Secondly, the bits of the blog I skimmed didn’t seem to describe the fetus the way I see it. The fetus seemed like an abstract concept—an entity that, should it be allowed to live, would someday be a child, but wasn’t a person right now. Obviously I disagree with that view, but I can wrap my head around the idea that if you don’t consider the fetus a person, abortion is something you can live with.
My perusal continued through Exhale, The Coathanger Project (which seems to have been abandoned?) and landed with Our Truths – Nuestras Verdades. Edition No. 3 is “Feelings About the Fetus.” I read a piece called “My Fragile Fossil” in which a woman describes seeing her fetus on a sonogram and her visceral reaction to that moment.
“My fetus. At about two inches magnified, it looks like a picture of a fetus that I had seen in my high school health book: a bulbous head bigger than its body, tiny hands and feet, and a long curly tube—the umbilical cord—which looks like an intestine.”
“Leaning forward, I notice the fetus following my body’s rhythms like a buoy bobbing in the ocean, moving with the tide. I am not prepared for the emotions that hit me as I gaze at the image. In this moment, my fetus becomes more than a tiny gob of cells or a picture from an old textbook. The longer I stare at the screen, the more I begin to fantasize about how the fetus will change as it develops and becomes full-term. Will it grow to have dark skin like it’s father? Will it have short, stubby toes and wide feet like me? Will it later have my mother’s hair, black and sleek?
Tears fall like torrents down my cheek, reminding me of my difficult and complicated decision.”
My first reaction: great sadness. The woman is miserable, the fetus is dead, what a stupid situation. Also anger. Why did she risk putting herself in this stupid situation? And once in the situation, why couldn’t she put the child up for adoption? Is it more upsetting to watch your kid raised by others then to be the mother of a dead fetus? I suppose it must be, or she may have chosen otherwise.
After arguing about one topic perhaps hundreds of times over the years, it’s hard to feel continuously upset. Sadness and anger will well up occasionally, but they don’t persist. For me the final reactions, the lasting feelings, are simply bewilderment and defeat.
I find myself, by default, believing that many people are pro-choice because they don’t view the fetus as I do. They think of the fetus abstractly (blob of tissue, clump of cells, product of conception) or as an aggressor (parasite, tumor, invader). If I believed this is what a fetus amounted to, I would probably also be pro-choice. I don’t agree, but I can comprehend. This default mindset is also an outlook with hope. Convince people of the humanity, strengthen the pro-life side, and maybe someday (perhaps not the foreseeable future, but someday) the tide can turn. Maybe.
But there are pro-choice people who view the fetus more the way I do: alive. Not in some technical sense, not by a biological definition, like a virus or cells going through mitosis. Alive like I’m alive. A human being. A very small, underdeveloped human being, to be sure, but a human being nonetheless. I can comprehend choosing to “terminate a product of conception” or “remove a parasite.” But killing a human being?
Even then, I can imagine someone being “personally pro-life, politically pro-choice.” They are conflicted. They value fetal life, but abhor forced gestation. That place is a little harder for me to mentally stand in than the “product of conception” view, but I can get there.
But there are women who view the fetus the way I view the fetus, and personally choose abortion? That’s not a position I can reach. I don’t understand. You see what I see, yet you can stomach it. You can choose it. I don’t understand.
What hope, then, can the pro-life movement possibly have? Even if we could convince the whole country, the whole world, that “person” begins at conception, it still may not change abortion law.
I participate, in my limited ways, in the Pro-life movement largely because I don’t believe it can do any harm. But often I’m not convinced it does much good, either. This isn’t all one big misunderstanding. It’s understanding and fierce disagreement. Irreconcilable disagreement. How can we overcome such an intractable position?