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Deborah Kirklin seems to suggest that those of us who argue that a
woman should have the right to make the decision about the outcome of her
pregnancy should avoid commenting on fetal development. Whether a fetus
can ‘smile’, she claims, is irrelevant to our case for women’s abortion
rights, and we should not use ‘biological discourse’. I find this
proposition very odd.
Images of the fetus m...
Images of the fetus moving its facial muscles have been uncritically
received in recent debate as evidence that it can ‘smile’. Very few people
have attempted to contest the idea that the now-famous 4-D images of the
fetus tell us just how emotionally complex the fetus is. (In the same way,
few have generated arguments against the claim a fetus feels pain because
it moves away from the point of a needle). In our culture, in other words,
biological development, and the ability to feel and experience, are all
the time conflated, without many arguing about the difference between the
two. There is clearly a great deal of confusion about how to define
personhood, and there is also evidently a strong trend towards finding
this quality present in the fetus. As a result, there is a great deal of
discomfort about late abortion.
Maybe what I have argued on these issues so far is not well enough
explained. But it would be a lazy, ineffective supporter of choice, very
much lacking in intellectual rigour, that chose to ignore them and simply
kept repeating the mantra, ‘abortion is a woman’s right’. It would also be
one destined to become increasingly irrelevant to the abortion debate.
Making the case for abortion – especially late in pregnancy -
requires those who support abortion rights to have something to say about
fetal development (using ‘biological discourse’ as Kirklin describes it).
I can guarantee that if we do not, there will certainly be more ‘bio-
technically based challenges’ to the case for women’s choice in the
Dr Ellie Lee, lecturer in social policy, University of Kent, and Co-
ordinator, Pro Choice Forum.