“My Body, My Choice”

Elif Civelekoglu, Writer

Tuesday, 29th of September. It is the time for the self-proclaimed greatest nation on Earth’s first presidential debate of 2020, attended by the Democrat candidate Joe Biden and the incumbent President of the United States, Donald Trump. The “debate” which has been fittingly dubbed as being the “political equivalent of a cafeteria food fight”, featured both men yelling at each other from a few metres away while the moderator, resembling an all too familiar picture of an exhausted teacher, tried to get them to talk civilly. As the two continued to bicker, comments about how “there’s nothing smart about [Biden]” and how Trump is “the worst president America’s ever had”, one of them stood out. The comment was that the President “[doesn’t] wear masks like [Biden]. Every time you see him, he’s got a mask”. Trump also commented on how even if Biden is speaking 200 feet away, he “shows up with the biggest mask [he’s] ever seen”.


So, what about masks is so noteworthy that it is used as an insult in a presidential debate? Well, that’s what I was wondering. After all, masks are essential for the whole world in the times of the pandemic as they help combat against the spread of the COVID-19 virus. For (hopefully) many, masks are an admittedly irritating necessity, and they wear them outdoors accordingly. Yet why are there entire protests about masks? And how has something that simply ensures one’s and their loved ones’ safety become a political issue in the United States?


In the USA, the common justification among those who refuse to wear masks is that it is a personal choice that a person has to make for themselves, even comparing it to the pro-life vs pro-choice debate. Indeed, there have been numerous instances of people not wearing masks yelling “my body, my choice”, either seriously or ironically. You can decide which one is worse. Many have also brought up the First Amendment, which protects the freedom of speech, press, petition, assembly, and religion. Yet a frequently brought up argument is that mandatory masks violate one’s rights of free speech and the constitutional rights to liberty and to make decisions regarding personal health and bodily integrity. However, looking back in history, more specifically to 1905, when the Supreme Court decided that vaccination requirements didn’t violate one’s liberty, saying that “there are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good. On any other basis, organized society could not exist with safety to its members”. The claim that masks violate one’s freedom of speech is not worth discussing, as the overall arguments made are all either misguided, stem from a lack of knowledge regarding one’s rights, or are simply wrong. 


But are there any correlations between the political party someone supports and their use of masks? The answer is a definite, absolute YES. This is due to several causes, such as the different sources that Democrats and Republicans consume, the people whom they talk to, and most importantly, whom they follow. Democrats have Barack Obama and Joe Biden as examples to look at, who have both worn masks religiously since almost the beginning of the pandemic. Joe Biden called for every American citizen to wear a mask for the next 3 months, saying that “every governor should mandate mandatory mask-wearing. The estimates by the experts are it will save over 40,000 lives”. On the other hand, Republicans have Donald Trump, who at the same time Biden was already wearing masks and encouraging others to follow suit said: “The C.D.C. is advising the use of nonmedical cloth face covering as an additional voluntary public health measure. So it’s voluntary. You don’t have to do it. They suggested for a period of time, but this is voluntary. I don’t think I’m going to be doing it”. Seeing these wildly differing approaches to the regulations for COVID-19 containment from the two rivals, makes it is easy to understand why mask usage varies so much across states. Mask usage is up to at least 75% reporting that they always wear masks in Democrat states such as New York and California, but is less than 50% in Republican states such as Georgia and Louisiana. 


While it is tempting to make fun of Americans for not wearing masks, it is still important to remember the sad truth: the consequences of such actions. The USA currently has the largest number of coronavirus cases and deaths, with over 9.42 million cases and 232,000 deaths. Political differences aside, the need for global collaboration for a common cause is currently more important than ever. If we are to prevent more people from dying, we have to get over our egos and just wear a mask to ensure that we slow down COVID-19’s spread.