The NYT whips up more moral agonizing about women’s reproductive rights – enough!

Against the backdrop of a record breaking number of restrictions on abortion being proposed and passed at the state level, as high profile national politicians cut budget deals over the lives of women, as Christian fascist shock troops target courageous abortion doctors, the New York Times has decided to feature yet another article calling into question the morality of women who make their own decisions about their child-bearing.

In their August 10 Magazine piece entitled, “The Two Minus One Pregnancy,” the NYTimes agonizes about the ethics of reducing twin fetuses to a single fetus so that a woman can have one child instead of two.

The article attempts to portray its own agonizing over twin reduction as having nothing to do with abortion. For instance, in contemplating where the supposed moral difficulty in twin reduction lies, at one point Ruth Padawer writes, “Perhaps it’s because twin reduction (unlike abortion) involves selecting one fetus over another, when either one is equally wanted.”

However, the article is caught up in the same unscientific thinking that leads so many to believe abortion is – or should be – an agonizing decision, or a decision that should be denied to women outright.

The only basis for viewing the decision of a woman not to carry every fetus to term as a “moral” or “ethical dilemma” is the unscientific lie that treats fetuses like people, rather than as a subordinate part of a woman’s body.

And this is exactly what Padawer does. She even adopts the anti-abortion language that refers to fetuses as people, as when she writes: “Consider the choice of which fetus to eliminate: if both appear healthy (which is typical with twins), doctors aim for whichever one is easier to reach. If both are equally accessible, the decision of who lives and who dies is random [emphasis added].”

No. Fetuses have the potential to become human beings but they are NOT human beings – they are not independent biological or social beings at all – until they are born. In other words, there is no “who” when referring to a fetus.

Quite possibly, Padawer is “pro-choice,” but that doesn’t change the fact that she adopts the language and the obfuscating logic that has been fought for by those who would force women to bear children against their will.

Women do not need yet another article from the oh-so-“enlightened” NYTimes (or anyone else!) that “reports on” – and thereby whips up even more – moral agonizing and “ethical dilemmas” about fetal reductions or terminations of any kind. Women need the truth: fetuses are not babies and women are not incubators. If a woman wants to terminate a pregnancy – or reduce the number of fetuses she is carrying – she needs the right to do so on demand and without shame and without stigma.

If women are forced – or shamed or guilt-tripped or trapped for lack of medical options– into motherhood against their will, they are reduced to breeders. They are trapped into a lifetime of caring for children they did not desire, and they are judged if they do not make this the primary focus of their lives. All this also all-too-often traps women in oppressive, and even brutal, relationships with men.

In short, if women cannot decide for themselves when and whether to bear children, they cannot be free to participate fully in society. And if women are not free, then no one is truly free.

As such, there is no “moral dilemma” in women deciding for themselves the terms on which they will bear children. There is only a great moral good – to women and to society – in ensuring this right, expanding this access, and lifting any stigma associated with it.

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  1. Posted August 17, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    By in large I agree with the original poster, but I’d like to nitpick on one very sticky point:

    There’s too much emphasis on the concept that a fetus is a “subordinate part of a woman’s body,” rather than a “person.”

    It doesn’t matter. Even if you consider a fetus as a full human, the women would STILL have the right to an abortion. Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES are other people–even full, entirely human people–allowed access to your body without your permission. Real, fully human people who will die without blood transfusions and organ transplants do NOT have the right to take blood or organs from unwilling people, even if they need those body parts to survive. By the same logic, even if you think fetuses are real people, still do not have the right to occupy an unwilling woman’s body, even if they need her womb to survive.

    Anti-choicers use the argument about “Are fetuses really people?” as a tool of distraction, and it works, really, disturbingly well. The discussion gets bogged down with developmental biology, which completely covers up the real point–which is, abortion is ALWAYS a woman’s right EVEN IF the fetus is considered a full human being.

  2. Posted August 18, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    I agree with jss — abortion is a right relating to a woman’s body regardless of the stage of development of the fetus. However I take issue with your straight up characterisation of abortion as no moral choice. While I respect your view, I feel that it is possible to be pro-choice, without saying that abortion is a moral non-issue. This may be the result of my Catholic upbringing (the first time abortion was mentioned to me my mother used the word “murder”), but my stance on abortion is that the fetus does have a right to exist, but that it is trumped by the woman’s right to control her own body. In other words, when I say that I am pro-choice, I mean pro-woman (and pro-backing up birth control), not pro-abortion.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am intrigued by your suggestion that if we did not have restrictive social attitudes to abortion, the moral minefield might never have developed. I just cannot personally disengage from those morals. Although I have been successful in not judging others, I cannot stop from judging myself.

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