“My body, my choice” is a feminist phrase that applies to many issues beyond reproductive rights, as well. The message that nobody should do anything or force us to do anything we don’t want to do with our bodies is necessary for creating a culture of consent.
Although feminists were not the first to argue for the sanctity of personal autonomy over their bodies, it was surely the feminist fight to secure this basic and fundamental freedom that set the course for modern rights. Looking back further, autonomy over own bodies was actually the underlying tenet of liberal democracy since the end of feudalism and the advent of the European enlightenment, when concepts of human rights arose and the violation of the bodies of all humans became of legal concern.
After nearly four centuries of liberal progress, that fundamental right has just been overturned. Already Indonesia, Micronesia and Turkmenistan have mandated covid-19 vaccines for adults, but closer to home, Austria today became the first European country to follow suit with new plans for general compulsory vaccination of its population:
The government said it was preparing the legal groundwork for a general vaccine mandate to come into effect from 1 February, with exemptions for those unable to receive a jab on medical grounds.
The age from which people will be required to be vaccinated has not yet been determined, the government said.
Those refusing to be vaccinated are likely to face administrative fines, which can be converted into a prison sentence if the fine cannot be recovered.
The Guardian article above then reaches for its conclusion with this curious dog whistle:
[T]he planned general vaccine mandate drew heavy criticism from the opposition benches in parliament. “From this day Austria is a dictatorship,” said Herbert Kickl of the far-right Freedom party, which has advocated scientifically unproven alternative treatments against coronavirus infections, such as the anti-parasite drug ivermectin. *
The implication, at least according to the progressives at the Guardian, is that since only the far-right is concerned about such a gross infringement of personal freedoms, perhaps those who disagree might be sympathisers of some kind. (Sadly, this is how discourse proceeds today.)
Likewise, the BBC has been doing its own part to downplay the grotesque threat to our civil liberties and human rights, as Big Brother Watch Director, Silkie Carlo, found out when on Wednesday she was interviewed by Radio 5; the day that Austria announced its original lockdown for the unvaccinated (how rapidly the Overton Window can be slid open):
Here the rhetorical trap is set at around 6:05 mins when the BBC host challenges Silkie Carlo over her (perfectly legitimate) choice of expression: “you say it’s a power grab”, she says, “I’m curious, what do you think the motivation of governments is in a situation like this?”
So here again, we are dealing with a sort of dog whistle for progressives. To translate, implicit in the question is the latent rhetorical one: “what kind of a conspiracy theorist are you?”
Dealing with baited questions of this sort can be exasperating, and especially when the presenter is quite evidently feigning ignorance; in this instance, deliberately ignoring the plethora of historical precedents for authoritarian takeovers. Moreover, she is talking to a representative of the aptly named Big Brother Watch – clearly, Orwell’s novel remains a cautionary tale about how societies can slip into tyranny when a population does not remain vigilant. Frankly, Orwell, who of course worked at the BBC, must be turning in his grave.
Maintaining her composure (and not even rolling her eyes), Silkie Carlo patiently explained:
“Well, once you enter a phase of authoritarianism, it doesn’t necessarily make the government less popular… But the question you just asked is the million dollar question. I don’t know and that’s why I think it’s terrifying and that’s why I think there are millions of people around Europe who are terrified.”
Continuing after a prompt about ‘public health concerns’:
“It’s not an overriding concern for public health. I think at best – if we’re being charitable – it’s that the government has completely failed to get a grip on the situation (and bear in mind we’re two years into this now). If you can’t control the situation at this point, and you have to be entering into a checkpoint society, where people have to show their papers to police officers just to live their lives, then clearly something’s gone really wrong.”
I confess that this post has been somewhat hastily drafted and had the issue not been of such grave significance I might have withheld these words in order to edit my thoughts a little. However, the simple fact that we are now having this debate at all is extremely disturbing – in fact, shockingly reminiscent of another debate that we had around the time of 9/11, when journalists and ‘experts’ sometimes opined in the mainstream about the pros and cons of torture.
Let me stress (as I have already in earlier posts) that I am not anti-vaccine. Moreover, I do not doubt that the covid vaccines have already saved many lives during this pandemic and indeed the hospital figures do confirm this fact. However, the vaccines currently available are all extremely ‘leaky’. While they do protect the vaccinated against serious disease, hospitalisation and death, they do not prevent transmission of the virus. It follows from a purely scientific standpoint, therefore, that these vaccines are best administered to those who are most vulnerable to the disease.
No less importantly, all vaccines carry risks. I have reported on the risks too, because it is crucial to investigate the truth surrounding all of these issues – information matters. And given the risks alone, it is entirely right that patients are obliged to give informed consent – just as informed consent is required before we undergo any medical procedure.
The imposition of mandatory vaccination violates well-established human rights that grant us autonomy over our own bodies. Irrespective of the science, this decision by the Austrian government is deeply unethical and sets a very dangerous precedent.
Finally, to reiterate: I am not anti-vaccine. I am not pro-vaccine. I am pro-choice.
† From an article entitled “5 Things That Are #MyBodyMyChoice” written by Suzannah Weiss, published in Bustle magazine on September 25, 2015. https://www.bustle.com/articles/113094-5-things-that-are-mybodymychoice-because-respecting-them-is-essential-for-creating-a-culture-of-consent
* From an article entitled “Austria plans compulsory Covid vaccination for all” written by Philip Oltermann, published in the Guardian on November 19, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/19/austria-plans-compulsory-covid-vaccination-for-all