Take your hat off boy when you’re talking to me

24 05 2019

Status determines treatment.

I.

I make this point to my bioethics students every semester. US regulations on what can be done to which research subjects illustrates this nicely: it is acceptable to kill mice, for example, in the course of research, while human subjects cannot be killed. And while research on chimpanzees isn’t banned, federal funding for such work has effectively ended.

Human embryos are both protected and not: the Dickey-Wicker amendment prohibited all federal funding on research involving the creation or destruction of embryos, but privately-funded research continues. And, of course, hundreds of thousands of embryos are created every year in fertility clinics across the country.

And then there’s the matter of abortion. Some consider the fertilized egg to be fully human, some the early embryo, some the fetus, and some, a baby. As I’ve noted elsewhere, I take a developmental view of the matter, figuring that the fetus gains personhood status at some point in the third trimester.

It’s clearly human tissue from the beginning—a Homo sapiens zygote won’t develop into a puppy—but when is it one of us, deserving of the same protections we grant ourselves? That’s what the fuss is all about.

II.

Well, partly. The other part of the fuss has to do with the status of the person gestating said embryo/fetus.

I say person because not everyone capable of gestating another being is a woman: some are transmen, and some don’t identify as a woman. It’s important to recognize that.

It’s also important to recognize that an attack on the right to decide whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy is an attack on women.

Whether you are a man or genderqueer or cis-gender, if you are capable of getting pregnant, then to the anti-abortionists that capacity in and of itself overrides all other identities and considerations and marks you as an untrustworthy being, i.e., a woman.

You—we—are hosts, victims of abortion-violence, sinners, irresponsible, would-be murderers, all due to our capacity to gestate. All due to our woman-ness.

It doesn’t matter if we can’t or won’t get pregnant (in which case we are lesser women, unable or unwilling to fulfill or womanly destinies): what defines us, in the ideology of the antiabortionists, is the ability to gestate a zygote through to delivery. It might be conceded that we can do other things besides gestating, but once the egg envelopes the sperm or  the conceptus begins burrowing into uterine lining or a clump of cardiac cells begin beating, then and only then can we become fully woman.

By which is meant: subordinate.

It’s not only the from-the-moment-of-conception antiabortionists who think this; cf this exchange after the somewhat-pro-choice Damon Linker referred to the fetus as a (tiny) human:

This is a perfectly normal kind of exchange among the somewhat-pro-choice: I don’t support outlawing abortion in the first weeks, but later on? Bien sûr!

What’s wrong with this? After all, didn’t I just say I hold to a developmental view of the fetus?

Well, do you think the pregnant person isn’t also able to make such judgements? Do you think she needs laws to tell her that an 8-week embryo is not the same as an 8-month fetus?

Saying you need laws and regulations to enforce this distinction is to say that you don’t trust pregnant people—women—to make this distinction for themselves.

Alabama Senator Clyde Chambliss extends this argument to its nonsensical ends, apparently arguing that a woman could only end a pregnancy as long as she didn’t know she was pregnant. That is, once Eve gains knowledge, she is no longer to be trusted to act on that knowledge.

The somewhat prochoicers might be unhappy that I tie their thoughtful uneasiness to Chambliss’s confident ignorance, but they are different points along the same line drawn to downgrade the paradigmatic woman—the pregnant person—to someone unable to make up her own mind.

III.

Oh, and then there’s this:

The naked embryo lacks status. It can only gain status once located in and at the expense of s/he who would bring it into the world.

There can be only one person, and the one who’s pregnant, isn’t it.