For many years, the slogan “my body, my choice” has been used in defense of legal protection for abortion. The idea is that a woman should have complete autonomy over her own body because we live in a free country, and to put limits on abortion takes away a woman’s “right to choose.” More recently, this same slogan has been employed by people who, for various reasons, do not want to receive a Covid vaccine. This article is not about vaccine guidance, as our bishop has given very clear guidance on this for the past year or so in our Catholic Times. In addition, our Catholic Times also publishes Fr. Tad Pacholczyk’s bioethics column, which recently has covered the topics of Covid and vaccine mandates.
Whenever the slogan, “my body, my choice” comes into play, it usually indicates a lack of understanding of what freedom is. Our Catechism gives a good definition of freedom in paragraph 1731: “Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate action on one’s own responsibility.” Free will can be used for good or evil. God made us in his image and likeness, giving is the ability to think (reason) and choose (will), which ultimately gives us the unique ability to love as God loves.
Human freedom is the reason that our society has laws, even laws against certain types of actions which only affect our own bodies. We are not able to just walk into a pharmacy and buy any type of medication for ourselves because some substances can be harmful if used in the wrong way. We need a doctor’s prescription to buy and take certain drugs, because doctors are trained to know what is good for our bodies and what is bad for our bodies. Drugs such as heroine and cocaine are illegal because they are bad for people and bad for society. As I wrote recently, this is grounded in at least a basic understanding of the natural law: human beings are designed to flourish and grow in relationship, which can be perceived by any clear thinker.
Recently the Speaker of the House of Representatives and fellow Catholic Nancy Pelosi made an interesting but shockingly immature statement about freedom regarding abortion. She said, “I believe that God has given us free will to honor our responsibilities.” For this reason, she supports the legalization of abortion so that everybody can have the freedom to choose abortion and utilize their God-given free will. Speaker Pelosi does not have a basic understanding of what the Church means by “freedom.” Of course, God made us free, but the whole reason for having a legislative system is because people can use their freedom to make evil decisions, and as a society we need to prevent that from happening when we can, or punish people when they make gravely evil decisions. I would be interested to hear Speaker Pelosi give her thoughts on why our government exists, since her understanding of freedom seems to mean that nothing should be illegal.
As Catholics, we should not use the phrase, “my body, my choice” because it misrepresents why God made us. A better slogan would be “my body, God’s gift” because none of us are totally autonomous or independent. (Or maybe we just shouldn’t use slogans…) We depend on God for our existence, and we depend on other people in many ways. God has given us the gift of community because he made us as one human family and he wants us to grow, love, and suffer in union with each other. One person’s actions can have an impact, for better or worse, on that person’s family and community. May we all seek true freedom, which is ultimately found through a relationship with God, who made us in his image and likeness.