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

By Patricia Boling | Go to book overview

8
The Trope of the Dark Continent
in the Fetal Harm Debates:
"Africanism" and the Right to Choice'

LISA C. BOWER

THIS CHAPTER EXPLORES how the fetal harm debate is sustained by a tropological dependence on race. In this debate, the focus on the substance-abusing mother-who is frequently described as single, black, and deficient -- suggests how perceptions about fetal abuse are supported by the trope of the dark continent, the notion that female sexuality is a dark and unexplored territory. Rhetorically, this trope is constructed by a metonymic chain that links disease, sexuality, female sexuality, and racial otherness.

The trope of the dark continent is mirrored in representations of race or what Toni Morrison has recently referred to as "Africanism." 1 To explore how race is suppressed and expressed in this debate, this chapter considers problems raised by conventional defenses of substance-abusing pregnant women, specifically defenses that rest upon the language of reproductive rights. Concerns about surrogacy, in vitro fertilization, and new reproductive technologies have, in conjunction with the doctrinal unravelling of Roe v. Wade, generated justifiable alarm regarding women's ability to control their reproductive futures. For some feminists, the erosion of reproductive autonomy provides an opportunity to rethink the contours and limitations of the right to privacy, the doctrinal principle animating the right to choice. 2 Others have reasserted the intimate connection between mother and fetus as an antidote to fetal rights advocates who claim the primacy of the rights of the fetus. Drawing on Carol Gilligan's work, one variant of this theme posits that women's close physical and psychological relationship to the fetus constitutes a distinctive "moral vision" that supports the importance (and appropriateness) of women's decision making during pregnancy. 3 Some

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