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June 20, 2009

Note to O'Reilly: Women Deserve Protections-Fetuses Don't

By Leonce Gaiter

The woman's rights/pro-choice crowd needs to stop accepting the right-wing frame for this debate. When asked if fetuses deserve rights, the answer is: Women deserve rights-including protection from people who would force them to use their bodies in ways they know to be harmful to their well being, their loved ones, and their lives.


It’s been difficult to watch fetal rights trump women’s rights in the abortion debate.  Back in the day, there were chants of “my body, my choice.”  Now, we argue at which month the fetus has the right to destroy a woman’s health, sanity, family, and even her life, thereby accepting the right-wing frame that the fetus is an entity somehow divorced from and equal to the woman who carries it.

Bill O’Reilly preened when asking Joan Walsh if late term fetuses deserve any form of legal protection.  He preened because he dared her to provide the rational answer in this age of faux sentiment and thoughtless self-righteousness—be they of the Oprah or O’Reilly schools.

It’s time to call the bluff and take back this debate.  The answer is a resounding “NO.”  

Women deserve legal protection, and as long as a fetus is part of a woman’s body, it has protections through her.  No outside person has the right to harm the fetus any more than he/she has the right to harm the woman.  No entity has the right to deny her the fruits of what’s inside her body any more than they have the right to deny her the use of her liver.  What O’Reilly and his ilk want is to protect the fetus from the woman who carries it, when in fact, the woman is the only qualified arbiter of what is best for her and her body in the context of life and loved ones in which they exist.

I utterly reject the argument that fetus’ are especial because they will be born and thus transform into infants.  I will not argue about a fetus’ future state.  Its current nature as a fetus means that it lives inside the body of an existing human being.  That independent living being’s needs and trump those of what lives inside its body and the disposition of what lives inside its body is in that being’s sole discretion.   Period.   

The argument that fetuses may live to become infants and therefore deserve protection is also ad absurdum.  A cell can be cloned and can grow into an infant.  Should the pulling out of hair be outlawed?   As science matures, artificial means of keeping cells and cell groups alive will doubtless evolve.  What amount to petrie dish blobs will be “viable” outside the womb—with enough help.  This is the ultimate argument of anti-abortion crusaders.  They desperately want to outlaw abortion and even contraception.  To to them, a la Monty Python, “every sperm is sacred.”  A woman is simply the subservient, relatively insignificant vessel for something more valuable than she—a fetus.   It’s rights trump hers.

Barack Obama said that he rejected the pro-choice argument that there was no societal moral question involved in abortion.  He was right on the substance; he was wrong on the particulars.  It is grossly immoral for a society to so devalue a segment of its population that it reserves the right to force them under law to use their own bodies in ways that are harmful to themselves.  

The abortion debate needs to be brought home to the rights of women—not the rights of fetuses.  Let’s face it:  To the anti-abortion crowd, it has been all along.  They have simply couched it in the cuddly swaddling clothes of romantic infancy to win the point:  “Who do you want to protect,” they ask?  “this sweet, cooing child, or this selfish bitch who refuses to do what my God says is her biological duty?”

As long as a fetus remains a fetus, it gains the same rights and protections as the woman who carries it.  The fate of what exists inside a woman’s body... that is hers alone to decide.  You may think abortion is wrong.  I think it’s wrong to raise your child as a Nazi.  What harm can a woman who has an abortion do you?  At best it harms your delicate sensibilities in the abstract.  A child raised as a neo-Nazi will grow up with the will and perhaps the means to do a great many people a lot of physical and emotional harm.  If I don’t have the right to stop people from raising their children as they see fit—regardless of the potentially negative impact on my life and wellbeing—you don’t have the right to stop a woman from doing what she thinks best for her life and loved ones, especially since the only possible damage is to your delicate sensibilities.  We’re both offended.  On both counts: Tough.  Man up.  It’s none of your ... business.

The woman’s rights/pro-choice crowd needs to stop accepting the right-wing frame for this debate.  When asked if fetuses deserve rights, the answer is: Women deserve rights—including protection from people who would force them to use their bodies in ways they know to be harmful to their wellbeing, their loved ones, and their lives.  

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Leonce Gaiter's literary thriller, "In the Company of Educated Men," was published by Astor + Blue Editions in 2014. His historical novel, "I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang" was published September 2011. His nonfiction has appeared in The Huffington Post, The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, and in national syndication. His thriller "Bourbon Street" was published by Carroll & Graf and is currently available in ebook formats.