Monday, June 30, 2008

Different kinds of gross outs

Jill at Feministe posts a question from a reader who is upset her pro-choice mother, an OB/Gyn Nurse Practitioner, won’t take part in abortions. The mother won’t take part in abortions because “years ago, she had to help in a 3rd trimester abortion, and at the time, as the surgerical nurse, she had the job of taking the fetus parts and putting them together and making sure that none of them had been missed. she admits freely that this is her entire “problem” with abortion - it grossed her out.”

The reader goes on to wonder about why this “gross out” should be a problem since her mother doesn’t have a problem with other surgeries (which often involve “gross” things like blood and guts). This seems to be a fairly common objection among pro-choicers to individuals who claim they oppose/don't want to take part in abortion because it "grosses them out."

I think the reader here is confusing two different types of ways people can be grossed out. One way could be called the “sensual gross out” when you see, smell or taste something (like seeing large amounts of blood, eating rotten food, smelling feces, etc.) which disturbs your senses. Different people obviously have different levels of what their senses can take without being grossed out. People used to smelling and seeing different gross items are less susceptible to be gross out by them.

Another type of gross out is what I’ll call the “moral gross out.” This is the kind of gross out the reader's mother seems to have with abortion. Seeing and putting together the body parts of a 3rd trimester fetus is not only a sensual gross out (at least for most people) but it also would likely gross out your moral sense of what is right and what is wrong. You'd be face to face (literally) with the result of a heinous action. It’s more than just sensually disturbing to see the bloody and broken body of a late-term unborn child. Examining the legs, arms, hands, feet and head of what is essentially a torn apart infant likely reminded the reader’s mother that abortion kills human beings and she wasn’t morally comfortable being involved with the killing of human beings.

Like the sensual gross out, the moral gross out is also something which can be overcome, usually by multiple exposures and/or the loss of a moral sense of right and wrong.

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