For Women, For Choice

When I was a child I would sit on the floor in the hall and pore over The Body, The Mind, and Growth, all books in the Time-Life Science series. I believe it was one of these volumes that contained Lennart Nilsson’s photographs of embryos and fetuses. Those pictures were fascinating not just to me, but to the world. In How Fetal Photography Changed the Politics of Abortion, Dr. Lisa Wade wrote,  Picture frames

“Nilsson’s images forever changed the way that people think about pregnancy, mothers, and fetuses.  Before Nilsson, the visual of a fetus independent from a mother was not widespread. …  Suddenly, the fetus came to life.”

Anti-abortion activists have used those photos and similar ones on placards, websites, brochures, and anything that can help them deliver their message that abortion is wrong, a sin, and unforgivable under any circumstances. How ironic that the photos were actually aborted embryos and fetuses “obtained from women who terminated their pregnancies under the liberal Swedish law” quotes Wade. Nilsson even manipulated their poses, such as the fetus sucking its thumb – he placed it there.

Abortion is still a hotly debated health issue laden with projected morality and judgment. It’s legal in Canada and many parts of the world, although it can be so restricted as to make it seemingly impossible to attain. In Canada, women from Prince Edward Island must leave their province to have an abortion, a financial and social stumbling block for many. The procedure itself may be covered by the provincial health plan, but the costs for transportation, accommodation, and time off work aren’t. Women must figure out how to explain their absence to family, friends, employers and other people in their community whose kindly “Are you off for a getaway?” may push a woman into panic having to make an excuse.

Women who have abortions often don’t talk about it, although so very many other people are more than ready to talk about how women should feel- apologetic, ashamed, and silenced. Writer Katha Pollitt wants that to change. She’s written a book called Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights. She argues that abortion language, even from pro-choice supporters, isn’t positive.

“Abortion is an option for men and women and children to have a good life” she said in an interview with Anna Maria Tremonti, noting that the majority of women having abortions are already mothers. Given that, they know the emotional, social and financial costs of parenting and the importance of the choice they are making.

Pollitt says anti-abortion activism has gone so far that  “The unimplanted fertilized egg is now a baby and pushes the woman off the stage.” Think of the “personhood amendments” being pushed in various states in the US, and her point is too true. Ob-gyn Dr. Jen Gunter explains, Personhood amendments ”change the state constitution to give a fetus, including a fertilized egg, the exact same legal rights as a woman.” North Dakota voters recently rejected a personhood amendment, as did Colorado, but the fights will rage on. RH Reality Check posted a number of articles on the status of reproductive health rights after the US midterm elections.

It’s an important time for a book like Pollitt’s to be published. As we move towards more conservative laws restricting women’s choices we need more than ever to see that women are more than baby makers, and we shouldn’t have to apologize for making choices about how best to direct our own lives.




Janet  |  @janet_madsen