Pro-Life Storylines I: The Fetus Is A Baby Is A Child

I can’t say enough good things about Libby Anne’s post on ‘The Anti-Abortion Movement, Erasing Women Edition’. She’s right. The pro-lifers make powerful, impactful arguments primarily by skirting around anything that has involves women. They tell a story about a child in a vacuum.

And it’s always a child. It’s often actively depicted as a born baby, usually several months past its awkward, pointy-headed, squish-faced newborn days. Even when an actual in-utero fetus is depicted – and Libby Anne notes that it’s never depicted in the context of an actual woman’s body, just sort of floating in a globe or a bubble – it’s given uniquely human characteristics, like feelings or intelligence or emotional depth. And those are things that even newborns don’t have, never mind a first-trimester fetus.

Libby Anne has some great examples in her post, but I’ve thrown in a few of my own for good measure.

An infant, approximately six months old, with text: "Before I was even born, I could smile. Heartbeat 18 days from conception. Prolife Across America."
Image via Unborn Word of the Day.

That kid left “eighteen days from conception” behind a long time ago. I’d put him at maybe four to six months old. In any case, ‘smile’ here doesn’t mean what you think. Newborns can make a facial expression that looks like a smile, but it’s not yet connected to the display of emotion we associate with smiling.

Four babies in a box, labelled "God's Stimulus Package: America's Greatest Resource. Prolife Across America."
Image via Gender Focus.

Again, born-and-grown infants – not fetuses, not embryos – form the basis of this emotional appeal, in which babies don’t come from sex or pregnancy or even the stork, but they come in a box! No woman necessary!

A picture of a fetus with parts and organs labelled. Text reads: "Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me . . . oh, hi! I was just celebrating all my organs and me being 56 days alive, eight weeks old!"
Image via Jill Stanek.

Kudos to Harvard Right to Life, I guess, for being willing to show how much the human fetus looks like a creature from The X-Files instead of a cute six-month-old. But still this ad borrows from the future, assuming the eventual baby will grow up to be an eventual kid who can write, read, identify parts of human anatomy, and count days and weeks. Not every child born has these abilities, and in any case, the ad personifies a fetus that won’t acquire these valued capabilities and personality traits – writing, singing, celebrating – until years and years after birth. I mean, even now, can you identify the human pancreas?

And, as Libby Anne points out, this is a baby-in-a-bubble ad. It’s gestating in something, but it looks like it’s growing in a cave. There’s no real indication that it’s contained in the body of a human being who’s already acquired the thoughts and abilities and feelings associated with the fetus here.

It’s personification. It’s storytelling.

A young teen, blonde and pretty, with the caption: "she would have liked Facebook. 1/3 of our generation has been aborted. Stop the killing now."
Image via Inglorious Gash.

It’s a fetus in fast forward! This fetus is all grown up and turned into a teenager – old enough to choose abortion for herself, in fact! – who we assume without evidence would have liked Facebook. We don’t know. Maybe she would have been born brain-damaged. Maybe her family would have been poor and she couldn’t afford a computer. Maybe she would have been bullied on Facebook for being a lesbian and committed suicide. Those are all real possibilities.

But they don’t sell the fetus-saving story nearly as neatly. It’s better to envision the most perfect life possible for the fetus in question, pretend away all the real-life social factors that make actual mothers and babies suffer, and then insist that you’re ending a life that’s pure and happy and wonderful, that only pro-lifers can be on the side of right and everything ugly and sinister must come from the pro-choice, pro-legal-abortion side.

Coming soon: Pro-Life Storylines II, on depictions of women in pro-life ads.

2 thoughts on “Pro-Life Storylines I: The Fetus Is A Baby Is A Child

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