Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Will the pro-choice movement abandon the strategy of dehumanizing the unborn?

At Slate, Katie Roiphe addresses the elephant in the room for the pro-choice movement after reading a NY Times piece about the possibility of requiring men to provide for women they impregnate during pregnancy (termed "preglimony" by Shari Motro). After discussing Motro's proposal to require both sexes to "take responsibility for (conception's) economic consequences," Roiphe discusses the proposal's implications to the pro-choice movement and the fear that the proposal would acknowledge the unborn as life (my emphasis).

I don't actually think it is in the interests of feminism or the pro-choice movement to cling so rigidly to outdated notions of "life." It no longer helps our cause to try to argue that the fetus is not "life." The reason for this, as people have noted, is that technological advances, like sonograms, where you can see feet on a fetus in the first trimester, have made those claims clearly and patently hollow to even ardently pro-choice people who have seen the black and white staticky fuzziness take shape into human form. How can we possibly claim that the moving creature, with feet and toes that we can see, is not "life"?

It seems to me that the pro-choice movement doesn't need to cling to these ideas, or this rigid '70s-era idiom, to make its central argument acceptable to the larger public. The idea that a woman should control her reproductive choices is still a vivid and moral one even to a population that understands full well that a fetus is a baby-in-progress.

Can we admit that a woman has the right to choose, while also acknowledging what we see on sonograms? Can we say "embryos" and "fetuses" do represent some form of "life" without conceding a woman's absolute control over the womb that bears them? A person who has had an abortion knows, and in fact has always known, and experienced very intimately this charged ambiguity: An unborn fetus that is wanted is a "baby," and an unborn fetus that is not wanted is a "fetus."

I think the new technologies, and the new demographic realities, in which unwed mothers need protections, demand a more imaginative, honest rhetoric. Paradoxically, I think in the long run it will only help the ongoing fight for reproductive rights, to evolve with the times, to trailblaze a way of thinking that encompasses the ambiguities we know, and can see, are there.

This has to make the old guard cringe. For years, the pro-choice movement and the abortion industry have worked to dehumanize the unborn in an effort to make abortion less of an abomination and now Roiphe openly says the rhetoric of the pro-choice movement is outdated, patently hollow, and less honest and fashions the movement's old guard as cave women rigidly clinging to a "'70s-era idiom." She basically admits the pro-choice movement has been intentionally deceiving people for decades but now with technological advances those deceptions are no longer plausible. In light of this, a new strategy (one which doesn't dehumanize the unborn) and new arguments are necessary.

I think Roiphe makes a mistake when she assumes "(t)he idea that a woman should control her reproductive choices is still a vivid and moral one even to a population that understands full well that a fetus is a baby-in-progress."

For some of the population - yes. But for large swaths - no. It's much easier for abortion advocates to defend abortion to the public-at-large when they can speak of the need for reproductive rights as taking precedence over the non-life of a dehumanized embryo or a parasitic fetus. Those arguments become less persuasive to many when the dehumanized embryo is no longer dehumanized but considered a "baby-in-progress." A woman's right to do whatever she wants with her body is more sell-able to the public when the body and life of the unborn child are not seriously considered.

I think Roiphe's position also shows the disconnect between the academic pro-choicers like herself, who don't want to look foolish by acting like the unborn aren't alive, and the establishment ground soldiers at NARAL and Planned Parenthood, who don't care about looking foolish and will use any means to keep abortion legal.

NARAL and Planned Parenthood understand that a large segment of their supporters and our population (often individuals who've had or could have a personal experience with abortion) are at least somewhat (if not mostly) content to put up a mental wall where on one side wanted unborn children are humanized while unwanted unborn children are dehumanized. It makes not a peep of sense to those, like Roiphe, who think about it but that weak wall is what is keeping the pro-choice movement together.

1 comment:

  1. But what's the alternative to dehumanizing the unborn? All you've got left is the contention that it's OK to murder violinists if they make your life more difficult. I'm not sure if the public's ready for that yet. And so dehumanization continues marching bravely on.