Anti-vaxxers protest in Melbourne (Image: AAP/Scott Barbour)

Co-opting the tragedy of others is a longstanding tactic of the anti-choice movement.

From the equation of abortion with the Holocaust and slavery to flagrant lies about abortion increasing the risk of breast cancer, those dedicated to making a woman’s biology her destiny have stopped at nothing to prop up the pro-life cause — not even the pleas of Holocaust, slavery and breast-cancer survivors or their descendants to stop misusing their tragedies.

The latest chapter in this sordid tale is the misappropriation by anti-vaxxers of the pro-choice slogan “My body, my choice”. Abortion is always the first demand of modern women’s movements, and always the right most under assault, because fertility control is indispensable to women’s quest for equality.

As lawyer Julie Rikelman told the US Supreme Court this week in the Mississippi abortion case that could hand control of the fertility of about half of American women to their state legislature, legal abortion has changed the arc of American women’s lives: “The data has been very clear over the last 50 years that abortion has been critical to women’s equal participation in society.”

This includes, Rikelman tried to explain amid repeated interruptions by the chief justice, it leading to improvements in women’s health, educational attainments and wages, the latter of which had reduced the number of single-parent families living in poverty.

What does the quest for gender equality encapsulated by “my body, my choice” have to do with the demands of anti-vaxxers and the unreasoned assemblage gathered around them in person and online to refuse COVID vaccinations?

In short, absolutely nothing.

The reason why is simple. The consequences of a pregnancy that ends in abortion are confined to the woman and, if she has one, her partner. In contrast, every infection with the Delta strain of COVID spreads the potentially lethal virus to between five and eight others, with the unvaccinated 10 times more likely to catch it and 20 times more likely than the vaccinated to spread it.

Also, by allowing the virus greater opportunity to replicate, unvaccinated people increase the likelihood that an even deadlier and/or more transmissible and/or more vaccine-evasive variant will arise, which could put us all back into lockdown. This is why vaccine refusal has long been castigated by philosophers as “free-riding” on the beneficial actions of others.

No such thing has or will ever be said about those who choose abortion. The pro-choice assertion of bodily autonomy is a claim for women to the same rights and respect long afforded by religion, philosophy, the law and the state to men. In particular, the unquestioned freedom men have to make decisions critical to their own health and future without state interference. A privilege that because women are the ones who end up pregnant after joint sexual activity of the consensual or coerced kind, they need abortion and other fertility control measures to realise.

The pro-life movement understands this. Indeed, as studies repeatedly show, its religious-based commitment to the second-class status of women is the reason most are in the movement.

This is why pro-life officials in Mississippi can keep a straight face in court as they defend a law that guts the right of American women to choose to control their body by ending a pregnancy, while simultaneously demanding a stay on President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for what the judge who granted it agreed was the importance of “maintaining the liberty of individuals to make intensely personal decisions according to their own convictions”.

The bodily choices of some, it seems, are more important than those of others.