At the end of her essay, Katha Pollitt asks, “Why is it so hard for us to see that the tragedy of Adam Dorris is inextricable from the tragedy of his mother? Why is her loss — to society, to herself — so easy to dismiss?” (298). How does your perspective on the potential conflict between fetal rights and maternal rights compare with Pollitt’s? Do you see the privileging of fetal rights in late-20th-century American law and culture as part of the backlash against feminism?
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My perspective on fetal rights vs maternal rights haven’t been changed drastically but I agree with points that Politt’s points about the lack of support and care for women’s bodies. The idea that fetal rights is a large part of the backlash is something I agree with and there is something to be said about the powerlessness that many mothers can feel when they are not given the proper programs or opportunities at work in the future. In a previous class I took at Middlebury, we looked at the abortion clinics across the US and how accessible abortion is in each of the states. We also compared the laws to other countries and there are also strict laws when looking at fetal viability. Around 12 countries allow abortion past 15 weeks for any reason which is a small amount. The lack of control that a women has not only in the US but in many countries around the world. I personally believe that there is a problem with the laws in the US more than the cultural problems which not only let women have a lack of control over their bodies but also put them at a disadvantage when trying to progress in the workforce after maternal duties.
I completely agree with the last comment made by Sarah. The overarching theme of Politt’s essay is the idea of marginalization and injustice through the control of women’s bodies. As Sarah aptly mentioned, Fetal rights are an institution that have been used against women, and to gain the ability to control a women, as well as creating the opportunity to punish women who reject said control. Politt provides many examples of such punishment and the search for what men believe is rightful justice – these come in the forms of law enforcement siding with the man, law enforcement not prosecuting a man, who for example has beat his partner, or from greater institutions lobbying against a women’s right to choose. The key theme of Politt’s work is to show that often women are denied the ability to receive help and support – they are turned away from rehabilitation centers, hospitals and abortion clinics on the grounds of ill-fitting justice that serve to strip women of control of their bodies. Women who make choices during pregnancy that are often harmful for the unborn fetus are often victims to an environment that is oppressive, leaving them no choice, ability or freedom to alter course.
Fetal rights appear to fuel the backlash against feminism because the fetal rights argument is the means of gaining control of women’s bodies again. The fetal rights and maternal rights movement are not mutually exclusive. Maternal rights, in my opinion, is a subset of women’s rights; and feminism has to do with women’s autonomy and agency. Fetal rights appear to be a similar issue, but culturally and economically used as a vehicle to further marginalize women – to regain control of their bodies.
The issue at hand is not the maternal rights vs. fetal rights conflict, but the systemic, cultural, and institutional oppression of women. As exemplified in Pollitt’s piece, such oppression is reflected in shaming pregnant women for drinking, yet excluding them from rehabilitation programs (288). Another example is with Michael Dorris and his anger towards Adam’s, his FAS child, mother – a Native American woman who experienced poverty, violence, and powerlessness (296). It appears that shaming mothers, through the guise of fetal rights advocacy, is an economically costless intervention for protecting fetuses, but at the cultural and social expense of mothers. I see that the use of fetal rights to marginalize women, rooted in economic and social regimes, exists as a part of the backlash against feminism.