Regular readers are aware that breaking news is by no means the forte of the professional spinster aunt. My views on John Roberts probably won’t congeal until sometime after Arbor Day in 2007 (although here are some preliminary findings: JVNNIVS ROBERTVS FVCTARDVS EST), and I couldn’t give a splat for the stunningly uncontroversial BTK killer. I try, but I cannot change my twisty-come-lately ways. Which is why this morning I read with some interest a four-month-old essay referencing a two-year-old newspaper article on, what else, “unborn mothers.”
That’s right. Unborn mothers. A concept with which the Doctor’s sophisticated readership is undoubtedly already familiar, but which, I confess, kind of startled me, yokel that I am.
The story so far: some dudes in Israel are — or at least they were in 2003; for all I know they could be running a sports bar by now — working on a method to harvest ovarian tissue from aborted human fetuses for the purpose of sprouting eggs for in vitro fertilization. The goal is to eliminate the middleman, i.e. the sentient egg donor–or as some sentimentalists may euphemize, the “woman”– who can cause problems down the line, in favor of an aborted fetus egg “donor” with no pesky legal standing. Pro-life hijinks ensue.
A 2003 Guardian article quotes the stern objections of several professional fetus-fetishists. The remonstrances fall into two categories. One, the procedure is “sickening” because the “dead baby” cannot give consent. Two, the offspring of an aborted fetal “mother” would “have enormous psychological problems.”
Lisa Guenther brushes aside these godbag gripes. Writing in the March/April issue of Radical Philosophy, she says (I pararphrase), “Forget about the children! What about the feminists?” She is understandably troubled by aborted fetal “motherhood” — for non-fetus-fetish reasons that I’ll get to in a minute — and is bummed by the insufficiency of feminist thought to address her concerns.
“Can we coherently defend,” she asks, “a woman’s right to terminate pregnancy without relinquishing a feminist position from which to critique the use of aborted fetuses in certain experimental procedures?”
Here’s her sticky wicket: suppose you are a pro-choice feminist in whom the idea of aborted-fetal-motherhood induces vomiting. How to argue against it? If you confer upon fetal tissues sufficient personhood to render them immune from egg harvesting–i.e., turn them into legally recognized entities from which consent for the procedure must be, but of course cannot be, extracted — do you not also weaken the case for abortion as an option for fully-realized adult human women?
Guenther, in pondering the biological and cultural status of “mother,” also attacks the whole woman = uterus = biological destiny thing, with satisfying results, one of which is this: using aborted fetal ovarian tissue for IVF ultimately undermines the choice of the woman who has made the decision to terminate said fetus. Her decision — or more broadly, her status as a human being — is made irrelevant if an instance of reproduction occurs as a result of this procedure.
Dr. B has argued that the reproductive state is the default for women. This notion is so distasteful to the spinster aunt ethos that I have resolutely dug in my heels on the opposite side, but lately I am finding this position untenable. Whether or not Dr B’s statement is biologically true is a discussion for people who did not snooze contentedly through Bio 105, but there’s no denying that it is culturally true; patriarchy places the burden of what Guenther calls “the much-vaunted ‘future of the species'” entirely on women as a class. She writes:
“The absence of viable eggs is only a shortage” and the shortage is only a problem “if women are thought to have natural rights and/or obligations to produce offspring. When considered in this light, the proposed procedure of growing eggs from the ovarian tissue of aborted fetuses collapses the meaningful distinction between woman and mother, which is otherwise maintained by access to a decent range of reproductive choices. In so doing, it reinforces the reduction of women to mothers and of mothers to their reproductive organs which feminists have fought so hard to contest.”
Man, if only there were a cure for reproduction. The sooner “mother” and “woman” go splitsville, the better.
[Cross-posted at Bitch.Ph.D.]