My Body, My Choice: Anti-Maskers and the Appropriation of Language

by Hanna Carney //

The phrase “my body, my choice” is widely known in the U.S. as a reference to reproductive rights. This important slogan emphasizes that women and females have the right to control their bodies. Now, thinking they are witty, conservative individuals have appropriated the phrase for a new cause—refusing to wear masks. This appropriation of the phrase is far from clever. In fact, its new use is nothing but hypocritical. 

I first heard “my body my choice” used in reference to masks this summer.  A woman posted a long paragraph on Facebook, claiming those who identify as pro-choice are hypocritical to criticize anti-maskers. She weaponized the slogan, turning it on those who use it to support reproductive rights, implying their logic is flawed; apparently, if a female may exercise their right to abort a fetus, a person should be able to refuse a mask. However, to use the phrase “my body my choice” as a defense against mask mandates is unconducive to supporting the rights of individuals.

Some might argue against abortion rights based on the idea that a pregnant person is responsible for a human life. When reversed, some of these same people may refuse to wear a mask to protect real human beings—ones with lives, goals, families, a conscience. By not wearing a mask, they are putting their neighbors at risk, their neighbors’ neighbors at risk. To not wear a mask is to endanger the lives of countless people you do not know without their consent. It is to overwhelm hospitals. It is to take a hospital bed, a ventilator, away from someone who may need it. A person’s choice to get an abortion does not jeopardize their neighbor or affect their well-being. There are no instances where a high demand for abortions has taken a hospital bed away from someone who needs it. 

Not only are we responsible for the literal lives of others during this pandemic,  we also have the well-being of first responders to consider, who are taking mental, emotional, and physical tolls. If these people will so brazenly put the lives and well-being of others at risk during a global crisis, why would they care if someone chooses to have an abortion? According to this logic, perhaps someone who is pro-life would actually advocate for the wearing of masks.

In theory, the general phrase seems like a good sentiment: how can “my body my choice” stand for anything beyond protecting the rights of individuals? The opportunity for hypocrisy lies in the word “choice.” When you endanger the lives of others without their consent, you are inflicting on their choice, their individual rights, their body, due to your failure to consider the well-being of others. To use “my body my choice” in this contradictory way, you reduce the fight for reproductive rights and the right to choose in general. 

We must all be cognizant of the language we use. As words with certain histories are recycled, we must understand that our speech holds the potential to appropriate and diminish that history.