statement.

Perhaps those that fled disagreed and instead thought it true that only women should decide which laws apply to women and to “women’s bodies”? Nah, it couldn’t be.

Well, maybe.

If it is so that only women can decide laws which apply to women, does that mean only men can decide those laws which apply to men? What about boys and girls? Do they get to decide their own laws? How about blacks? More importantly, what about black women? Who but black women can decide which laws apply to black women, you racist.

Of course, it doesn’t follow that because only women can decide laws for women that only men can decide laws for men. It might be that only women can decide laws for men, too. Or that women allow a vote to men about those laws which apply to men. But since women outnumber men, the de facto result is that women make all laws, even those over men’s bodies.

Maybe it was abortion, that appalling topic? Those than ran from my tweet might have concluded that because a baby grows inside a woman that only the woman has a right to say what should happen to that baby. But that is a fallacy, or at least an evasion, because the argument is not whether the woman has rights over the baby, but whether the baby is a human being. If it is, then no woman has a right to kill it. And no man, either.

And it if isn’t a human being, it still does not follow that only the woman is the only person who has a right to kill it. What about the man who shared in its creation? Why do his rights evaporate?

Besides, all history and all cultures—and even you, dear reader—acknowledge that a person, even a female person, does not have the right to do anything she wants with her body. For example, what if a woman, using her own body, decides to slit the throat of her neighbor? Most would frown on that sort of thing. What if a woman takes her body and flings it from a high place onto your automobile? Most would say this is not her right.

Anyway, point is, even the briefest consideration shows the tweet was correct, so people can’t have left because of that.

There is another possibility. I made the tweet in response to a statement of President Obama’s, who quipped that he thought only women should decide which laws apply to their “bodies.” If there is any modern Thou Shalt Not, at least in some circles, it is criticizing this fine gentleman.

Lesson learned.

25 Comments

  1. Sander van der Wal

    31 October 2012 at 11:40 am

    It is a logical fallacy, and a political reality.

  2. They unfollowed you because they read the subtext of your tweet and they despised it. Although some particular people (especially those who do maths) like to think they only say exactly what they only say, we humans have this knack to see not only what they say, but why they are saying it, in what context, what kind of idea that say is implying, what the “say” probably indicates that person’s political views and so on.

    Yeah, we humans are an amazing bunch who can derive quite a lot just by the most simple of actions of others. That’s why we rule the Earth.

  3. Apropos, here’s a nice letter for all conservatives by one guy called John Scalzi (btw I am listening to a very good audiobook by him, I recommend him):

    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/10/25/a-fan-letter-to-certain-conservative-politicians/

  4. The real question to ask and answer is “Does an individual own himself or is he owned by anyone or anything else?”

    Once that question is answered, then one can identify the legitimate reach of law. If the individual owns himself, the law cannot infringe on that ownership of self and all that implies. If the individual does not own himself, then anything goes. Even to the extent that a woman or a man could be roasted and served for thanksgiving dinner for others to consume.

    Either you have a right to YOUR life or you don’t! There is no middle ground. If you have a right to YOUR life, you don’t have a right to any part of anyone else’s life. This would be true no matter how much you need, want, or depend upon another’s life and his life’s product. If you don’t, you are nothing but a sacrificial goat being fed for someone else’s feast.

  5. Lionell,

    If the individual really does own himself, then we must admit that Locke’s idea of self-ownership is true. But that means that libertarianism–in all of its absurdity–is the only coherent political philosophy. It also means that everyone has the right to kill themselves without intervention whenever they feel like it.

  6. Lionell:

    Do you have a right to YOUR life? Interesting question.

    I believe that except for a few states, for people with a terminal disease, suicide is illegal.

    These laws are called “blue” laws, and are a hangover from the mostly Christian background of our nation.

    The law against suicide is based on treating the body as a temple.

    Laws against selling liquor on Sunday are also “blue” laws.

    Personally, if a person is a legal adult and of sound mind (not mentally ill), I don’t see any reason suicide should not be legal – but I believe it is.

    So do you own your own life?

    What are your thoughts.

  7. …only women can decide what laws apply to women or “women’s bodies.”

    I’d like to know who put forth this argument.

  8. Briggs

    31 October 2012 at 5:55 pm

    JH,

    So you agree that it is indeed a fallacy?

  9. Briggs, so it’s a fallacy from whom?

  10. Briggs

    31 October 2012 at 6:18 pm

    JH,

    Love it! Here’s a start, to whet the palette.

    Link

  11. Lionell Griffith

    31 October 2012 at 6:24 pm

    If the state has the right to establish rights, it also has the right to abolish them. Assuming that is the case, then one does not own either rights or one’s self. You are property of the state to be done with as it whims. You cannot properly object to any treatment, good or bad, by owner any more than your car or house can object. After all, you are merely property. The challenge then is showing that the state alone owns the right to establish rights. The only answer that one can give is might makes right.

    Accumulate enough might and you can do anything you want. Meaning the biggest and meanest gang wins every time and gets to call itself The Government. I understand this is how mankind has organized itself for most of its history. It is a path filled with war, blood shed, poverty, despair, disease, and death. Even those at the top of the heap generally had short and brutal lives and soon replaced by an ever more brutal gang.

    How can you say this is proper and good way for men to live and based upon the concept of rights?

    I suggest a re-reading of The Declaration of Independence and especially study the first paragraph. It declared that the INDIVIDUAL owns his right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness and that they cannot be taken away. Note also the vast positive changes in the quality of life of man following from that document. Like it or not, there is a profound connection.

  12. My Dear Mr. Briggs,

    Are you saying that

    President Obama: Women Should Make Their Own Health Care Decisions For Themselves

    is equivalent to

    …only women can decide what laws apply to women or “women’s bodies.”

    (Darn, where am I supposed to place the question mark?)

  13. Mr Briggs,

    Who should decide what happens to your body?

    The state?

    When you ban abortion this is exactly what you are doing to women. The state would now decide for women.

    Hello liberty!

  14. Sander van der Wal

    1 November 2012 at 4:52 am

    Interestingly, nobody in these kinds of discussions talks about the rights of the rapist, or rather, which rights should be taken away from him after it has been established he’s indeed a rapist.

    Lets consider the hypothetical siuation that it is technically possible to let a man be pregnant. In such a case, when you transfer the fetus from the raped woman to the rapist men, the baby will have all its rights, and so does the women. The rapist will have lost certain rights for the duration of the pregnancy, but that is both fitting for a punishment, and the same rights are being denied to the raped women.

  15. Lionell Griffith’s question is the pertinent one…and it has an unsettlingly definitive answer.

    HIS QUESTION: “The real question to ask and answer is “Does an individual own himself or is he owned by anyone or anything else?””

    ANSWER (short): No. Much of you, me, & everybody else is patented. Literally. A web of arcane & irrational patent laws has tied a curious web.

    Dr. Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park etc. wrote about it in his semi-fiction book, NEXT* (described by the author as with the Afterword emphasizing the facts).

    Here’s some on-line examples (none of the following Crichton essays are as informative as his Afterword to his book, NEXT):

    Sensational news headlines/stories: http://healthmad.com/fitness/gene-patents-who-owns-your-body/ and http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/13/opinion/13iht-edcrichton.4579767.html

    From a law blog summarizing much of the issues & precedents: http://www.kentlaw.edu/perritt/blog/2007/06/who-owns-your-body.html

    http://www.crichton-official.com/essay-nytimes-patentinglife.html

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/19/opinion/19crichton.html?_r=0&adxnnl=1&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1351774913-dU+bq5UwCLOVywWEZktJUg

    OR, maybe its not really quite that bad; M. Crichton’s perspective has been critiqued, here’s one: http://www.successfuloffice.com/Crichtons-Comments-On-Patentable-Subject-Matter.htm

    BUT, MAYBE M. Crichton wasn’t all that far off the mark. According to this [apparently peer reviewed] report: http://www.mttlr.org/volfourteen/laakmann.pdf gene patents are hindering research……

    ……oh no they aren’t says: http://www.genengnews.com/gen-articles/in-defense-of-gene-patenting/2052/

    BUT THEN, here’s a special interest group trying to solve this very problem: http://www.whoownsyourbody.org/ and an old conference smmary at http://whoownsyourbody.org/conference.html

    SSSssssoooooo, the ‘woman’s/women’s right to her/their body/bodies’ debate CAN be philosophical–the easy method any dimwit can enjoin–OR, it can be approached in the more complicated perspective of real-world factors –things that are and maybe ought or ought not be–which is much more difficult. Clearly, any of philosopher’s recently infecting this blog ought to understand: the philosophical approach has serious shortcomings as its much more prone to overlook very significant realities.

    * Not to be confused with, ‘Next: The Future Just Happened,” by Michael Lewis; a book about investing and related factors — the essay in that book, about stock price manipulation by a high school student that made 100′s of $1000′s, was sued by the SEC, and probably didn’t do anything actually illegal, is particularly interesting. But that has nothing to do with the subject at hand.

  16. Lionell Griffith suggests above, “The real question to ask and answer is “Does an individual own himself or is he owned by anyone or anything else?””

    The answer to that is: NO.

    Reason: Genes and other genetic material have, to a significant degree, become patented. The following link, http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2007/02/13/crichton_patents_and_genes.php , discusses the ruckus raised by Michael Crichton on the subject (link provided with a reference to his semi-fiction book, NEXT, that exploits the issue for that story) and includes some rebuttal (CRS Report, link provided). Review of this and M. Crichton’s essays, and that of others such as http://www.whoownsyourbody.org/ suggests Crichton might not have been all that far off the mark, if he was.

  17. Here’s a rebuttal to the first link provided in my comment immediately above: http://www.ideasinactiontv.com/tcs_daily/2007/01/michael-crichton-is-right-about-gene-patents.html

  18. regarding Lionel Griffth’s question:

    Does a person have the right to his own life? Clearly no. The state can take your life for capital offenses. However, the state cannot take your life without due process. Furthermore, a person doesn’t have the right to end his own life.

    As far as why professor Brigs was un-followed for his tweets, I think that Luis Dias hits it on the head. While Briggs may think he was beginning a philosophical discussion, your former followers interpreted political implications which they didn’t want to follow.

    Regarding the article that Luis linked to — offensive stuff — and I am pro-abortion. But, it does bring me to the conclusion that if one is against abortion, they should be against it in the case of rape.

  19. Doug,

    The question is not “Can rights be violated?” The answer to that is most certainly yes. Governments have been and and still are the primary violator of rights in wholesale quantities. Thugs abound who are also willing to violate rights.

    The question is also not “Can something you own be taken from you by superior force?” Yes! Your property by theft and taxes or your life by conscription, murder, or state sanctified execution for example. The question was about the more fundamental property of ownership of one’s own life.

    Your argument reduces itself to “right makes might” meaning that whatever superior force does is right by definition. Perhaps you should investigate the nature of rights. You might find it instructive.

  20. If you fallaciously miscast your opponent’s argument, you turn people off. Your tweets should be relevant and add value to people’s feeds.

    http://womensissues.about.com/od/reproductiverights/a/AbortionArgumen.htm
    “Here’s a look at abortion from both sides – 10 arguments for abortion and 10 arguments against abortion – for a total of 20 statements that represent a range of topics as seen from both sides.”

  21. By usual definition, a “right” is whatever the reigning government says it is; a “right” is conferred by the government.

    Others may consider a “right” as something based on some moral value or principle independent from government; such as those enumerated in the Colonies’ Declaration of Independence as being derived from a Creator and thus inalienable such that governments are responsible to endorse and support those “rights” rather than usurp them .

    The fact that this viewpoint wasexpressly stated in the ‘Declaration’ highlights this viewpoint’s difference from the general usage of “rights” being whatever, and only, what the government confers.

    The discussions above blur the distinction of “right” from a government-issued “right” (one that objectively exists) versus one derived from some philosophical value system (one that ought to be, irregardless with the goverment authority might like).

    Two very different things are being discussed & debated as if they are the same.

    NOTE: The Declaration reads, after enumerating the basic rights to life, liberty & pursuit of happiness: “…That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…”

    Note that the Colonists were asserting a Divine origin for fundamental rights (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness), and the responsiblity of government to secure those rights. At that time, the King’s authority was still deemed as derived from God (the “Divine Right of Kings”) and yet, the Colonists are asserting he’s violating a Divine mandate such that his (the King’s) Divinely-insituted government must be replaced by the ‘consent of the governed.’ That was a profound switch: authority to govern being transferred from the Divine’s appointee (the King) to the governed to ensure that what in essence was a Divine mandate would continue to be upheld. In other words, the Colonists were telling King George he needed to be fired for violating his Divine mandate–i.e. King George was effectively declared evil. It is thus no great stretch to note that because this then-held value system, with the Divine Creator at its locus, led to war highlights that the US Revolution was, in that sense & at its very core, a Holy War — one derived from fundamental religious values/principles rather than any particular theology/doctrine/religious denomination.

  22. Ye Olde Statistician

    1 November 2012 at 8:39 pm

    If a right in inalienable, then no one can take it away. Including yourself.

    If to own a human being is to practice slavery, this is no less true if you “own” yourself.

    Who made your body? You?

    Does a purported right to make decisions over your own body include the right to make decisions over your child’s body?

    So many questions….

  23. One of the primary problems with the discussion is that abortion advocates like to frame the discussion in terms of the woman’s body. I don’t care what she does with her own body. Want to wear makeup? Fine. Want to snip off a finger or jump from a bridge? Fine. The issue is not what she does with her own body, but whether she should have an absolute right to do something with another being’s body.

  24. Lionel,

    As spelled out in the Bill of Rights…

    “no one will be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process…”

    With a fair trial, the government can put you to death, put you in prison, or confiscate your property.

    Now, I suppose you could say that you have a right that is more fundemental. But, if no one else recognises those rights, what are they?

  25. Sander van der Wal

    2 November 2012 at 6:18 pm

    Some states can put their citizens legally to death. Not all of them can.

    Which means that putting people to death is a political choice meade by the citizens of that state (i vthe state is a democracy). And that means that they could have made the political choice to allow abortion too. No inconsistency here.

    There’s more of an inconsistency if you allow abortion but not the death penalty.

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