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I’m not here to discuss pro-life or pro-choice. This topic has been fought, argued, and “proved” on many occasions by both sides. I have my beliefs and you have yours, and this little blog post isn’t going to change that; but I do have some questions that have been bothering me regarding pregnancy and a woman’s autonomy in other ways.

I will be honest here. I am a strong believer in personal autonomy. I hate being told what I should and shouldn’t do with or to my body by anyone, and I believe we should all have the right to treat our bodies as we desire. I may be wrong, but that’s not specifically what I want to discuss here. The reason I bring it up is because the questions I have and the problems that have arisen for me from those questions are based on this belief in personal autonomy. If you are someone who does not believe in personal autonomy in a very strong way then the chances are you won’t see much to be conflicted about in this problem.

So, here’s the beginning of my question. Presume for a moment that you smoke cigarettes and that you are a person who is willing to give a cigarette away when asked by someone on the street. You are walking down said street while smoking one of said cigarettes when a woman comes up and asks you for a cigarette. As is normal for you, you reach into your pocket to pull out the pack to hand her one, then you look up and realize that she is pregnant. Do you still give her the cigarette?

This happened to a friend of mine, although he didn’t notice she was pregnant until after he gave her the cigarette. It really made me think because as I said earlier I strongly believe in personal autonomy and the right to do whatever you want to your own body so long as it doesn’t harm those around you. However, in this case it probably is causing harm to the fetus/embryo/baby/parasite (whatever stage of life and whatever term you want to use) inside her.

Let’s assume for a minute that you, dear reader, are pro-choice and believe that up until a certain time period a woman can terminate a pregnancy. Imagine that she is before that period at which termination was no longer allowed (I realize that in a lot cases you wouldn’t be able to see that she was 12 weeks pregnant, to play out this thought experiment let’s iimagine if you could). Would you give her the cigarette then? If you said no, why not? At this point in time the “parasite” is merely a parasite to you, she could still get it removed. Logically, if one believes in personal autonomy and believes that terminating a pregnancy is not wrong it would stand to reason that this woman could do whatever she wants to her body before the 20 weeks (or whatever it is right now) is up. Yes, there’s a potential that the parasite could be allowed to grow and be born into a baby but we don’t know that yet, and if that’s the case then the “potential of a baby” argument could also be used against pro-choice beliefs.

I don’t know. I am not attacking anyone’s beliefs here, I am merely finding myself conflicted in my own beliefs. Personal autonomy, pro-choice, but I would feel guilty in this situation. I wouldn’t want to hand a cigarette to a pregnant woman. Maybe working in public health is rubbing off on me.

The follow up question to would you give the cigarette to her is would you take it away? I read a story a long while ago about a very pregnant woman drinking at a bar. Some patrons of the bar called the police and she was arrested for endangering her unborn child. I was outraged by this on two levels: the fact that she was drinking (to excess) while heavily pregnant and the fact that she was arrested for doing so. Should that be illegal? There was talk about making it illegal to sell pregnant women alcohol and other such things that should not be used during pregnancy. Is that a step too far? I am very conflicted about this. What are your thoughts on these issues?

I leave you with an interesting quote (one that i’m not sure I fully agree with) from a pro-choice friend of mine when I asked her about the cigarette question:

“If you’re going to have sex  and you’re not willing to get an abortion then you have to be willing to accept the consequences of your actions if you get pregnant”. By “consequences of your actions” she clarified that what she meant was not being able to smoke, drink, etc.