Vaccines: “My body, my choice”?

30 November, 2021

"My body, my choice" as a "women's right" ... not to be vaccinated.
"My body, my choice" as a "women's right" ... not to be vaccinated.

Infections are on the rise again and the impact of new variants is feared. But European governments are encountering increasingly violent resistance to the “Covid passport” requirement. The old feminist slogan “My body, my choice,” accepted as the moral dogma of the vaccination campaign by the governments themselves now undermining public health.

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What led to the “my body, my choice” approach to Covid vaccination

The anti-vaccine movement was legitimized by the "my body, my choice" principle adopted by the states.
The anti-vaccine movement was legitimized by the “my body, my choice” principle adopted by the states.

With Covid, pharmaceutical companies saw an opportunity to bet on a technological change in the way vaccines are created which would allow them to attract more capital and improve profit margins. The massive expenditure that governments were soon willing to make on vaccination also allowed them to cover much greater risks of of economic failure than they would have had if they had opted for the technology available until then.

On the other hand, states such as the USA, Germany or Great Britain bet heavily on turning this opportunity into a competitive advantage for their national capitals.

But neither governments nor pharmaceutical companies were unaware of the health risks involved in this accelerated development of new technologies. In fact, vaccines from AstraZeneca and Janssen were first correlated with the appearance of potentially fatal thrombi and were eventually withdrawn from the European vaccination campaign.

Because they were aware of the risk of unknown and potentially fatal side effects, the governments themselves decided to wriggle out of their responsibility and established from the first statements of vaccine availability the voluntary nature of vaccination.

To avoid future claims, lawsuits and protests in case any vaccine caused “unexpected effects”, it was assumed that this was a purely individual decision and enshrined the “my body, my choice” principle claimed by the denialists.

Does it make any sense for vaccination to be voluntary?

My body, my choice... now applied to vaccines
My body, my choice… now applied to vaccines

No. Epidemics are social events, they broadly affect a given population. If the Covid vaccination campaign is “working” it is not only because it reduces the individual risks of those vaccinated in a direct way but, above all, because it reduces the number of contagions above a certain critical mass… which also benefits the safety of those vaccinated. This is why the only hope for a return to a certain “normality” is the almost total generalization of vaccination.

Epidemics and vaccinations are a textbook example of the dialectical principle according to which the totality of a social phenomenon is what determines the situation of the parts. Totality which we cannot understand or quantify as a mere sum of partial situations. There is no “my body, my choice” because “the body” of each one will run more or less risks depending on the vaccinal situation of the social whole in which they live.

What does “my body, my choice” have to do with the “Covid Passport”?

Demonstration in Paris against the Covid Passport and compulsory vaccination of healthcare workers and other groups in contact with particularly vulnerable people.
Demonstration in Paris against the Covid Passport and compulsory vaccination of healthcare workers and other groups in contact with particularly vulnerable people.

The “Covid Passport” is a vaccination passbook that incorporates a record of PCRs. Soon the entire EU will require having received the third dose of the vaccine for it to be considered valid, as it already is the case in France.

If it is not called by its proper name, vaccination card, it is only because, having established the “my body, my choice” principle, states could not require a vaccination card to go to work, use certain services or enter indoor leisure spaces. To do so would have been tantamount to making vaccination mandatory. Incorporating PCRs into the document was a hypocritical way of offering an alternative to vaccination – even if only a few could afford it – and thus putting pressure on the reluctant – especially workers – to get vaccinated at once.

By establishing the “my body, my choice” principle, governments legitimized the core of the anti-vaccine campaign. With constant pressure from the new Bannonist far-right accelerated by American donors and strategists and dragging along the most delusional part of the bankrupt petty bourgeoisie, the anti-vaccine movement grew strong denouncing the hypocrisy of the Covid Passport and claiming what, theoretically, the same governments defended: the non-compulsory nature of vaccination.

Governmental cowardice fed the very monster it sought to fend off. More dangerously, it established as “social truth” and “democratic consensus” a moral principle which undermines at its root everything that vaccination stands for.

I was not very supportive but by obligation I have to get vaccinated, because otherwise I can’t travel or go to restaurants or go to the gym or anything: otherwise I will not be able to live a normal life. For me it is a violation of human rights because they are preventing me from deciding whether I want to get vaccinated or not.

Young woman at the doors of a vaccination center interviewed by RTVE

Is “my body, my choice” applicable to abortion and not to vaccines?

Demonstrations for the decriminalization of abortion in Buenos Aires.
Demonstrations for the decriminalization of abortion in Buenos Aires.

Since the abortion debate entered the US political agenda during the 19th century, feminism has tried to narrow it down to the assertion of an abstract individual right disconnected from its social and class implications. Hence the centrality that “my body, my choice” continues to have for this ideology. Feminism’s greatest success is to have made indistinguishable for the vast majority its own brutally individualistic and commodifying morality from resistance to one of the state’s many daily barbarities.

To confront anti-abortion legislation, we workers need never either affirm the pregnant woman’s ownership of the fetus, or deny the existence of the fetus, much less turn the pregnant woman into an abstract, isolated woman whose reproductive decisions would have no community or social consequences, in effect rendering invisible the personal cost she might suffer.

It is enough for us to confront the state and the ruling class when they actively – through organized repression- or passively – by preventing it from being offered free of charge in public hospitals – try to force us to carry a pregnancy to term.

We are aware that under this particular form of repression against working women there is a way deeper story and that, as in so many other issues, without confronting the system as a whole there will never be real progress, neither for working women nor for others, nor for Humanity as a whole. What is specifically feminist is to pose the question in an abstract individualist terrain, 100% capitalist, which presupposes the possibility – nonexistent – of an “egalitarian capitalism.”

That is, the fact that “my body, my choice” was used by feminism as a slogan in the face of the legal repression of abortion does not make it an acceptable moral maxim. Moreover, it is a reactionary depth charge in the midst of a working class movement that still confronts in many countries a bastion of social control and repression of working-class women.

Its effect now, during the vaccination campaign, is a tangible demonstration of the reactionary and anti-human character of “my body, my choice” as a moral slogan. It cannot take us by surprise.

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