Friday, March 27, 2009

More than the sum of her parts

I should have known better, but I was expecting Will Saletan to actually address his critics in his article about "why [he] write[s] about 'lady parts'." Instead, it was a lovely lecture about how when pro-choice advocates are worrying about women's autonomy, they really need to be worrying about fetal life, which they never bother to think about.

And I write about the value of unborn life because that's the problem my fellow pro-choicers don't like to talk about. I want to challenge you. Keeping the government out of these sticky moral questions doesn't make them go away. It just puts the burden on you to face them responsibly.
I'd like to challenge Saletan to responsibly face the value of women's work and autonomy when it comes to child-bearing. That's the 190-pound pregnant lady in the room that Saletan is ignoring.

Way to completely avoid the criticisms about being unable to see the women for the fetuses, Saletan.

I thought the image used to illustrate the article was especially telling - a faceless woman with her hand on her belly, which is the only bit Saletan seems to think is relevant.

When he discussed the case of surrogate mothers being stiffed for their pay, he says

It's a familiar tale of vanishing funds and defaulted obligations. But this time, the potential loss is bigger than property. It's pregnancy.
Yes, it's pregnancy, not property (i.e. the physical property being carried around and nurtured by the surrogate). Pregnancy is the work that's being paid for in surrogacy. Surrogate mothers are compensated for their time, physical sacrifice, and labor - not the baby. The starting materials for the baby were provided to the surrogate to begin with, so along with the physical resources she contributes toward growing the embryo into a whole baby, the product is the growing and not the baby. If compensation dries up, it's logical that the product would as well. There are endless perfect metaphors for the situation, but when a metaphor is absolutely perfect, it's incredibly boring, so I'll spare you illustrative repetition of the point I'm making.

The parents whose genetic material was used to create the embryo have entered into a contract with the surrogate, but the embryo/fetus itself is not party to the agreement. After the fetus reaches viability, the state has a compelling and enforceable interest in the surrogate's continued support of the fetus. This is in addition to the state's interest in upholding the surrogate's right to compensation for her work. Also, it would be pretty strange - and vanishingly rare - for a surrogate to quit 8 months in.

This is where Saletan's argument comes within view of relevance - yes, the fetus itself does have value as a proto-human being, but at a stage significantly before viability, the surrogate's right not to be pulled into indentured servitude outweighs the fetus' right to development and physical support. Beyond the blastocyst stage, I definitely think that the product of conception is a special thing deserving of a significant measure of its own consideration (and so do the stiffed surrogates, who have all elected to continue the pregnancies). Saletan is doing precisely what he's accusing abortion-rights advocates of doing - ignoring the conflict between a woman's right to choose what to do with her body and the value of fetal life.

Me, I think the woman's rights win. Saletan won't take a position on which is more valuable, and tries to deflect by insisting that killing a fetus is always a bad thing in itself that a woman deserves the right to do - but only if she feels guilty about it. If unwanted pregnancies germinated in random incubators, my sense is that it would be preferrable to support them instead of denying them a chance to get to personhood. I don't think guilt or shame mitigate anything (though Saletan is clearly hoping for a deterrent effect), so on balance, I'd rather a woman who has an abortion be happy that she'd done it.

I like people in general, and am happy to welcome any newcomers to the ranks of humanity.

For further reading, Amanda Marcotte at Pandagan has much more patience with this guy than I do, and bothers to hassle him about his disingenuousness.

I don't know how much I've added to her work, but I was annoyed enough at Saletan's evasiveness that I had to express myself.

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