Expecting Trouble: Surrogacy, Fetal Abuse, and New Reproductive Technologies

By Patricia Boling | Go to book overview
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images will not be easily willed back into the bodies of pregnant women. Nor should they, because in fact fetuses do have value and material reality.

The problem lies not in the existence of the fetus but rather in how we look at pregnancy and in the meanings we construct for what we see. Pregnant bodies have been in our view since the dawn of history but we have not "seen" women (pregnant or not) as citizens and persons with equal rights until very recently. When courts compel pregnant women to undergo medical procedures or stop behaviors that may endanger their fetuses, they subordinate women's rights to control their bodies and pregnancies and treat them as nothing more than fetal containers. This once again subordinates the social, political, and legal identity of women to their physical bodies. Except in this instance the pregnant woman is considered illegitimate even as a physical identity for she is a threat to her own fetus's survival and health.

This chapter has argued that the construction of fetal identity is "a contingent matter, rationally undecidable and rhetorically constructed, rather than a basic fact of nature" 131 and that construction of the fetus as a separate person depends upon the physical and legal erasure of pregnant women. That is not to suggest it is impossible to value both the fetus and the pregnant woman to the benefit of both. We can "choose how to count the fetus" 132 and we can choose how to count the pregnant woman. Medical, antiabortion, and commercial forces are currently making those choices for us. Their version of the fetus as a person can be had only through a construction of separation from the pregnant woman. Their understanding of the pregnant woman is of an "irrational" woman 133 who is expressing her "latent antagonism" 134 to her fetus. Women's concerns for their religious beliefs, their fears of surgery, and the facts of their personal lives that drive them toward drug use during pregnancy are discounted as irrelevant. 135

But fetuses do not exist without pregnant women. The solution is not to stop looking, but rather to look more closely. Whereas fetal rights have many advocates who are pushing judicially and legislatively to expand and formalize fetal rights even more, there is little public advocacy for an expansion of "pregnancy rights." 136 Petchesky is right that we need to re-embed the fetus in the pregnant form. But that can only be done by "seeing" the pregnant woman as prominently in culture and in law as we now see the fetus inside. To do so is to legitimize, honor, and facilitate a woman's decision to be pregnant. If we do that, perhaps we can begin to ascribe a value to the fetus that allows us to act on our protective impulses without impairing the rights of the pregnant woman.


Notes

An earlier version of this essay was presented at the 1991 Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Palmer House, Chicago, Illinois, April 18-20, 1991. I would like

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