Vaccine skeptics and anti-maskers who invoked 'my body, my choice' in the pandemic are now lining up to support the end of Roe v. Wade

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  • People against vaccine and mask mandates have argued that they impose on a person's bodily autonomy.

  • That rallying cry of "my body, my choice" was rooted in the abortion-rights battles of Roe v. Wade.

  • Yet those people against vaccine and mask mandates are now encouraging the potential demise of abortion rights.

The leak of the Supreme Court draft opinion that would end Roe v. Wade has been met with approval by many conservatives who championed the very same notion of bodily autonomy and personal choice throughout the pandemic.

Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, for example, urged the justices to move ahead with the decision on Tuesday.

Yet, while railing against vaccine mandates last June, he said that they ultimately mean that "personal autonomy means nothing. It is no longer your body, it is no longer your choice."

Bodily autonomy has become a familiar line of argumentation from anti-vaxxers, vaccine skeptics, and anti-maskers in recent years. "Medical freedom," "bodily autonomy" and "my body, my choice" became watchwords of an anti-vaccine movement turbocharged in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leading anti-vaccine campaigners and conspiracy theorists — such as Erin Elizabeth and Sherri Tenpenny — have marshaled the cause of "bodily autonomy" over and over again. Both were infamously dubbed among the "Disinformation Dozen" by the Center for Countering Digital Hate. Tenpenny has called abortion "slaughter."

But the concept of personal control over what medical choices one takes gained prominence in the abortion-rights movement that led to the landmark 1973 judgment of Roe v. Wade. Then, it was applied to the decision of whether or not to bear a child to term.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott invoked that thinking last December when railing against vaccine mandates, telling Fox News' Sean Hannity the issue was about "whether or not somebody is going to have something put into their body that they do not want put into their body," Rolling Stone reported.

Yet in May that year Abbott imposed one of the most restrictive abortion bills in the US, banning abortions after six weeks even in the case of rape or incest.

He also called on the Supreme Court to follow through with the draft opinion, the Houston Chronicle reported.

"The conceptual inconsistency would be laughable if the issues weren't so crucially important," Prof. Timothy Caulfield, an expert in public-health ethics at the University of Alberta, told Insider.

"Their argument was often that it is an infringement on individual rights to, for example, ask someone to wear a mask during a pandemic," he said. "But this same community is totally fine restricting something a fundamental as reproductive autonomy. Huh?"

A protester holds a sign that reads: "Abortion - my body, my choice. Vaccine - my body, your choice?" at an Alberta protest against vaccine mandates, On Sunday, 24 August 2021
A woman holds a placard a protest against vaccine mandates in August 2021 in Edmonton, Canada.Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Throughout the pandemic, this view was precisely mirrored — and inverted — by the vaccine skeptics.

"If you support a national vaccine mandate, but shout 'my body, my choice!' in support of aborting of a baby with its OWN AUTONOMOUSLY BEATING HEART … you might be an evil asshole," tweeted Steven Crowder, a conservative comedian, last September. On Tuesday, Crowder said that he "can't contain" his excitement at the Supreme Court decision.

Elizabeth, of the "Disinformation Dozen," made the same point in a Telegram post on the day of the leak.

"It is just so preposterous to me that the people saying 'my body my choice' are the same ones who demanded that we be vaccinated in order to go to our jobs or in order for our children to go to school," she said.

Prof. Tina Rulli, an ethicist at the University of California's philosophy department, told Insider: "The irony is that the exact reverse is true."

Competing claims

In a co-authored paper for the journal "Bioethics," Rulli and Prof. Stephen Campbell of Bentley University's philosophy department compared the competing claims of infringement on bodily rights brought about by the vaccine-skeptic and pro-life movements.

Even if one accepts the premise that a fetus has same human rights as a legal person — a far from universal view — the logic of "my body, my choice" is weaker when marshaled against vaccine mandates rather than forced birth, they wrote.

The paper argued that with abortion, the death of a fetus is a serious, intentional, moral decision made towards an identifiable being. By contrast, an unvaccinated person who caused someone else's COVID-19 death may never learn of it, and most likely didn't intend it, they wrote.

However, the harms caused to others by refusing to be vaccinated can extend to many people, and range from mild to multiple deaths — and getting jabbed is much less inconvenient than the burden of carrying to term and giving a lifetime of care to a child, the professors wrote.

"Pro-life advocates who believe that the 'sanctity of life' justifies the enormously burdensome costs of gestation mandates should have a very low tolerance for actions that pose a substantial risk of death to others when the costs of avoiding such risks are minimal," they wrote.

A vaccine mandate means that "worst case, you can't attend school or you lose your job," Rulli told Insider. "That's serious, but it's not a bodily imposition."

"Abortion restrictions, however, are true physical impositions; pregnant people are required to stay that way and give birth even at risk to their health," she said.

"[...] Being an anti-vaxxer who cares about bodily autonomy while also being pro-life makes no sense."

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