On Fetus Gore and Mainstreamers

9 Sep

Sometimes I make ends meet by thrusting flyers at hurried people on street corners or wearing a cheesy smile while singing the praises of [insert brand here] at major promotional events.  I was in the middle of something like this when I crossed paths, or should I say intersections, with the Pro-Life Action League of Illinois this July.

They call it Face the Truth, “a bold [read: obscene] and effective [read: misleading] pro-life initiative that exposes the truth about abortion.”  Larger-than-life posters of dead fetuses flanked either side of Adams Street in Chicago for an uncertain number of blocks.  I was working and thus sternly directed to get the hell away from the abortion people, so I honestly can’t tell you where the anti-choice onslaught began and relented.  But The Magnificent Mile of trademark anti-choice fetus gore, tiny mangled toes and bloody baby heads, seemed to go on and on and on.

My blood boils when I encounter anti-choice propaganda, but I realize that I’m on the feminist fringe when it comes to abortion rights.  For me, life begins at birth.  Not conception.  Not implantation.  Not when the fetus’ heart begins to beat or when it develops the semblance of human phalanges.  Life begins at birth because I care about women.

But the mainstreamers, pro-choice readers, the mainstreamers!  The mainstreamers cringe at these violent images, and cringing can’t be good for the pro-choice cause.  We’re hanging out on the political peripheries with our metaphorical clothes hangers while the antis shove baby guts in mainstreamers’ faces on Adams Street!  These people don’t talk about abortion like we talk about abortion.  When you ask them about the A word, they rattle off a litany of qualifiers and circumstances that justify a woman’s decision to exercise her right to choose.  IF she’s a rape survivor.  ONLY when the procedure isn’t used as regular “birth control.”  BUT they would never have one in that situation.

I feel like the infamous baby guts of abortion lore necessitate the use of IF, ONLY, and BUT in mainstream discussions about the issue.  Because she who does not temper her pro-choice perspective with IFs, ONLYs, and BUTs is a heartless, unmaternal feminist in the most negative sense of the word.  How can one be anything but a frigid bitch when she unapologetically supports abortion rights despite those agonizing images of dead fetuses?

I guess my point is that I want mainstreamers to care about women as much as they care about babies.  Maybe they will when we’ve finally dismantled the patriarchy.  Until that far-off and much-dreamed-of day, the pro-choice clothes hanger reminds mainstreamers (in a more visually tactful way) that hundreds of thousands of WOMEN have DIED because they couldn’t safely access abortion services.  To a certain degree, this image is effective.  But it lacks shock value, and, in the end, it doesn’t stand up to the anti-choice fetus carnage.

I’m not saying that pro-choice activists should resort to shock value to challenge anti-choice tactics.  I’m not saying we should emulate any anti-choice methods, for that matter, since those methods include lying, endangering the lives of women, and assassinating innocent people.  But I want to know this: How can we convince the public of the importance of women’s lives in the face Machiavellian anti-choice opposition?  Because if mainstreamers unequivocally value women’s lives, the IFs, ONLYs, and BUTs will cease to exist.

8 Responses to “On Fetus Gore and Mainstreamers”

  1. Laura W. September 9, 2010 at 1:53 pm #

    Thank you for keeping the ‘IFs, ONLYs, and BUTs’ in the ongoing dialogue. I feel it is extremely important to reiterate this point over and over again. There shouldn’t be quailifying statements with those words because it makes the whole pro-choice movement weaker. I am pro-choice. Period. I can give reasons why I’m pro-choice and they will never include these three words.

    And I do know of which anti-choice signs and boards you speak of. I used to work at Adams & Michigan and would see them periodically.

  2. sobdee x September 9, 2010 at 2:56 pm #

    I agree about the dangers of qualifying abortion as a circumstantial choice but it’s not realistic to completely ignore the “abortion is murder” argument.

    At some point, I think, it is. I just don’t care. But a fetus that’s a baby at 10:01 when it was born was still a baby at 9:59 when it was in utero.

    At some point, it makes more sense- for many reasons and for the woman or for the baby- to just complete the pregnancy than to terminate.

    At some point, pro-choicers have to recognize why abortion is such a polarizing issue and stop dodging the issue.

    I think the “abortion is murder” argument only applies if we are talking about a human. A viable being that can exist and live on its own. For as long as that fetus relies on my body for sustenance and life force, I should be allowed to prioritize myself over it. But once we reach a level of viability, you can’t just ignore that there’s a person inside of there.

  3. Megan September 9, 2010 at 4:03 pm #

    sobdee x,

    Point taken. However, in order to protect women, we must draw a line in the sand. That line is birth. Based on your comment, I don’t think you’ll disagree with this. I’ll admit that this line is somewhat arbitrary. After all, at what point does a child truly cease relying on its mother or other legal guardian for sustenance and life force? Hour one? Day two? Three months? One year? Sure, it can breathe without someone else’s help, but that’s about it. I’m not arguing for infanticide, obviously. But I think it’s legally and politically dangerous to attribute personhood to an unborn organism at any stage of gestation. Period. If we concede this, there’s no stopping the anti-choice crusade against women’s rights. I truly believe that, given the chance, the antis will roll our rights all the way back to pre-Roe. So, for me, at 9:59 it’s a fetus; at 10:01 it’s a kid.

  4. bmmg39 September 9, 2010 at 10:55 pm #

    “Life begins at birth because I care about women.”

    Thanks for at least admitting that your stance is rooted in emotionalism, rather than logic and scientific fact. It’s rather refreshing.

  5. Steph September 9, 2010 at 11:01 pm #

    @bmmg29, I think you completely missed the point of her piece. Go back and reread.

  6. acrBright September 10, 2010 at 9:58 am #

    Thanks for posting, v interesting. I tend to think of myself as on the choice side of mainstream so this draws interesting lines for me. Regarding the ‘at birth’ argument, tho, I think if you say it’s a slippery slope to concede anything before birth, anti-abortion folks can too easily say it’s a slippery slope to concede anything close to birth – as you concede, it’s close to infanticide. What do we do if a woman goes into labor and changes her mind? Requires a c-section and refuses it? Too slippery for most (yes, including me I’ll admit). To me, it would be just as clear (tho no doubt as morally slippery on both sides) to draw a weeks gestation line determined by, say, 2 physicians. How many weeks? That’s another article….

  7. Megan September 10, 2010 at 11:55 am #


    The point at which a fetus is a viable being capable of existing independently is, like I said in my previous comment, somewhat arbitrary. However, I suppose I should clarify. Mother Nature has been kind enough to provide us with a distinct point at which a fetus becomes a child, and that point is birth. You talk about a slippery slope in the direction of infanticide, which I understand. Most anti-choice propaganda sways mainstream opinion in this way, hence the popularization of the medically incorrect term “partial-birth abortion”. However, most anti-choice activists have drawn a biological line in the sand, as well, and that line is conception. They frighten mainstreamers with images of so-called “partial-birth abortion” when they’re actually interested in protecting zygotes at the expense of women’s lives and livelihoods.

    I could go on and on; but I’ve got somewhere to be, so I have to stop here for now. I guess my point is that we should all be wary of the motivations of anti-choice propaganda. We’re arguing about the difference between 9:59 and 10:01, but they have much more sinister plans that involve significantly curtailing women’s rights. When you see the fetus gore on a main thoroughfare in your city, think twice about its actual purpose.


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