The Stoics believed in virtue and, in particular, the chief one among them, justice. The Stoics also believed in preferred indifferents, for example, health, wealth, reputation, pleasure, and education. What did they believe about autonomy though?
The Stoics believed that autonomy was something within our possession. In fact, if we worked hard at it, we would achieve freedom from everything. The only path to freedom was to focus on what was truly in our power: virtue.
Honestly though, virtue is only freedom if you are truly virtuous. Since none of us are truly free, like the Sage, we need a form of autonomy that is lesser in nobility but still carries some weight. We need a life of self-determination. We also need a life where we can pursue our preferred indifferents. Our natural preferences for health, wealth, education, pleasure, and reputation are where we derive our rights. We have a right to these preferred indifferents, so we ought to have a society that allows for that. Where does the lesser form of autonomy fit into this? The lesser form is being free to participate in health, wealth, education, pleasure, and reputation within reason. We’re free when we can do this. And these preferred indifferents give us a chance to find the true autonomy: virtue.
Where does a woman’s right to an abortion fit into this? She has autonomy over her own health. She can determine what is best for herself, even if that means terminating a pregnancy. People will debate this point because they feel “life” might begin at conception. I presume these people are wrong because zygotes hardly represent a person in the way we can conceive of them. In fact, babies hardly represent people. But, nonetheless, we can maybe agree as a society that we can terminate pregnancies up to 9 months. It’s kind of arbitrary to make this determination but we have some historical reasons for doing so. Many of the ancients, Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans seemed to believe that life began at first breath. With this conception in mind, we have some historical precedent to base our determination on what distinguishes infanticide from a mere abortion.
Of course, as a society, if we really want to do away with abortion, one way is to make all forms of contraception free for everyone. This also means educating people about sex and contraception as early as we can.
Not everyone can agree that abortion is a right but maybe we can all agree that contraception is a right. One thing is for sure, contraception is certainly worth talking about as often as the taboo topic of abortion arises.