I. The Embodied Mind
We are embodied minds, free-willed intellects intimately involved in the affairs of our material surroundings. Heidegger used the word Dasein for our existence and our 'nature' or 'essence' (Wesen), which can be broken into da, `there', and Sein, 'being. Being-there. We are minds, rational intellects, but always-already oriented towards the affairs of the world. This same theme of the embodied mind also plays critical roles in Nietzsche (a predecessor of Heidegger) and Foucault and Dworkin (and other feminist and queer theorists of our own lifetimes, intellectual heirs of Heidegger). Even Descartes or a mainstream Christian, with a substance dualist ontology and a strict divide between body and soul, where only the soul is the 'true' self, the Self-in-itself, must recognize that mind and body are closely woven together, at least temporarily. Feeling hungry or satiated, chilled or warm, or otherwise comfortable or uncomfortable, can influence the quality of our thinking; and we can 'psych' ourselves into better or worse physical performances. Thus, in thinking about the self, in contemplating personal identity, we can neglect neither the body nor the mind.
II. The Body
One's body is not merely a thing associated with the Self-in-itself (ie, the mind or soul), or even just another one of one's possessions, like one's bed or one's cat. The body is part of the Self-in-itself, at least in 'this life' or 'this world', if one believes in some flavour or another of metempsychosis. Our personal identity is as much tied into our bodies -- what we look like, how attractive we are, what physical activities we enjoy or dislike -- as our minds -- our spiritual and moral beliefs, our ideological affiliations, or intellectual pursuits. In Kantian terms, we are not just noumenal selves or minds, appearing as bodies in the phenomenal world of our surroundings. The noumenal and phenomenal 'selves' are two aspects of one 'thing', two ways of regarding the unitary Self-in-itself. This is true even if our phenomenal aspect is temporal and temporary but our noumenal self is eternal: at least for now, we ARE our bodies, as much as we ARE our minds.
Hence, bodily integrity is as sacrosanct as mental integrity. The right to autonomy, the founding principle of our legal and moral systems, must cover both body and mind equally. Freedom of speech -- autonomy of thought -- is on the same level as autonomy of body -- the right to choose what to do with one's body. This is not to be mistaken for the right to dispose of one's property as one sees fit, however. The state has the authority to regulate that right, or seize one's property by eminent domain. Rather, this is the higher right to autonomously determine one's own identity.
The state can regulate, forbid, or force the disposition of property when such regulation (&c.) proves to be in the overwhelming interest of society as a whole. The question of where to draw the line that establishes when 'society as a whole' has an 'overwhelming interest' is a crucial one, of course, but it is not at issue here. Only when one person's efforts at self-determination attempt to override another's do we recognize a legitimate role for the state in this arena.
(Despite my language, I am, as usual, not speaking from a legal perspective, but rather a foundational one.)
Access to safe and legal abortion intersects, in our society, a long list of determinations about one's identity. Just a few:
Shall I be a mother?
Shall I be a wife?
Where shall I live?
What career shall I pursue?
How ambitious shall I be?
What people shall I associate with?
What shall my love life be like?
What shall my family look like?
Shall I conform to traditional feminine norms?
Shall I conform to traditional norms of my race/ethnicity?
Shall I conform to traditional norms of my class?
The determination to abort, or to carry the pregnancy to term and put the child up for adoption, or to raise the child, does not set answers to these in stone. But each determination in one area informs the possiblities for others. Thus, limitations on abortion, like limitations on who one can marry or what clothes one can wear or what careers one can puruse, impose broad limitations on one's right to determine one's identity autonomously. As an embodied mind, a woman's options for reproduction play a crucial role in her determination of Herself-in-herself (sich an sich).
An artificial limitation on these options must therefore rise to meet the highest standard. A utilitarian argument -- that the state has an interest in regulating and requiring reproduction in the interest of maintaining the population, for example, or to increase the supply of babies for adoptive parents -- completely fails to meet this standard. Such an argument -- call it an 'eminent domain' argument -- views (female) bodies as property, baby-making machines whose disposition can be legally regulated, rather than as aspects of autonomous persons.
Eminent domain arguments therefore make use of at least one of two intellectually and morally bankrupt premises:
- Persons are minds only, not bodies.
- Women are not persons.