A Feminist, Kantian Conception of the Right to Bodily Integrity: the Cases of Abortion and Homosexuality

In Sharon Crasnow & Anita Superson (eds.), Out of the Shadows: Analytical Feminist Contributions to Traditional Philosophy. Oxford University Press (2012)
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Pregnant women and persons engaging in homosexual practices compose two groups that have been and still are amongst those most severely subjected to coercive restrictions regarding their own bodies. From an historical point of view, it is a recent and rare phenomenon that a woman’s right to abortion and a person’s right to engage in homosexual interactions are recognized. Although most Western liberal states currently do recognize these rights, they are under continuous assault from various political and religious movements. Moreover, though liberal theories of justice typically defend women’s rights to abortion and people’s rights to homosexual activity, these theories often struggle to capture the fundamental ground for these rights. For example, it appears hard for the liberal to say why and when only the woman and not the embryo/fetus has rights and why the right to certain sexual practices is not on par with rights to other preferences. Contemporary liberal theories of justice, therefore, have a hard time identifying what distinguishes questions of abortion and sexual activities from other questions of right and thereby also have difficulty capturing the gravity of the wrongdoing involved in coercively restricting homosexual interactions and abortion as such. I argue that Kant’s theory of justice succeeds on both counts, because it can locate the fundamental ground for these rights in an understanding of the bodily integrity of the person. Just states will neither permit nor outlaw all abortions or sexual interactions, but rather will require all such laws to be reconcilable with the protection of each person’s right to freedom.

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Helga Varden
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


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