On the implications of the appearance of the fetus

An interesting item popped up in my Facebook newsfeed from the good folks at the Life Training Institute–decent and awesome folks, all of them, so please check their blog and site out–that deserved consideration.  They linked to a brief blog post on Slate regarding the rise of birth photography and photoshopping ultrasound images onto images of the mother, and some very interesting remarks were made about what that could mean.

The post’s author, Allison Benedikt, wrote:

[…] it got us thinking about how the more we treat fetuses like people –[…] the harder it will be to deny that they are people when the next, say,personhood amendment comes up, with legislators and activists arguing that “the unborn child” inside a pregnant woman’s womb should have the same rights as the living among us.

This is interesting for two reasons: first, the personhood of the unborn becomes really hard to deny when we can meet the unborn and, surprise surprise, they kind of look like us; second, the article frames the discussion in terms that pro-lifers have long sought to normalize, and avoids the usual “anti-choice” rhetoric.  I’m not sure which is more surprising.    Also surprising: the casting of abortion rights as a denial of humanity.  That is perhaps most surprising of all.

She continues:

 Still, casually and publicly assigning human attributes to not-yet-human embryos—including an avocado-sized embryo in the family portrait—does not seem like the best way to argue against measures that seek to treat that avocado like a member of our collective American family.

This is even more interesting.  Once again, the issue comes down to: what is the unborn?  Thankfully, Ms. Benedikt did us (and herself) a big favor by bringing this question up.  But she begs a huge question that can’t quite be photoshopped away: what makes an embryo ‘non-human?’  What ‘human attributes’ is she talking about?  Because, last I checked, a human embryo has all possible human attributes that are available at that particular stage of life. 

But to ‘treat that avocado like a human’ presents quite a problem for her position, as she recognizes.  But why not treat that avocado as a human?  (No one recoils when they see pictures of a crushed avocado, and the opposite is true for crushed fetuses.  Why use the dehumanizing description?)  Why isn’t the embryo, which is alive alive and developing, a human?  What gives?  And why have pictures, and not arguments, triggered this sentiment?   When someone sees an unborn child, either via sonogram or after having been unceremoniously dissected via abortion, why do we instinctively recognize the unborn as human, as one of us, to the point that treating the unborn as human is now viewed as distasteful?


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