Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Let me invite you to my baby-burning: RSVP!

The Telegraph's abortion coverage continues to bemuse. On the one hand, they have OMG SEX-SELECTIVE ABORTION IS TOTALLY HAPPENING RIGHT HERE BECAUSE FOREIGNERS stories. On the other, they have OMG CRISIS PREGNANCY CENTRES TELL LIES AND BULLY PREGNANT PEOPLE investigations.


For real.

So let's start with the obvious: it is an oft-observed fact that all abortion articles must, by law, probably, be accompanied by a picture of a spectacularly pregnant woman: like, full-term pregnant, holy-crap-she's-swallowed-a-spacehopper pregnant, foetus-sending-a-Christmas-letter-to-Santa-out-of-the-womb pregnant. Oh look, this is such a truism that there is even a tumblr devoted to it.

According to The Guttmacher institute, 90% of all abortions occur in the first trimester. According to WebMD, a 12-week old fetus is 2.5 inches long and the typical woman will have gained three to five pounds. Most of these women’s pregnancies are essentially undetectable to an observer. ~ "Mis-illustrating Abortion" at Sociological Images
The Telegraph has, in this instance, gone one stage further: it has illustrated its article about the evils of abortion - which, just to clarify, ends a pregnancy, does not kill an infant which has already been born - with a picture of a teeny weeny baby hand holding onto an adult-sized finger.

Which echoes the emotive and inaccurate language in the headline - "Aborted babies are being used to heat UK hospitals". Conflating blastocysts, zygotes, embryos, foetuses and babies is classic anti technique, because apparently their case is so blatantly, inarguably, self-evidently strong that it needs sneakily-heartstring-tugging bullshit and flat-out lies to convince people.

At which point you may be thinking, come on, Han, you're dancing round the edges of this article, mocking its outer trappings because you're too chicken shit to address the fact that HOSPITALS ARE BURNING BABIES. So, because apparently I can't resist an imaginary dare, to the meat of the article itself:
The bodies of thousands of aborted and miscarried babies were incinerated as clinical waste, with some even used to heat hospitals, an investigation has found. Ten NHS trusts have admitted burning foetal remains alongside other rubbish while two others used the bodies in ‘waste-to-energy’ plants which generate power for heat.
Now: I get this. I really do.* For a lot of people, the incineration of foetuses just feels gross. Somehow, the fact that this incineration is serving a practical purpose - that of heating the hospital - makes it feel more gross, in a dystopian Soylent Green sort of way. So I can ask you some logical questions - like, how would you like foetuses to be disposed of after abortions? Would a mass grave make you feel better? Should each of them be given an individual coffin and a headstone?** If you are okay with incineration, why is it better that this process is only serving one purpose (destroying medical waste) rather than two (heating the hospital)? With early medical abortion, the pregnancy will typically be shed outside of a hospital setting, so the remains will end up down the loo or in a landfill site wrapped in a maxi pad: is that, too, tantamount to "the demise of human dignity"?

But that wouldn't change your mind, would it? These are logical questions, and we're in the domain of illogical queasiness. I'm not dismissing people's discomfort with this practice by calling it 'illogical': feelings are often illogical, and feelings are valid anyway.

But feelings make crappy legislators. We can't build law or medical guidelines on whether or not something makes us feel gross. That icky feeling is a signpost - a hint from your body or your subconscious that you need to look into the issue further to figure out why it makes you feel the way it does. It is not a cast iron guarantee that the object of that icky feeling is Morally Wrong.

For example, I find the idea of scraping my septum unimaginably disgusting. No idea why, but even typing that has made me cringe and pinch my nostrils shut until the thought goes away. This does not mean that I spend my days advocating for nose-picking to be made illegal.

So the fact that incinerating embryos and foetuses strikes you as unimaginably disgusting, similarly, does not mean that this procedure should be banned, even if your feeling is shared with millions of others, including some dickhead journalist in the Telegraph.

* I've never been super comfortable with "it's just a bunch of cells" / "abortion is just like getting an ingrown toenail removed" rhetoric, not because I think it's blase or unfeeling - some people do feel like this about their abortions, and all power to them. You are allowed to feel however you want to feel about your abortion, and you are allowed to express those feelings in public. But on a wider, 'movement' level, I don't think it's the best way of promoting a pro-choice message. I'd rather side-step the "bunch of cells" vs "heartbreaking but sometimes necessary" dichotomy and focus instead on bodily autonomy arguments: people's reasons for having abortions, and the moral code which lies behind those reasons, are just not the point. The point is that no one should be forced to be pregnant against their will.

** Trying really hard not to err on the side of overly snarky here, because some people who have abortions do choose to keep the foetal remains and have a burial/cremation; these cases tend to be second/third trimester abortions of wanted pregnancies with fatal foetal anomalies. The last thing I want to do is to take the piss out of their pain.

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