Analysis

Feminist begins to question pro-abortion rhetoric while mourning her own miscarriages

miscarriages, abortion

When writer Kate Parsons suffered two miscarriages, she was caught off guard by the intensity of her grief, and found it came into conflict with her pro-abortion beliefs:

[I] found myself unprepared… for the devastation I would feel… I still found myself struggling with a persistent confusion. I was having trouble conceptualizing my losses with my pro-choice politics…. Pregnant pro-choice feminists, coping with the termination of a desired pregnancy, often find it difficult to conceptualize and mourn our losses.

The self-help books she read about miscarriage used the word “babies” to describe preborn children. But using the term “baby” was problematic for Parsons:

For those, like me, who have staunchly defended the use of the precise prenatal terms – embryo until eight weeks, fetus thereafter until birth – the recommendation to name the lost being a baby can be simultaneously disquieting and compelling.

The dehumanizing way she had always viewed preborn children no longer seemed right to her:

I… had always maintained a firm distinction between prenatal fetuses and postnatal infants… yet, after my miscarriages, my confidence in the terms embryo and fetus began to slip away. Somehow these terms were starting to feel too cold, too detached.

I began to find the notion that I had lost “babies” oddly comforting, in spite of the worries that I was being unwittingly swayed by the “other side” to which my pro-choice politics had been so long positioned.

Despite her pro-abortion beliefs, Parsons found that acknowledging her lost children’s humanity felt comforting. But she saw how this conflicted with her pro-abortion view. Referring to a self-help book that encouraged her to call her lost children “babies” and miscarriage a “death,” she wrote:

[P]rior to my miscarriages, the pro-life/antiabortion implications of such suggestions would have raised my hackles. But after my miscarriages, something about these suggestions felt oddly comforting. I had, after all, felt that my experiences had been generally discounted, and the legitimacy of my grief called into question after each loss.

Could the source of these feelings be the fact that I was “only” referring to the lost beings as embryos and fetuses? And did my conflicted feelings signal an inconsistency in, or at least a challenge for, pro-choice feminism?

Parsons looked for feminist writing that would help her resolve her conflict, but couldn’t find any:

I had hoped that other feminist philosophers might offer conceptual clarity on how my confusions had roots in patriarchal thinking, and I expected to find illuminating proposals on how to transform my sadness into more liberating forms of feminist thought. Yet to my dismay, I found hardly anything written on the topic at all.

She admitted that her pro-abortion views “impeded her healing” (emphasis added):

In my case, the fear that I would betray pro-choice efforts and concede personhood by acknowledging my sorrow and mourning the loss impeded my healing and intensified my confusion.

Given that I had become so attached, and dare I say, loved these early beings so strongly, how could I consistently hold that they, or any other being at the same stage of development, could justifiably be terminated?

Ultimately, Parsons found her personal feelings, and her desire to mourn the loss of her children, incompatible with her pro-abortion beliefs:

I had felt a tension between my firm belief that it would have been justifiable to terminate the lives of my fetuses (had I autonomously chosen to do so) and my extreme sorrow at their termination.

Sadly, Parsons didn’t convert to the pro-life viewpoint. Even though her heart was telling her that her lost babies were valuable human beings, she decided that “the fact that I did care about the beings I was sustaining need not imply that I, or any other woman, ought to care about the prenatal beings she or I might sustain.”

A fetus’s value, she decided, was based on whether a woman valued him or her. Her babies were valuable only because she wanted them.

She says, “It is the woman’s conception of the pregnancy and her relationship to the embryo/fetus that determines its moral and emotional significance.”

So her conclusion was that a baby’s worth depends on her mother’s opinion of her. Her babies had worth, she says, only because she wanted them. They were worth grieving over, but unwanted babies aren’t.

Parsons says that if the pro-choice movement doesn’t give “support” to women who miscarry, some will become pro-life:

[T]here is reason to worry about swelling in the ranks of pro-life/antiabortion support, if we do not offer greater support to women who miscarry. As Roe v Wade is put into an increasingly precarious position, feminists cannot simply afford to lose any pro-choice women by failing to listen, communicate, embrace, and/or comfort them when they miscarry.

She doesn’t explain what form this “support” should take, except that it shouldn’t include considering preborn babies as having inherent value or humanity.

Source: Kate Parsons “Feminist reflections on miscarriage, in light of abortion” International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics Vol. 3, No. 1 (Spring 2010) 4, 5, 7-8, 14, 15

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